Painting Faces

As the evenings draw in thoughts are turning to Autumn and all that it brings. I love this time of year and one of the highlights for me is the Halloween celebrations just a little under a month away.

Face Painting comes part and parcel with halloween fancy dress for both children and adults alike and, without a daub of fake blood or a few well appointed lines, the fright factor of the costume can be somewhat lessened (especially if you are 6 years old!). Hidden amongst all the ghosts and goblins however there are some truly frightening face painting facts that are all to frequently overlooked…


I have always been concerned about the presence of toxins in children’s products. We have all heard tales of the use of highly toxic fire retardants in baby car seats, Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and toys and formaldehyde in baby body wash (naming no names of course) is a great case in point, but face paints? Surely not?

Being mostly of a water-based composition, it is easy to assume that there would be little by way of nasty ingredients in traditional face paints and not really give them a second thought; but you’d be wrong. A report published in 2009 by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics revealed that ten of the most popular brands of face paints and theatrical make-up products available in the US contain heavy metals, with best selling British brand Snazaroo being one of the worst offenders.

The report, entitled Pretty Scary, was written by Heather Sarantis, M.S., with contributions from Stacy Malkan (author of Not Such a Pretty Face) and Lisa Archer and highlights the lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry, principally in the US but also worldwide.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics sent samples of the ten most popular brands of face paint and theatrical make-up products (including a variety of water, cream and grease based products) for independent testing. Of the ten brands tested which included products by Ben Nye, Wolfe Brothers and Mehron, all contained lead; with measurements varying from .054 ppm (parts per million) to an astonishing .65ppm.

Six of the products tested also contained nickel, cobalt and/or chromium – 1.6ppm to 120ppm. These heavy metals are all known allegens that, according to research are believed to be amongst the top 15 allergens in children* and frequently linked to cases of Contact Dermatitis.

All these levels far exceed industry standards set by the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration), the agency responsible for cosmetic safety, however there is no mention of the potentially toxic contents on the list of ingredients of these products. Some of the products tested even bore misleading claims, such as being hypoallergenic, non-toxic and safe, despite containing known skin allergens.

There is no need for face paints to include heavy metals and their inclusion has potential for both long and short term consequences on health. Lead builds up in the body over time and exposure during infancy and childhood has been linked to hyperactivity and aggression. It is also believed to increase the risk of miscarriage and delayed puberty and, in later life Parkinson’s Disease and Altzeimer’s.

The ten products that were included in this report are just a very small fraction of the market and there are many other brands available that may (or not) be free from these toxic ingredients.

To find out more about the results, Download the report in fullIt all makes pretty scary reading!

It isn’t all doom and gloom however, there are some alternatives to convential brands out there and although there may not be a choice in the products used at your local féte or school play, you can be limit the contact with heavy metals by ensuring that the face paints used at home (if you are so inclined) are as clean as possible.

I have hunted high and low and found some face paints that are as natural as can be,t  to use not only in my kit but also on my young daughter (as and when she begins to show an interest in being painted of course). I will be sharing the ones I have found with you over the course of the next month – just in time for Halloween I promise!

To find out more about the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, go to www.safecosmetics.org

*Nijhawan RI and Jacob SE. Connubial dermatitis revisited: Mother-to-child contact dermatitis. Dermatitis.
2009; 20(1):55-56

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  • Hey there! Sat with my cousin here now and we are drooling over your website! I think she will be sifting through back posts this evening! So inspiring…..
    Melanie x
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  • […] the costume of choice this year for the youngest member of the OMUA household). A few years ago I wrote a piece about the concerns raised by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics about the potentially harmful ingredients* found in many of the face paints available on the […]ReplyCancel

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