How to keep your child safe from Halloween’s toxic terrors

The FDA doesn’t test for asbestos in cosmetics before they go to market. This Halloween, parents should check the label on kids’ costume makeup to avoid ingredients that put their kids at risk of exposure to toxic contaminants.

Child wearing Halloween makeup for a cat costume
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Gina Werdel

Halloween is upon us. Although the holiday will be different in 2020, one thing remains the same: kids want to dress up. With that in mind, parents need to look out for scary chemicals in kids’ costume makeup.

Toxic terrors lurk in far too many makeup products. This is largely because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate cosmetics in the same way it regulates food and drugs. The FDA doesn’t conduct premarket review on any cosmetics, which means that often, no one detects toxic substances such as mercury, lead, formaldehyde and asbestos. 

Of all those ghastly toxics, it’s especially important to watch out for asbestos. In 2018, lab testing found asbestos in Claire’s makeup — a brand mainly marketed to children. Asbestos can cause severe health effects even from short-term exposure. Health effects include mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, among others. All these conditions can occur after asbestos inhalation. With COVID-19 already stressing parents out this Halloween, we don’t need extra respiratory concerns to worry about. 

Companies don’t put asbestos in makeup intentionally; asbestos often contaminates talc powder, a soft mineral often included in eyeshadow, foundation, and baby powder. Asbestos is invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos forms in the same natural conditions as talc, creating a high risk of contamination. The best way to avoid asbestos is to avoid products with talc, which is like the costume asbestos wears to sneak into cosmetics. 

While we don’t know the exact probability of asbestos contamination in talc products, we do know it’s fairly common. In 2019, the FDA did a study of 52 talc-based cosmetic products. They found that 9 out of 52 products — almost one in five — contained asbestos. It’s impossible to draw comprehensive conclusions from small studies, but it does suggest there’s a serious problem. 

To protect you and your children from asbestos-contaminated Halloween makeup, check the ingredient list. If it has talc, consider using a different brand of makeup that is talc-free. Many companies have decided to put the health and safety of their customers first and transitioned away from this risky ingredient.

It’s maddening that customers have to weed through makeup to find one with no risk of asbestos contamination, but that’s where we are. Ultimately, we need better regulations on cosmetics. For now, let’s stay safe this Halloween and keep talc away from our children’s faces. Halloween should be scary, but not because of toxic contaminants in our makeup.


Gina Werdel