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October 27, 2009

Boo! A scary surprise in Halloween face paints

PrettyScary_covernsJust in time for the horrors of Halloween, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released a new report on the presence of heavy metals in face paints (Pretty Scary: Could Halloween Face Paint Cause Lifelong Health Problems?) today.

Researchers found that of the 10 face paints tested, all contained detectable levels of lead (from .05 to .65 parts per million [ppm]) and six of 10 contained nickel, chromium and/or cobalt (in the range of 1.6 to 120 ppm), which can be potent allergens.

The Centers for Disease Control, and that thing called “common sense,” recommends that children not use cosmetics that could be contaminated with lead. And as for the other heavy metals found in these face paints? Well, they can trigger allergenic reactions like skin rashes. In fact, according to the report, even industry-funded studies have recommended that the levels of nickel, chromium and cobalt should be minimized to the lowest possible levels in cosmetics.

What’s worse is that some face paints are mislabeled and draw in parents with claims of being “hypo-allergenic” and “non-toxic.” That’s the case for Snazaroo Face Paint, whose product was found to contain .56 ppm of lead and levels of 5.5 ppm for nickel and cobalt.

As you must already suspect, this puts parents in a tricky position when they pick out costumes for their children at Halloween. Reading product labels doesn’t provide information on which heavy metals are in different face paints due to loopholes in labeling requirements and which do not require companies to disclose contaminants.

Given the non-disclosure, and since all of the face paints tested contained lead, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recommends that parents avoid using face paints on children until safety standards are put in place. Parents can consider choosing costumes that do not use face paint or masks (which can also contain toxic chemicals and impair vision and breathing) or they can try making their own face-paint with food-grade ingredients. The Campaign’s Web site includes a whole host of recipes for do-it-yourself face paints (and other products).

What can you do?

1. When you can, buy safer products. Hundreds of cosmetics companies have pledged to make safer products and safecosmetics.org has tips and resources to help you get started.

2. Help pass smarter, health-protective laws. Sign the petition to Congress at safecosmetics.org.

Healthy Legacy is a Minnesota-based public health coalition that was co-founded by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and is working to phase toxic chemicals out of everyday products.

Katie Rojas-Jahn


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