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Is face painting dangerous?

February 16, 2010

Last year, a report for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics was issued regarding the safety of face paint. The researchers tested 10 different face painting kits, all commonly found in craft stores.  Their findings were pretty scary indeed, “all 10 face paint products tested contained lead, and 6 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. 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.” Experts say there is no safe level of lead exposure for children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that parents avoid using cosmetics on their children that could be contaminated with lead. Lead exposure early in life can lead to hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, IQ deficits, reduced school performance, aggression and delinquent behavior. It can also impact fertility, including increasing risk for miscarriage and reducing sperm quality. Early-life lead exposure can even increase risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

After the 2009 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report came out, some face paints are now being labeled “nontoxic”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are buying a lead-free paint.  In fact, Malkan says, one product “was advertised on the package as nontoxic and hypoallergenic, [and] had some of the highest levels of nickel, cobalt and lead.”

Further reporting by BabyCenter is helpful in providing guidelines for using face paint. Dr. Dennis Woo, former chair of pediatrics at Santa Monica-UCLA and Orthopaedic Hospital, Santa Monica, Calif., who reviewed the report, said, using face paint once a year “is probably not going to do anything at all [healthwise],” . 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.

The only way to know if a cosmetic product contains lead or other heavy metals is to test the product at a laboratory, which the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics did for this report at a cost of $270.00 per sample.

Thankfully, you can still do face painting safely.  You just need some time and ingenuity.  Safe Cosmetics put together a list of DIY face paint recipes that range from chocolate masks to beet red lip gloss. If you can convince your child to stay away from the face painting table, you can make it a fun home activity you can do together.