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Toxic Chemicals in Halloween Make-Up

Toxic Chemicals in Halloween Make-up

Howdy skin ravers, it's that time of year again where we love to celebrate with costumes and halloween make-up.

In past years, news revolving the halloween holiday have focused on allergies from ingredients in halloween make-up products. In 2016, the Breast Cancer Fund (now known as Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) released a publication which focused on toxic ingredients found in halloween make-up as well as products like lip balm, nail and make-up kits marketed to children ages 4-14.

This publication is a follow-up to the publication released in 2009 which involved testing of 10 Halloween kits. All 10 kits were found to have lead contained in them. We know lead is neurotoxic, has been shown to affect brain function, and is strongly associated with learning disabilities and developmental problems.

In the current publication 'Pretty Scary 2 Unmasking Toxic Chemicals In Kids' Makeup' 187 product labels were read, 51 of them were tested through third party testing to see what toxic chemicals they contained. Reading labels revealed a wide range of toxic chemicals in children's cosmetics and personal care products. Ingredients such as hormone disrupting parabens as well as ingredients sometimes contaminated with carcinogens as well as the frequent use of undisclosed fragrance chemicals. After testing 48 Halloween face paints for heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury, almost half of them were found to contain trace amounts of at least 1 metal. Others contained as many as 4 metals. 

So what does this have to do with Halloween and why should we care? 

  • toxic chemicals in children's personal care, cosmetic products and Halloween make-up kits means exposure
  • more and more children are playing with and using cosmetics and personal care products such as lip balms, nail and make-up kits at an earlier age
  • there is concern for potential health effects on children later in life when exposure occurs during particular developmental stages when children are still actively growing

Does this make you think about what harmful ingredients may be in the personal care products and make-up we use as adults??! (definitely makes me think this!)
Can small exposures add up to create harmful effects?

What was found through testing...

Lead and Cadmium - lead in nearly 20% of the Halloween face paints tested, Cadmium in nearly 30%. There is no safe level of lead and is neurotoxic. Cadmium is linked to breast, kidney, lung and prostate cancer.

Toluene - hormonally active, development and reproductive toxicant was found in nearly 11% of products tested

Parabens - At least one paraben, an endocrine disrupting compound, was found in 34% of products. Two or three parabens were found in 3% of the products

Formaldehyde - a known human carcinogen, was found in 3% of the products

Ethoxylated Ingredients -  28% of products contained ethoxylated ingredients just from reading the labels. This manufacturing process can result in two toxic contaminants linked to breastcancer and other cancers: ethylene oxide and 1,4- dioxane

So what's a parent to do?

Some action steps recommended in the publication...

  • Stay away from face paints all year round, including during the Halloween season. There are lots of alternatives for dress up that don’t contain lead or cadmium.
  • Audit all the children’s cosmetic and personal care products in your home. Read the labels. Follow our science and our scientific method. If there are toxins on the label, throw the cosmetics out. Be particularly wary of any product that says “fragrance” on the label.Throw those out too.
  • Let your kids be kids a little longer and try to delay the use of children’s cosmetics until your kids are older.
  • Be a savvy shopper. Look before you buy, and try apps like Think Dirty, Healthy Living and the Good Guide. Many playful items are anything but that.
  • Share your concerns with the manufacturer of products you suspect contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to kids. Ask for changes.
  • Use social media and share our scientific findings with others. Also use social media to be an advocate for #toxicfreekids.

I know these recommendations may seem extreme or "overkill" for what seems like fun and harmless, but I feel it contributes to the larger discussion as to what IS in our cosmetics, personal care products and make-up kits, and not strictly halloween make-up.

What if you decide to use halloween make-up?

  • Read the publication to learn more about all the chemicals found 
  • check products for product labels and read them
  • do not use products without labels and do not use products containing toxic chemicals
  • if uncertain about a product, contact the company to inquire information about its ingredients and whether they perform any testing for heavy metals and toxic chemicals
  • seek out make-up that use colors derived from natural ingredients such as fruit pigments 
  • avoid use of darkly pigmented make-ups as higher heavy metal concentrations were found and more common in darkly pigmented paints
  • Confirm to see if color additives used in the product have any restricted uses such as around the eyes (highly recommended)
  • Check for other ingredients you know you or your child may be allergic to such as preservatives
  • Check packaging for warnings or caution labels
  • If possible, perform a skin patch test in advance to check for any sensitivity or reactions
  • Be sure to remove make-up after festivities are over
  • Contact your doctor if any irritation, itching, inflammation or other signs of discomfort are noted during or after use

I'm certain this won't be the last report we hear about toxic chemicals in our cosmetics and personal care products..let's all be vigilant consumers to help minimize any health consequences for both our children and ourselves.

Happy trick or treating! 


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