Toxic Chemicals Found in Kids’ Makeup Products – What Will You Shop for This Halloween?

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

New report shows you should be worried about more than just checking your children’s Halloween candy this year.

Maryland PIRG and Breast Cancer Fund

Findings from the new Breast Cancer Fund report published today and co-released by Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) show potentially harmful chemicals could be in the products marketed to your kids.

Protecting your children’s health and well-being may also require careful inspection of the face paints sold in your local stores and at large retailers because they can be contaminated by heavy metals including lead and cadmium. Lead can cause altered brain development and learning difficulties while cadmium disrupts the body’s hormones. The report unmasks the frightening ingredients found in toy aisles across America that sell everything from lip balm, to nail and makeup kits marketed to kids at various ages from 4-14.

The Breast Cancer Fund sent 48 Halloween face paints to an independent laboratory to have them tested for the presence of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury:

  • Almost half of these – 21 items – had trace amounts of at least one heavy metal.
  • Some products contained as many as 4 metals.
  • Heavy metal concentrations were higher and more common in darkly pigmented paints.

Working with partners across the country, including U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Breast Cancer Fund collected 39 makeup products marketed to children, including: lip balm, nail and makeup kits found in toy aisles, shampoos and lotions marketed to kids, and party favors. All of these products listed either styrene-based chemicals or fragrance on the labels, leading researchers to suspect that both of these ingredients could lead to trace level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). A third-party lab confirmed suspicions, finding 20% of products had at least one VOC. Seven different VOC’s were found, with four having the potential to lead to serious long-term health care effects including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and two listed as a possible carcinogen.

“These scary chemicals shouldn’t be in our kids’ cosmetics and Halloween makeup,” said Dev Gowda, Toxics Advocate with Maryland PIRG. “Both Congress and manufacturers have a responsibility to make sure that products on store shelves are safe for our children.”

Read the full report: Pretty Scary 2: Unmasking Toxic Chemicals in Kids’ Makeup

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemicals, and preventing early-life exposures to harmful chemicals can help prevent health problems throughout their lives. Despite the cosmetics industry’s claim to the contrary, small exposures can add up over time and a growing body of scientific evidence shows that even tiny doses of some chemicals, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals, can be harmful. And it’s not just the size of the exposure that matters, but also the timing of the exposure and size of the person exposed to the chemical. Exposures during particular developmental stages, such as those that occur during puberty, may increase an individual’s later-life risk of disease.

“Heavy metals, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors should not be in kids’ face paint and makeup. Our report reveals chemicals of concern in a wide variety of products, in most cases with no indication on the label. Even as a scientist working in this area, I am not able to tell what is in the products I buy for my children without lab testing. Parents shouldn’t have to do that – manufacturers can and should do better.” – said Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., Director of Science for the Breast Cancer Fund.

There are real dangers in these children’s products designed for play or daily use. We have long known that the federal laws governing the safety used in personal care products are inadequate. The results of this study clearly indicate the need for strong, federal cosmetic safety reform to reduce children’s exposure to chemicals from products that on the surface seem playful, but upon scientific analysis, pose a dangerous threat to children’s health and well-being.

Most people assume the FDA regulates cosmetics and personal care products in the same way it does food and drugs to assure safety. However, cosmetics are one of the least regulated consumer products on the market today. Existing cosmetic safety law is over 75 years old and provides the FDA with virtually no statutory power to perform even the most rudimentary functions to ensure the safety of an estimated $71 billion cosmetic industry.

“Toxic chemicals in kids face paints and makeup is pretty scary.  Kids aren’t just “little adults” and are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposures, especially during critical windows of development,” said Janet Nudelman, Director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  “We need safer products and smarter laws so everyone will be protected from unsafe chemicals in the cosmetics and personal care products we use every day, and this is doubly true for kids. Congress should do its part by enacting meaningful, health-protective federal cosmetic safety legislation that protects children and other vulnerable populations.”

Read the full report: Pretty Scary 2: Unmasking Toxic Chemicals in Kids’ Makeup