Face paint not as scary as report suggestsby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A national report out this week -- just in time for Halloween -- might have given some parents pause: Could lead and other toxics in kids' face paint endanger their children?
The report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 10 different brands of face paint for kids and found that all of them had traces of lead ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million. It also found nickel, cobalt and chromium, which can cause allergic reactions and other skin problems.
But the lead levels shown in the report are well below what the Food and Drug Administration has deemed safe for lipstick, and some experts say there are plenty of other products whose lead content should give parents a much bigger scare.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Healthy Legacy, a Minnesota group that publicized the report locally, argue that no level of lead is safe. Lead, a neurotoxin that can harm a variety of systems in the body, is known to harm brain development in children.
"Kids put a lot of things in their mouths," said Peter Starzynski of Healthy Legacy. "I would really caution parents on this Halloween about using face paint for kids of any age, because there's just no labeling on these things."
The FDA doesn't require cosmetics to list lead content on packages. But after testing lipsticks, FDA officials said even those containing up to 3 parts per million were safe to use. The lead content found in lipsticks is also much lower than what's been found in other products such as paint and children's toys. Massive recalls a couple of years ago resulted after tests found some toys had a lead content in the thousands of parts per million.
Experts said while it's important to monitor the lead content in products, especially products for children, everyone will be exposed to lead in one way or another.
"Because lead is an element on this planet, you can't completely avoid exposure to it," said Kevin Keane, a research pathologist in New Jersey who belongs to the Society of Toxicologic Pathology.
Dan Locher, who oversees asbestos and lead compliance for the Minnesota Department of Health, agreed. But he said he recommends that if parents are at all concerned about a product, they should simply make the decision to avoid it.
"Chances are they're not going to have any kind of serious side effects," Locher said of kids using face paint for Halloween. "But sometimes it's just better to avoid a situation like that if it's a concern."
The other metals cited in the report are also good to avoid, Locher said. "You want to be somewhat diligent when you pick out these products," he said.
Dan Marshall, who co-owns a natural toys and baby care store called Peapods in St. Paul, said he's concerned some parents could be misled by the report.
"I think it's important to keep in mind the primary source of lead for children, which is lead paint on houses, dirt near heavily traveled roads, and workplace exposures from parents' clothing," said Marshall, who has three children with his wife, Millie Adelsheim.
"You have to look at the levels that they found," he said. "We're also talking about Halloween makeup you put on your face a couple times a year. I have a hard time being really concerned about this."
Keane, who is also a father, said parents need to keep things in perspective when they hear about various dangers in the environment.
"Worry about what you can control," Keane said. "The odds of a child having neurotoxicity from these is probably just astronomically low. The odds of them being hit by a car while trick-or-treating are much higher."