For a child, what's not to love about face paint? Messy and colorful it allows kids (or anyone for that matter) to be creative and jump into the skin of something or someone else. This kind of creative play is the work of childhood and helps children to develop cognition, imagination and a sense of self.
Despite this, my kids have had almost no exposure to face paint. Why? Because I am always on the defensive with cosmetic products due to the very loose ingredient safety and labeling laws in the U.S. Face paint in particular worries me because it usually sits on the skin for a long time after being applied, and is often applied to or near the eyes and mouth, areas that are sensitive and known bodily entry points for disease and contaminants. Even if the face paint isn't applied to the mouth or eyes, we all know how kids like to rub and smudge and then put those hands in their mouth, scary right?
Enter the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their 2009 testing of 10 popular face paint brands. Their research found lead in 10 out of 10 of the face paint kits tested and nickle, cobalt and chromium in 6 of the 10 samples. These metals are no joke, especially for young kids whose brains, bodies and hormones are still developing.
Nickle, Cobalt and Chromium
Nickle, cobalt and chromium are heavy metals that can cause skin allergies. The levels found of these chemicals were higher than the recommendations of several industry studies. Nickle in particular is a prevalent contact allergen in children and adults and its use in cosmetics is banned in the European Union. Chromium is widely restricted from use in cosmetics. It is banned in the European Union, Canada, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
To add insult to injury, some of the tested samples were labeled as "hypoallergenic"--the nerve! FYI: the label "hypoallergenic" on cosmetic packaging doesn't actually mean anything.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that lead exposure is not safe at any level and that lead accumulates in the body. Even at low levels, lead is a neuro toxin and has been found to have many negative effects on children including decreased IQ, ADD, kidney damage, decreased muscle and bone growth and language impairment.
Lead typically enters the body through ingestion or inhalation and the amount of absorption that occurs from exposure on the skin is still being studied. I am definitely a "better safe than sorry" kind of mama and the dangerous impacts of lead are something I will avoid at all costs.
While lead is banned from cosmetics in Canada and Europe it is allowed in U.S. cosmetics in any amount. Isn't that unbelievable? No wonder then that Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-N.Y., is now calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to tighten regulation of novelty cosmetics and face paints. Go Senator, way to fight for the health of our kids!
What to Do
All of this information is important to know, but how do we as parents navigate through all of it? Here is my advice.
Avoid Face Paint Made in China: This is an easy one. Read the label, act accordingly.
Make Your Own: If you are feeling crafty this could be a fun project. This site has three DIY recipes that look great, but really these abound on the internet and Pintrest so go for it!
Choose a Mask: Just make sure it is PVC free!
Buy a "safe" alternative: I put safe in quotes here because the lack of required FDA testing on our cosmetics products means it is a buyer beware kind of jungle out there. If you've been keeping up with my blog however you know the worst chemicals to avoid so do your due diligence and read those labels. Below are a few options that look good but full disclosure, I haven't tried any of them!
Go Green Face Paint: This company's paints are certified organic. That certification means that 95% of the product's ingredients must be organic. The ingredient list on their site appears to be free of the main toxic offenders like lead and parabens.
Natural Earth Paint: Here also the ingredients look pretty good. I've also seen this brand in stores quite a bit so the easy to find factor is a bonus.
Do you have a favorite DIY recipe or safe face paint brand? If so please share in the comments!