Environmental Defence Canada is advising Canadians to make educated decisions this Halloween when it comes to face paint.
“Things like parabens and phthalates are commonly found in face paints. Parabens are linked to skin irritants, so that’s a serious concern for people,” said Mariah Griffin-Angus, program co-ordinator at Environmental Defence, which is a non-partisan group that addresses environmental and health issues. She adds that parabens can cause rashes and breakouts.
“If you’re sensitive, (they’re) things to be aware of,” she said. “Some cosmetics may contain sodium sulphate, which can lead to contact dermatitis and eczema.”
In 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in the United States tested 10 popular children’s face paints for heavy metals.
None of the face paints listed toxic chemicals in the ingredients; however six out of 10 tested positive for nickel, chromium and/or cobalt, potent allergens that could potentially cause skin rashes.
Nickel, cobalt, and chromium are banned as cosmetic ingredients in Canada under Sec. 16 of the Food and Drug Act.
But these toxins can still find their way into a variety of face paint products as impurities.
“Whether it’s an impurity in the manufacturing process, an impurity in the ingredients and chemical itself. (It’s) another way that heavy metals can be added into a product unintentionally,” said Griffin-Angus.
Linda Salna, 53, founded Toronto-based face painting company Happy Faces six years ago. She says that out of the thousands of faces she has painted, only a handful may have developed a rash from her FDA-approved, non-toxic, hypoallergenic products.
“We are a professional face painting company, so we do buy the highest quality face paints that the typical consumer would not be able to just buy,” said Salna. “It’s an investment for people to get quality face paints.”
However, Griffin-Angus argues that terms “hypoallergenic” and “dermatologically tested” do not mean much on a scientific level.
“They’re not regulated terms, so a company can have its own standards for dermatologically tested,” she said. “If you have sensitive skin or you’re prone to reactions, those standards might not be good enough for you.”
Mia Liefso, a medical skin therapist and owner of Bradford Skin Clinic, agrees. She says that although companies often remove a lot of the chemical fillers that give people reactions, they can use the term hypoallergenic at their discretion.
“Sometimes it doesn’t even work,” she said. “They just put that (in) for marketing.”
But Liefso doesn’t think that should stop a person from using face paint on occasion.
“For Halloween, do what you want, be as scary as you can and that’s just one day – not a big deal,” she said.
“For everyday use, I think people should absolutely find out what’s in the products they’re putting on their face.”
Fourth-year theatre student Bria McLaughlin usually wears makeup when performing on stage. She says she uses foundation, lots of eyeliner, mascara, lipstick and blush, and retouches it every time she goes back on stage.
McLaughlin admits she doesn’t usually read the label when she buys makeup. “I pick it up. I like the brand. Go for it,” she says.
In 2010, Environmental Defence tested 49 makeup items including mascaras, foundations, eye shadows and lipsticks. They found similar toxins in these cosmetics to the ones the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported finding in face paint.
Griffin-Angus says that if these toxins are found in something as supposedly harmless as face paint, it could indicate a higher prevalence of toxins in products we use on a daily basis.
“It’s the long-term cumulative effect that’s the problem,” she said. “You’re not being exposed to these chemicals on a one-off basis – it’s that these chemicals are present in everything we use and especially so in Halloween products.”
McLaughlin believes that there needs to be more information available about what is going into cosmetics.
She thinks that people should demand higher quality when it comes to face paint. Griffin-Angus agrees.
“People who are buying these products need to call the manufacturer and say they want safer face paints and safer cosmetics,” she said. “You should never trust that something is safe just because somebody says it is.”