Children love having their face painted. And, with Halloween just around the corner, they will be begging you to turn them into kittens, lions and princesses. We want to make sure you’re aware of what’s in face paint, how it can affect your child and the options you have to keep your little one safe.

What the New Study Shows

The most recent report “Pretty Scary 2: Unmasking Toxic Chemicals in Kids’ Makeup” reveals a disturbing fact: more than 50 percent of face paints and cosmetics (lip balms, nail polish and makeup kits marketed to kids) contain at least one ingredient or contaminant linked to hormone disruption, developmental toxicity, learning difficulties or cancer. The report was issued in 2016 by the Breast Cancer Fund (now known as Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) and its Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Of the 187 products tested, forty-eight were Halloween face paints that were tested for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury.

  • Lead was found in nearly 20% of the face paints
  • Cadmium was found in nearly 30% of the face paints
  • Heavy metal concentrations were higher and more common in black and dark pigmented paints
  • All of the products with detectable levels of lead had higher concentrations than what is allowed in drinking water (.015 ppm) and children’s food (.5 ppm)
  • 19 percent (9 products) contained lead at levels above 1 ppm.

All the other products tested (lip balm, nail polish and makeup kits) were found to have Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – vapors and gases that may include chemicals like styrene, toluene, benzene and formaldehyde.

And, products contaminated with VOCs all tested higher for VOCs than EPA limits for drinking water. Those products were: Disney Frog Lip Gloss, Disney Frozen stick-on nails, Disney Princess Lip Gloss, Hershey’s Reese’s lip balm, Hershey’s Bubble Gum lip balm, Minions Nail Polish Pink, the Batman Party Makeup Set, and the Killer Clown Makeup Kit.

In comparison, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ 2009 study found ALL the face paints tested had “dangerous heavy metals and toxic substances that are banned or restricted in other countries.” Surprisingly, the lead levels found in the 2016 study were above 1 ppm but not present in all products while the 2009 lead levels were under .1 ppm but were present in every product.

  • 10 out of 10 face paints contained lead from .054 ppm 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 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?

Why Lead is a Such a Problem

There are 3 important things to know about lead:

  1. Lead is not safe at any level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified,” and “lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.”
  2. Small amounts of lead can build up in the body and cause lifelong learning and behavior problems. This buildup of lead in the body is lead poisoning.
  3. Exposure to lead has been linked to decreased cognitive ability.

Cadmium is of particular concern as it can mimic estrogen and the research linking it to breast cancer. Chronic exposure can lead to kidney, bone and lung disease.

This comprehensive chart created by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics gives you an idea of all the health issues that can result from lead exposure.

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 12.42.56 AM

Our thanks to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for permission to use this chart.

No U.S. Regulations!

You may think you are protected from harmful products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but cosmetics are one of the least regulated industries. Existing safety laws for cosmetics are over 75 years old and there is virtually no oversight:

  1. Companies can use any raw materials or chemicals in their products without FDA pre-market approval, with the exception of color additives.
  2. The word “fragrance” can contain hundreds of toxic chemicals.
  3. The FDA does not require recalls of cosmetic products that may be harming consumers. Recalls are voluntary!
  4. The FDA cannot require manufacturers to file data on ingredients, product formulations or report cosmetic-related injuries…whether the injury is to a child or an adult.
  5. 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.

face paint

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.

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.”

Safe & Natural Face Paint Recipe

Safe Baby Healthy Child post on non toxic face paint toddler girl smiling with natural face paint on

n 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.

Additional Resources

Report Adverse Reactions to the FDA.

Extensive information about lead prevention and poisoning: The California Department of Public Health.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Report

Editor’s Note:  This post was originally published in October, 2015, and has been updated with additional information.