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Toxins Make Halloween Face Paints Scary

Report finds all products tested contained lead and some had known skin allergens

TUESDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- If your little goblins or vampires are set to paint their faces this Halloween to look all the more believable, you may want to think twice, according to a new report released just in time for the holiday.

The report, issued by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, is titled: Pretty Scary: Could Halloween Face Paint Cause Lifelong Health Problems? Researchers tested 10 face paint products, the types widely available via the Internet or in craft or Halloween stores.

"All 10 face paint products tested contained lead, and six out of 10 had known skin allergens, including nickel, cobalt or chromium, at levels above recommendations of industry studies," said Stacy Malkan, the campaign's co-founder and a co-author of the report. Malkan is also the author of Not Just a Pretty Face, a 2007 book detailing what she sees as the potentially hazardous ingredients in cosmetics.

For the new report, she said, "We looked for a range of heavy metals, and we didn't find mercury or arsenic. Other countries have found those in face paints. We did unfortunately find lead in all the products." Exposure to lead can cause developmental and behavioral problems, experts agree.

Then there were the labeling problems, with some products claiming to be hypoallergenic when they were not. One product "was advertised on the package as nontoxic and hypoallergenic, [and] had some of the highest levels of nickel, cobalt and lead," Malkan said.

The lead found ranged from 0.054 parts per million to 0.65 parts per million. Four of 10 products had nickel, ranging from 2.1 to 5.9 parts per million; two of 10 had cobalt, with levels from 4.8 to 5.5 parts per million. Five of 10 had chromium, ranging from 1.6 to 120 parts per million. According to the report, levels of each should not exceed 1 part per million for consumer products.

Earlier this year, a face paint from China was recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when some children had rashes and itching; the FDA later found microbial contamination in the product.

Malkan says more oversight is needed by the FDA to regulate products, including face paints. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by the FDA, except color additives. Recalls of cosmetics are done voluntarily by manufacturers or distributors if products are found hazardous or deceptive; the FDA can take regulatory action through the federal court system. But this level of oversight is not strong enough, Malkan and others believe.

What's a parent to do? Using the face paint just once a year "is probably not going to do anything at all [healthwise]," contended Dr. Dennis Woo, former chair of pediatrics at Santa Monica-UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, Santa Monica, Calif., who reviewed the report. But he said he is surprised by the amounts of heavy metals found in the face paints. "We should start looking at this stuff. There's no reason these heavy metals need to be in cosmetics."

His colleague, Dr. Wally Ghurabi, chief of emergency services, Santa Monica-UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, believes that even once-a-year use of the face paints may not be worth it. "Concerned parents should skip it," he said. If those who apply the paints aren't careful, he said, and get the paint too close to the eyes or nose, that could be potentially harmful.

Malkan, too, votes that parents avoid face-paint use in children. But if you are using them, the FDA advises that parents:

  • Follow directions carefully, including instructions not to use the products around the eyes.
  • If the face paint smells bad, don't use it as it could be contaminated.
  • Consider a test of the face paint a few days before Halloween to be sure your child doesn't get an allergic reaction to it.

Another option is to "go natural," said Jessa Blades, a natural makeup artist and green living expert based in New York City. First, look up "safe" or green cosmetics on the campaign's Web site. Then, consider black eye pencil for whiskers. Or mix a quarter teaspoon of the spice turmeric with unscented lotion to make "war paint."

For fake blood, mix corn syrup, Castile liquid soap and a dash of red food coloring, Blades said.

More information

There's more on the hazards of lead for children at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

SOURCES: Stacy Malkan, co-founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and co-author, Pretty Scary: Could Halloween Face Paint Cause Lifelong Health Problems? Oct. 27, 2009, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; Jessa Blades, natural makeup artist and green living expert, New York City; Wally Ghurabi, D.O., chief of emergency services, Santa Monica--UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, Santa Monica, Calif.; Dennis Woo, M.D., former chief of pediatrics, Santa Monica--UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, Santa Monica, Calif., and associate professor, pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles; U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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