Halloween is approaching rather quickly so it’s time to talk about scary and dangerous stuff. But not about costumes – instead, let’s take a look at the dangerous kids’ makeup ingredients that you might want to avoid this year.
The subject of dangerous chemicals in makeup is quite old but still unresolved. The FDA does what it can to ban and regulate dangerous ingredients, however, they’re still many compounds that slip between the cracks and make it into the final product.
Kids’ makeup, especially, appears to be poorly regulated compared to adults’ makeup. Furthermore, it should be noted that many of the ingredients that are “acceptable” for adults are much less so for pre-teens and even teens as their skin and body are still developing and are more severely affected by said chemicals.
You should always be careful when you allow or help your kids to use Halloween makeup or any other type in general.
A very startling report published in 2016 by the Breast Cancer Fund and its Campaign for Safe Cosmetics shed a very uncomfortable light on the ingredients used in face paint cosmetics. (1)
The report went through 120 individual makeup products from a total of 93 different cosmetics kits. Dubbed the “Pretty Scary 2: Unmasking toxic chemicals in kids’ makeup”, the report is a must-read for any parent. (2)
We’ll go over most of the important ingredients below. Keep in mind that things such as carcinogens, lead, and endocrine disruptors in most makeup can be disastrous to your kids’ health. Lead, in particular, affects “virtually every system in the body” as the folks at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention point out. (3)
Which are the most dangerous ingredients in kids’ makeup?
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their original “Pretty Scary” report from 2009, lead was a key component in all cosmetics they tested back then. However, that report was rather limited in its reach, as well as its testing. The “Pretty Scary 2” report is based on both label reading, as well as laboratory tests, and it includes a wide range of body sprays, hair products, lip balms, nail polish, and other cosmetic products.
In addition, all these tested products weren’t from some obscure sources but from cosmetic chains such as Dollar Tree, Justice, Claire’s, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Toys “R” Us, Target, and others.
Nearly half of the tested products included a significant presence of at least one heavy metal such as lead, arsenic, or cadmium. Here are the top offenders the report managed to identify:
Lead, in particular, was a major component of nearly 20% of all 120 investigated cosmetic products. This is crucial because lead is one of those heavy metals that don’t have a “safe minimum level” or “benefits when ingested in small doses” – any presence of lead in your system will have a negative effect on your body.
Some of the main problems you can expect to come from lead exposure include things such as damage to the brain and the nervous system of the child, learning and behavioral problems, slowed development and growth, reduced IQ, juvenile delinquency, ADHD symptoms, and more. (4)
If you’re worried about the presence of lead in your kid’s makeup you should keep in mind that it’s more common in darkly colored face paints.
48 of the 120 products were tested for the presence of Arsenic and of them 4 contained between 1.1 and 1.9 ppm of it. That may not sound like much but it amounts to 8.3% of all tested products. Arsenic is considered a cancer-causing chemical by the CDC and is one of the main offenders tap water gets filtered against. Other problems that can come out of arsenic include dehydration, diarrhea, shock, vomiting, nausea, and more. (5)
Detected in 27% of the tested Halloween face paints, chromium is used as a colorant and can be toxic to non-reproductive organ systems. (6) According to the EPA, inhaled chromium is a carcinogen and can lead to lung cancer. (7)
Silica was found in 13% of the tested products. It’s used as an absorbent, a thickener, and a nonsurfactant, however, it can be toxic to a person’s liver kidneys, and more commonly – our respiratory system when inhaled accidentally.
Talc is also used in cosmetic products as an absorbent, as well as to smooth over and soften products. However, it has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. (8)
It is especially dangerous when inhaled as it can cause serious respiratory distress, inflammation and mesothelioma. Talc is also a concern for ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. It is present in 18% of the tested products.
Found in nearly 30% of the tested products, Cadmium can be responsible for lung and kidney damage. (9) It can cause severe learning disabilities and significantly lower a child’s IQ. It was also discovered that the quantity levels of cadmium that were previously considered “safe” are much higher than the actual safe limit but that’s not yet reflected in modern cosmetics. (10)
“Fragrance” is a generalized term that covers thousands of chemicals, many of which don’t appear individually on labels. However, a lot of them are suspected carcinogens acetaldehyde, dichloromethane, benzophenone, titanium dioxide, styrene, and others.
“Fragrance” is essentially a cover-up term that can hide ingredients such as diethyl phthalate, benzyl salicylate, propylparaben, and other known endocrine disruptors.
Fragrance ingredients can also include skin irritants, common allergens, and various others that are toxic to the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
Only 3% of the tested products included preservatives that release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, according to the National Cancer Institute. Such formaldehyde-releasing compounds include DMDM hydantoin, diazolydinal, and imidiazoldinal urea. (11)
Ethoxylation is a process used in the cosmetics industry that leads to the creation of two known toxic contaminants – ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Ethoxylated ingredients were found in 28% of the tested products.
There are several different types of parabens and they are known endocrine disruptors. The National Institute of Health states that parabens has detrimental effects on our hormonal system. (12)
Various volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are another group of ingredients that can include things such as vinyl acetate, ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene. These ingredients have been found to be known carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. VOCs were found in 28% of the tested products.
How outdated are the cosmetics safety laws?
Ok, this does sound startling. Surely, there are laws against this kind of thing?
Well, there are, however, the current cosmetic safety law used by the FDA is 75-years-old. Not only is this disastrously outdated in terms of how chemistry and the cosmetic industry have progressed over the years, but it also leaves the FDA powerless to make sure that younger consumers are protected adequately.
As of today, only two of the 114 pages of The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) cover cosmetics safety with the other 112 targeting food and drug safety. (13) It’s obvious that this horrific negligence has to change but the process is hard and slow.
So, until things change – and however they change – at least make sure that you know what the makeup your child uses for Halloween consists of. Not every chemical ingredient is guaranteed to lead to a trip to the ER, but too many of them pose too great of a risk to be ignored.