Are face paints safe for children?

For kids, Halloween means two things: free sweets and dressing up. Part of the fun of putting on a costume is painting your face like a clown or cat or zombie, but how safe are the face paints
kids are using? What, in fact, are they made of, and can they harm your child’s health?

Non toxic face paints

What is in face paint?

Personally, the ingredients in face paint (or paint in general) are not something I’ve actively thought about. I’ve had my own face painted, have got poster paint all over my hands from classroom art classes, but it never appeared harmful. But appearances, after all, can be very deceiving. According to a report written by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which tested ten children’s face paint brands, “[t]en out of 10 face paints tested contained lead” and “[s]ix out of 10 face paints tested contained known skin allergens, nickel, cobalt and/or chromium—at levels far exceeding the recommendations of industry studies”. Brands like Snazaroo also contain chemicals such as parabens (in their many forms) and talc.

How safe are face paints for children?

Exposure to lead as a child, or even in utero, can have drastic consequences to your health. “Lead exposures during prenatal development, infancy and childhood can cause attention deficits, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, IQ deficits, reduced school performance, aggression and delinquent behaviour.” It can also delay puberty in girls, increasing a woman’s risk of miscarriage and reducing a man’s sperm quality. Exposure as a child can affect your mental health, and increase your risk of Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease. “Nickel is the leading contact allergen in children and adults”, the CSC report goes on to say, and nickel, cobalt and chromium can trigger Allergic Contact Dermatitis (or ACD). Parabens have also been linked to cancer, as has talc which “may contain asbestos” in its natural form.

Are there safer alternatives?

When purchasing face paint, being careful to read the ingredients list isn’t enough, as the heavy metals found in the paints aren’t listed. Snazaroo, a UK brand that claims to be non-toxic and hypoallergenic, lists Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, and talc as paint ingredients, however when the CSC tested the brand’s paints they also discovered unlisted lead, nickel and cobalt. So what can you do?

  1. Buy organic face paint, from brands such as the UK’s Grimas Face Paints or the USA’s Luna Star.
  2. OR

  3. Make your own face paint, using products you likely have lying around your house. Below are a few recipe variations for home-made face paints.

Home-made face paints

These recipes for home-made face paints are safe because you know exactly what is going into them. Create any colour you wish by adding food colour.

Recipe one:
Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of shortening (ex. Butter, lard, or solid vegetable fat)
  • 5 teaspoons corn flour
  • 1 teaspoon Vaseline
  • Cotton wool
  • Paper plate
  • Food colouring

Method

  1. Mix the fat, corn flour and Vaseline together on a paper plate.
  2. Once they turn into paste, add a few drops of food colouring.
  3. Cotton wool can be used for application, but you can also use fingers or paint brushes.

Recipe two:
Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon cold cream (preferably organic)
  • ½ teaspoon water
  • Food colouring

Method

  1. In a small container, mix corn starch and cold cream until well blended.
  2. Then add water and stir.
  3. Add food colouring until the desired colour is achieved.

Recipe 3:
Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon food colouring

Method

  1. Mix corn starch and flour together in a bowl.
  2. Gradually stir in the corn syrup and water until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add food colouring, and stir until the desired shade is achieved.

Sources: Safecosmetics.org, cancer.org, sustainablestuff.co.uk, easy-homemade-recipes.com

Photography: Cheryl Dudley @Flickr

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