Toxic Face Paint Makes for Scary Halloween


SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 28, 2009 (ENS) – Some children’s face paints contain lead, a neurotoxin that can harm the brain at low doses, according to new product tests documented in a report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of nonprofit health and environmental groups.

In some of the paints tested, the lab identified the heavy metals nickel, cobalt and chromium, which are skin allergens, even in products labeled “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic.”

Because these metals are not listed on product labels, parents shopping for Halloween makeup have no way of knowing which products are safe. The only way to know if a cosmetic product contains lead or other heavy metals is to test the product at a laboratory, which the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics did for this report at a cost of $270.00 per sample.

“Parents should not have to worry that face paint contains lead and other hazardous substances,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund and a co-author of the report, “Pretty Scary.”

“Companies are not making the safest products possible for children, even though kids are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures,” Archer 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,” said Joan Blades, co-founder of Moms Rising, a coalition member and national advocacy organization focused on family health and economic security.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics sent 10 children’s face paints to an independent lab to test for heavy metals. The products were delivered, unopened, to Analytical Sciences, a laboratory in Petaluma, California.

The lab tests found:

  • All 10 of the children’s face paints tested contained lead at levels ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm).
  • Six out of 10 children’s face paints contained the potent skin allergens nickel, cobalt and/or chromium at levels ranging from 1.6 to 120 ppm – far exceeding industry safety recommendations of one ppm.
  • Snazaroo Face Paint, labeled as “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic,” contained some of the highest levels of lead, nickel and cobalt found in the study.

“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,” said Phil Landrigan, M.D., director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents avoid using cosmetics on their children that could be contaminated with lead.

“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,” said Bruce Brod, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Currently, it is legal for face paints, lipsticks and other personal care products sold in the U.S. to contain unlimited amounts of lead without listing the substance on the label, the “Pretty Scary” report points out.

The coalition says the Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for cosmetic safety, “does little to ensure that cosmetics are safe and actually lacks the power to do so.”

“The FDA does not conduct routine testing of cosmetic products and does not have the authority to require companies to conduct pre-market safety assessments of their products or the ingredients in them,” the report states. “The FDA also does not require companies to list heavy metals or other harmful contaminants on product labels, even though they are commonly found in a wide array of personal care products.”

On its website, the FDA states, “The law says that color additives have to be approved by FDA for use in cosmetics, including color additives in face paints and other cosmetics that may be used around Halloween time. It also includes theatrical makeup.”

But the coalition contends that is not sufficient for safety and seeks a change in the law that would require companies to list lead on the ingredient label if it is present in the product.

“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,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat. “Strengthening our cosmetics laws and providing ample resources are essential to ensure the FDA has the authority and tools it needs to protect the health of our children from chemicals in cosmetics.”

Face paint fish (Photo credit unknown)

The cosmetics industry argues that cosmetics have such low lead levels that they are safe and contends that the colors in face paints must be approved and listed by the FDA.

John Bailey, chief scientist with the Personal Care Products Council, said Tuesday, “Although the report does not identify the specific color ingredients in the products tested, the trace levels of naturally occurring heavy metals reportedly found in the products are well below the allowable levels set by FDA for approved colors as not presenting a safety concern.”

“Although the report alleges that FDA does little to ensure the safety of these products, the agency does monitor face paints and has twice worked with manufacturers on recalls of face paint items when they were found to cause skin irritation and rashes,” Bailey said.

“Parents are advised to follow all directions on how to use and remove face paints, avoid products that indicate they are not to be used on children, and test products on your child’s arm a couple of days in advance to check for any potential allergic reaction,” Bailey advised. “If they follow these basic guidelines, parents can enjoy Halloween festivities with their children without unnecessary worry about the safety of these novelty products.”

Bailey suggests that parents read face paint product labels to ensure that the color ingredients in the product they intend to buy are approved by FDA.

But the coalition report says none of the four heavy metals found in the face paints was listed on product labels because they are contaminants and thus are exempt from labeling laws.

The coalition suggests that parents and youngsters choose costumes without face paint or masks, which can also be toxic and may impede vision and breathing, or make their own face paint from natural products and ingredients.

Bailey, however, disagrees. “Although CSC is recommending to parents that they should mix up their own children’s face paints, parents should note that since heavy metals are ubiquitous in food, water, air and other consumer products, there is no guarantee that homemade face paints are safer or as safe as those that may be purchased in stores,” he said.

Click here to read the report, “Pretty Scary.”

The FDA offers information on face paint safety and tips for safe use here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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