Face painting has turned into an art form with brushes at the ready to transform your child into the superhero, exotic animal or character of their dreams. Face painters are everywhere…at festivals, farmers markets, birthday parties, carnivals and school events. Some children even have their own face painting kits for everyday play. And, with Halloween just around the corner, purchases of face and body paint will be at their peak.
But, what is in face paint? What is actually being absorbed by their skin or ingested when it’s applied near their mouth?
The Two Main Studies on Face Paint
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (2009) study revealed that ALL the face paints they tested had “dangerous heavy metals and toxic substances that are banned or restricted in other countries. Disturbingly, parents have no way of knowing what’s really in these products just by reading the labels.”
- 10 out of 10 face paints contained lead from .054 to .65 ppm.
- 6 out of 10 face paints contained nickel, cobalt and/or chromium (all skin allergens) “at levels far exceeding recommendations of industry studies.”
- Labels had misleading claims such as “hypoallergenic” on products containing known skin allergens.
- Some contained hazardous chemicals banned or restricted in Europe, Canada and Japan as well as colors not approved for use in cosmetics by the FDA.
Brands that tested positive for lead:
- Alex Face Paint Studio
- Ben Nye LW Lumiere Creme Wheel
- Crafty Dab Face Paints
- Don Post Grease Paint Color Wheel (also contained Chromium)
- Jovi Make-up (also contained Nickel and Chromium)
- Wolfe Brothers Face Art & FX (also contained Chromium)
- Mehron Glow in the Dark Fantasy F-X
- Mehron 6-Pack Greasepaint Crayons (also contained Nickel, Cobalt and Chromium)
- Rubie’s Silver Metallic Fard d’Argent (also contained Nickel, Cobalt and Chromium)
- Snazaroo Face Painting Kit (also contained Nickel and Cobalt)
In the six years since this study was conducted, nothing has changed in the manufacturing and regulation of these products.
- In 2014, Consumer NZ, a non-profit established in 1959 in New Zealand, tested 15 face paints. One face paint had a shocking amount of lead: 15,200 ppm. These products were removed from stores, but some were not recovered.
All face paints tested claimed they were “safe” or “non-toxic” but also had a warning not to apply near the eyes, lips or on sensitive or broken skin. However, pictures on the product showed images with face paint near the eyes and on the lips. Here are other findings from the Consumer NZ testing:
- Carnival Colors: Extremely high levels of lead (15,200 ppm), no ingredients list, no contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Dasini Divinito Yellow Make-up Cream: No contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Derivan Face and Body Paint – Animals: Incorrect ingredients list.
- Go Fun Face and Body Paint: No contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Magic Make Up Set: No ingredients list, no contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Rubie’s Clown Makeup – antimony at 9 ppm. (5 ppm is the guideline in Canada, one of the few countries with established limits).
- Unbranded “Glow Face Paint”: No contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Unbranded “Halloween Cream Makeup”: No contact information for the importer or supplier.
- Unbranded “Peel Off Cream Makeup”: IPBC (a restricted preservative), no contact information for the importer or supplier.
How many children might have used these and unknowingly had their health compromised?
A parent would never know that there is lead in face paint.
Why Lead is a Such a Problem
There are 3 important things to know about lead:
- Lead is not safe at any level.
- Small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems.
- The buildup of lead in the body is referred to as lead poisoning.
Our thanks to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for permission to use this chart.
No U.S. Regulations!
In the U.S., cosmetics can contain lead, chromium and nickel in any amount without being listed on the labels. The FDA does not require companies to list heavy metals or other harmful contaminants on product labels. A parent would never know that there is lead in face paint. Lead is banned from cosmetics in Canada and Europe.
A Few Face Paintings Can’t Hurt, Can They?
One or two face paintings a year might not be much of a risk, right? But, when you see the amount of lead in face paints that were recalled, you may think twice about ever putting your child at risk.
Tartan Collection Brand (United Kingdom, 2012): Tartan Collection paint pots from China were recalled for having up to 3.5% lead in them. The regulation for lead in the UK is 20 parts per million but these were found to have 16,900 parts per million. At that level, exposure could cause brain damage in very young children. Chelford Limited, the importer, was fined approximately 14,000 pounds for breaching product safety laws.
Carnival Colors Brand (New Zealand, 2014): Consumer NZ reported high levels of lead in “Carnival Colors” made in China. How high were the lead levels? 15,200 ppm.
Various brands (Korea, 2013): The Korean Consumer Agency found poisonous metals in the best selling imported and domestic brands including Barium, a rat poison, at levels 40 times higher than their regulated safety limit. Barium, if ingested, leads to severe stomach pains.
Oriental Trading Company (United States, 2009): Six face-paint products manufactured by Shanghai Color Art Stationery Company Limited in China were recalled by Fun Express Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oriental Trading Company. Significant microbial contamination was found by an FDA laboratory. Skin rashes and swelling were reported.
Rose Art Brand (United States, 2009): Over 200 children had reactions including skin rashes, irritations, and swelling from face paints. The same company had a recall of 1.6 million units in May 2005 for these same adverse reactions to their face paint product.
In 2014, a face painter’s booth at a New Mexico fair was shut down when an alert parent realized they were using acrylic paint and reported it. Acrylic paints use formaldehyde as a preservative which can cause eye irritations and tears, skin and lung irritations.
At that level, exposure could cause brain damage in very young children.
Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund says, “Parents should not have to worry that face paint contains lead and other hazardous substances, and they have a right to know what’s in these products. Clearly, companies are not making the safest products possible for children, even though kids are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposures.”
If the face paint says hypoallergenic or dermatologically tested, is it safe?
No. Neither of those terms are regulated, so a company can make up its own definition. In fact, some of the face paints tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics were labeled hypo-allergenic and contained the highest levels of lead, nickel and cobalt found in the study. (See Snazaroo Face Paint).
How do natural face paint products rate?
Unfortunately, face paint products that are labeled as natural are still not safe. One ingredient to be aware of is a preservative called Optiphen, also known as Phenoxyethanol (and) Caprylyl Glycol (and) Sorbic Acid. It has a 5 rating on EWG”s Skin Deep Report with “strong evidence indicating it is a human skin toxicant or allergen”.
In the case of face paint, making your own is really the only way to make sure that what you’re putting on your child’s face is safe. Here’s a simple recipe:
½ tsp skin cream as a base such as Keys 100% Chemical-Free Tortuga Lotion.
Organic cornstarch (optional)
Organic foods such as turmeric (yellow/brown), raspberries or blackberries (rose), cherries or beets (red), blueberries (blue), avocado with a squirt of lemon juice (green), corn (yellow) and cocoa or chocolate sauce (brown).
First, make the colors you would like. If using whole or frozen fruits, mash the juice from the fruits using a sieve into the base lotion.
Mix a little of the base with each color you’ve created. Different foods have varying levels of water content, so you may need to add a small amount of organic cornstarch to the mix.
Use a clean paintbrush to apply. Remove easily with soap and water.
Substitute for Face Paint
Create simple costumes from things you have around the house. Let your child’s imagination be the guide. Keep items like scarves, tissue paper, silk material and cardboard handy. Green Halloween has some simple, homemade costume ideas for becoming the Ocean or Mother Earth that will spark your child’s creativity.
Report Adverse Reactions to the FDA
Extensive information about lead prevention and poisoning: The California Department of Public Health
Environmental Protection Authority, New Zealand
Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Report
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October, 2015, and has been updated with additional information.