Ask Eartha: Chemicals the scariest thing about Halloween (column) |

Ask Eartha: Chemicals the scariest thing about Halloween (column)

Dear Eartha,

I am thinking about painting my face and my daughter’s face for our Halloween costumes but after looking at the Halloween make up package, I am wondering whether or not it is safe to use the paints. — Lisa, Frisco

I’m glad you asked Lisa! As it turns out there is no way to know if it is safe or not because the Food and Drug Administration does not require costume make up companies to list harmful ingredients on the packaging. In fact, the only way to know if any cosmetic product contains dangerous things like lead or other heavy metals is to test the product in a lab.

In 2009 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a non-profit coalition and project of the Breast Cancer Fund, found that all 10 of the popular children’s face paint products it tested contained low levels of lead. Six of the items contained known skin allergens like nickel, cabal, and chromium, and many of the products contained two or more of these heavy metals. Exposure to lead over long periods of time has been linked to health issues including behavioral and memory problems, greater risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and reduced fertility. Overall, children are at higher risk of these complications than adults due to the fact that their bodies are still developing.

The good news is that, according to an associate clinical professor in the department of dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine, “For potential harmful absorption, the exposure would have to be for long periods of time or on a large surface area.” She recommends limiting costume make up wearing to a few hours and only applying to the face ensuring it’s only in contact with a small surface area.

There are some companies that specialize in producing safe, oil and alcohol-free Halloween makeup. Look for face paint labeled as being free from parabens, formaldehyde, synthetic dyes and other chemicals and/or that have been independently tested for heavy metals by a toxicologist. A quick search online turned up Elegant Minerals, Glob face paints, and Earth Paint as some safe options.

There is also a great app called ThinkDirty ( which ranks the safety of specific cosmetic products on a scale of 1-10 and offers cleaner solutions.

In more good news, you can easily make your own face make up from items you may already have in your home! Try one of these options (always test on your neck or arm before putting on your face):

Option #1: Mix cold cream, cornstarch, water, and food coloring to a paste. Brush on and go!

Option #2: Choose a base from either unscented lotion, pure cocoa butter, or fluoride-free toothpaste (avoid mint flavors which can leave the skin feeling tingly). Mix a few drops of natural food coloring or real foods (turmeric for yellow, juiced raspberries or beets for red/pink, mashed avocado for green, juiced blueberries for purple, cocoa powder for brown, squid ink for black, powdered sugar and water for white), into the base. Brush on and go!

And while we are on the topic of Halloween face painting I’d like to briefly touch on other Halloween costume / make up safety tips:

• If you are using any type of glue, adhesive, or prosthetic skin for a costume, look for brands that are approved for stage or theater use as they are gentler on your skin.

• If you are using fake eyelashes take care that none of the eyelash glue gets into your eyes as it can glue your eyes shut!

• Fake blood is often made from a dye that can irritate skin, instead make your own with corn syrup, flour, and food coloring.

• It is never a good idea to purchase contact lenses online or in a store because they often cause eye irritation/damage. Remember, contacts are a medical device and require a prescription from your eye doctor.

• Some false nails use resins and formaldehyde that are known to cause cancer. Glue on-nails are a better option just remember to remove them properly. In the end though, it’s best to pain your own natural nails (or forget about your nails and just wear gloves, it is going to be a cold night after all!).

• Choose hats and wigs over spray-on hair color which may contain synthetic chemicals and can leave your hair dry and brittle.

So go out and enjoy all the fun and fright Halloween has to offer without the fear of harming your body!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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