Face Paint on Halloween – Safety Tips

Dr. GehrisHalloween is only days away, and it is one of the most treasured holidays of the year for children. What could be better than a whole evening of dress up and free candy?!  Most children aren’t allowed to wear makeup regularly except for on this special day.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the FDA point out that face paint may be SUPERIOR in safety when compared with plastic masks, since face paint does not obscure a child’s full range of vision and can result in less trips and falls as well as a lower likelihood of crossing the street without fully viewing oncoming traffic.

How can we help our children choose the safest makeup, and what kinds of pitfalls can we help them avoid?

Which face paints are the safest for young children?

In the USA, color additives must be approved by the FDA, but the non-color ingredients do not require FDA-approval, thus forcing parents to do their own homework to avoid other potentially harmful contaminants. Parents should look for face paints made in the USA that are free of fragrance, formaldehyde, parabens, and synthetic dyes. Avoid products that don’t specifically state that they are FREE of lead or other heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium or arsenic, which are known to be harmful especially to small children, who may absorb them through their delicate skin.

Instead, choose products that are made in the United States with fruit or vegetable-based natural pigments and are FREE of fragrance and chemicals.

Can breakouts or allergic reactions occur after using face paints?

Any topical product, including face paint, has the potential to cause an irritant or allergic reaction when used on the skin.  The best way to determine whether it’s a good idea to apply on the face is to first apply a small “test spot” on the smooth skin of the forearm. If after a few hours or a day no rash appears, then the product is less likely to cause problems on the face. It’s still wise to avoid specific extra sensitive areas of the face when applying the paint; the eyelids, which are the thinnest skin on the body and can react easily to even mild ingredients and the lips or close to the mouth, as these paints were not meant to be ingested. It can be helpful to first apply a fragrance-free barrier cream prior to applying the paint to decrease the risk of the paint penetrating the skin to cause a reaction.

Are certain patients at greater risk for rashes after using face paint?

If your child has a history of eczema, that indicates that he or she has extra sensitive skin and should be more careful when applying a new product all over the face. Similarly, teens who are being treated for acne with products such as benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids that may cause their skin to peel or be a bit more sensitive should use extra caution when applying any new products on the face.

How long is it safe to leave face paint on the skin?

It’s not a good idea to allow your kids to sleep in the face paint, as it can rub off on the pillow and theoretically irritate the eyes.  It’s best to gently wash off face paint when Halloween is over in order to avoid an irritant or allergic reaction. Some parents will make a deal with their children that prior to sorting through candy they must wash off their face paint and change into pajamas.

How should face paint be removed?

A good rule of thumb is to follow the instructions on the face paint package. If instructed to wash with soap and water, use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser or unscented soap. Massage into the skin with the fingertips then gently rinse off with lukewarm water and pat dry.

What should parents do if they suspect their child has had a reaction to a face paint?

A reaction may appear as redness, itchiness or swelling on the site.  The first step in management after gently cleansing the area is to apply an unscented thick moisturizer cream to sooth the skin. If this isn’t helping to control the symptoms, then consider contacting your pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist, who can evaluate your child and determine the next course of action, which may include an oral antihistamine and/or a low strength topical steroid.

Enjoy this special holiday after doing all your homework and choosing the safest products for your little ones’ skin!  If you have any skin concerns afterwards you can count on the board-certified pediatric dermatologists at Children’s Hospital to help. To learn more, visit www.chp.edu/our-services/dermatology.