A US group that arranged for an independent lab to test 10 children's face paints for heavy metals and also review ingredient labels of Halloween products sold at a seasonal holiday store, has reported that Halloween face paints are contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, and other Halloween products contain hazardous ingredients. They recommend that parents consider safer alternatives for their children.

The report, titled Pretty Scary is from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of US-based non-profit health and environmental groups and was released via their website on 27 October.

Low doses of lead can affect brain development, as can nickel, cobalt and chromium, which have also been linked to lifelong skin sensitization and contact dermatitis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that parents do not put cosmetics that could contain lead on their children.

However, parents have no way of knowing whether the face paints they buy for their kids contain these metals because they are not listed on the product labels, said the report.

Apparently there is no legal requirement to list them because they are contaminants and not added ingredients.

Face paints are not just used during Halloween, but increasingly at other times of year when kids dress up and play, so their exposure is not limited to just one event in a year but possibly to several, with unknown accumulation effects. The lack of safety standards for cosmetics sold in the US should be a matter for concern for everyone, suggested the report.

The following points highlight some of the results in the report:
  • 10 out of 10 children's face paints contained lead at levels between 0.05 and 0.65 parts per million (ppm).

  • 6 out of 10 children's face paints contained nickel, cobalt and/or chromium at levels between 1.6 to 120 ppm (this is much higher than the industry safety standard of 1 ppm said the report).

  • Snazaroo Face Paint contained some of the highest levels of lead, nickel and cobalt found in the study. This product carries the words "non-toxic" and "hypoallergenic" on its label.
Jan Schakowsky, who is the Democrat House Representative for Illinois told the press that:

"Lead and other hazardous chemicals have no place in face paints kids use for dress-up and play on Halloween or any other day of the year."

He said the cosmetics laws in the US need to be stronger, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be given the powers and resources it needs to "protect the health of our children from chemicals in cosmetics".

Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Dr Phil Landrigan said:

"Lead is dangerous to the developing brains of children at any level. It is now widely accepted in the scientific community that there is no threshold level below which lead is safe."

Dr Bruce A Brod, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said that nickel, cobalt and chromium are top allergens in children.

"To have these contaminants in face paints is concerning because early-life exposures increase the chance that kids will have lifelong sensitization and develop contact dermatitis on the face," he added.

Although the heavy metals found in the face paints were contaminants and not added ingredients, and therefore not listed in the product labels, the study also found that according to the label information, Halloween hair-color sprays and make-up products contained many hazardous ingredients such as:
  • Butane: a persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compound.

  • Thiram: a neurotoxic, possibly carcinogenic compound that is used in pesticides.

  • Alumina: a neurotoxin.

  • Propylene glycol: this is possibly carcinogenic.

  • Pigment green 7 and pigment blue 15: neither of these has been approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics.
Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, said:

"Parents should not have to worry that face paint contains lead and other hazardous substances. Companies are not making the safest products possible for children, even though kids are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures."

Joan Blades, who co-founded Moms Rising, a national advocacy organization that concerns itself with family health and economic security said:

"Parents are stunned when they learn that these products made for kids have lead and other toxics in them."

"We don't understand how our government is so lax, nor why the manufacturers are so negligent," she added.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics also advises that parents don't buy Halloween face masks for their children, as these can also be toxic and impede breathing and vision.

They said parents should be encouraged to avoid costumes that need face paints and masks, or they could make their own face paints from natural ingredients, using instructions to be found at www.safecosmetics.org/recipes#halloween.

-- read the full report (pdf)

Source: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD