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Face paints

An analysis of 15 face paints has found 9 products that are unlikely to comply with the required standard. All the face paints we bought claimed to be “safe” or “non-toxic”. Despite the claims, we found products that shouldn’t be on the market.

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One face paint had extremely high levels of lead. Another included a restricted preservative. We also found products that failed to meet basic labelling requirements of the Cosmetic Products Group Standard, which regulates face paints.

What we found

In February 2014, we reported the results of testing that found a Carnival Colors face paint had extremely high levels of lead: 15,200 parts per million. The paint was bought from Wellington discount store Krazy$Dealz but had also been distributed to other stores around the country.

Young children are particularly at risk from exposure to lead, which can cause serious developmental and health problems. The Ministry of Health provided funding for this test because of the potential risks to children from products with high lead levels.

When we informed the importer about the test results, it contacted retailers to tell them to remove the face paint from sale. The ministry subsequently visited discount stores to check the product had been taken off shelves.

Trace levels of lead were detected in other products we bought. But the amounts found are likely to be within the tolerance levels of current rules. The Cosmetic Products Group Standard prohibits the presence of lead except at trace levels that are considered “technically unavoidable in good manufacturing practice”.

The standard doesn’t specify the amount that’s regarded as “unavoidable” and there’s no international consensus on a figure.

Canada is one of the few countries that has developed guidelines for trace limits of lead and 4 other metals in cosmetics. The guideline limits are:

  • lead: 10ppm (parts per million)
  • arsenic: 3ppm
  • cadmium: 3ppm
  • mercury: 3ppm
  • antimony: 5ppm.

With the exception of the Carnival Colors kit, levels of lead in the products tested were below Canada's 10ppm limit. Most were less than 1.5ppm, which suggests manufacturers are able to control amounts below a 10ppm threshold.

Testing for other heavy metals found one product that exceeded Canada’s guideline for antimony. A white paint in Rubie’s Clown Makeup – a pack of five face paints purchased from Farmers – contained 9ppm of antimony. Canada’s limit is 5ppm. Farmers removed the paint from sale after we contacted the store.

Labelling

As well as testing for heavy metals, we reviewed the ingredients listed on product packaging. We found one face paint, an unbranded “Peel Off Cream Makeup” bought from Auckland discount store Ike’s Emporium, containing a restricted preservative called iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (IPBC).

IPBC is a contact allergen. It’s prohibited in products for children under 3 (with the exception of shampoos and rinse-off bath products). It’s also prohibited in oral-hygiene and lip-care products, and in products applied to “a large part of the body”. The store said it’s now removed the paint from sale.

Another face paint, a Derivan product, listed a violet colouring agent (CI 51319) which is only permitted in products that come into “brief contact” with the skin. These products include rinse-off preparations (such as shampoos) but exclude face paints that can stay on the skin for some hours.

Derivan told us it no longer used the colouring agent, although it may have done so in the past. The company said it intended to reprint the label to correct the ingredients list.

Missing information

Several products we bought, including the Carnival Colors kit, failed to provide an ingredients list or to meet other basic labelling requirements.

A Magic face-paint kit, bought from The 123 Mart in Auckland, claimed to be laboratory tested and to have pased (sic) European safety standards. But no ingredients list was provided and there was no contact information for the importer or supplier. These details are required under the Cosmetic Products Group Standard.

Contact information for an importer or supplier was missing from almost all of the other products we bought at discount stores. Go Fun Face and Body Paint, purchased from The Warehouse, didn’t have this information either. The Warehouse told us it would re-label remaining stock.

FAS Face Paint, a local brand, had a partial ingredients list on its paints. The company said it was amending the label and a revised list would appear on new stock.

The products

  • Carnival Colors - extremely high levels of lead, no ingredients list, no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Dasini Divinito Yellow Make-up Cream - no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Derivan Face and Body Paint – Animals - incorrect ingredients list.
  • Go Fun Face and Body Paint - no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Magic Make Up Set - no ingredients list, no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Rubie’s Clown Makeup - antimony at 9ppm.
  • Unbranded “Glow Face Paint” - no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Unbranded “Halloween Cream Makeup” - no contact information for the importer or supplier.
  • Unbranded “Peel Off Cream Makeup” - IPBC (a restricted preservative), no contact information for the importer or supplier.

Product claims

All the face paints we bought made claims they were “safe” or “non-toxic”. But these claims don’t really mean much.

Face paints have to comply with the cosmetic standard. Like cosmetics, they can contain ingredients – such as colouring agents and preservatives – that may occasionally cause an allergic reaction in some people. Some ingredients may also cause eye irritation.

Most of the face paints had warnings not to apply the paint near the eyes, lips or on sensitive or broken skin. Some products also recommended patch testing before use. However, these warnings were usually in smaller print on the back of the pack and could be easily overlooked.

Despite the warnings, images on product packaging often showed children with paint on their eyelids or close to their eyes.

Allergic reactions to cosmetic ingredients are considered to be rare but they can be serious for some people. If your child experiences a reaction – such as a skin rash, itching or swelling – stop using the product immediately and consult your GP. You can also call Healthline for advice: 0800 611 116.

Our view

  • Retailers are responsible for making sure the products they sell are safe and meet required standards. It shouldn’t be left to individual consumers to check products comply with the rules.
  • The problems we found highlight the need for regular testing and monitoring. The high levels of lead detected in one face paint are extremely concerning and pose a potentially serious health risk.
  • We’ve reported our findings to the Ministry of Health and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Report by Jessica Wilson.

Lead dangers

  • Lead is a toxin and a persistent environmental pollutant. Prolonged exposure can cause serious health effects. Young children are particularly at risk from lead poisoning because they absorb more of the lead they take in than adults.
  • Lead-based paint that’s uncovered during home renovations is regarded as a major source of risk. Lead is also present in soil. Existing standards set a limit of 210ppm of lead in soil in residential areas where home-grown produce is consumed.
  • Consumer products can also present a risk to children. Past testing has found high levels of lead-based paint on toys. In 2010, testing by the then Ministry of Consumer Affairs found toys with lead levels ranging from 105ppm to 28,280ppm.
  • A ban on toys with more than 90ppm of lead has been in place since 2007. The use of lead in face paints and toy cosmetics is also prohibited under the Cosmetic Products Group Standard. Regular testing of these products is required to ensure compliance.

Lead levels in face paints

Lead levels in face paints
High levels of lead (15,200ppm)
Carnival Colors (China)
"Trace" levels of lead (less than 10ppm)
Alex Face Painting Party (China)
Colorific Face Paint Deluxe (China)
Dasini Carnival Metallic Makeup (China)
Dasini Divinito Yellow Make-up Cream (China)
Derivan Face and Body Paint - Animals (Australia)
FAS Face Paint (NZ)
Go Fun Face and Body Paint (China)
Magic Make Up Set (China)
Rubie's Clown Makeup (US)
School Art Face Paint (NZ)
Snazaroo Face Painting Kit (UK)
Unbranded Halloween Cream Makeup (China)
Unbranded Peel Off Cream Makeup (China)
Below detection limit (less than 0.1ppm)
Unbranded Glow Face Paint (China)

About our test
Testing for heavy metals was carried out by Eurofins ELS Limited and funded by the Ministry of Health.

  • Our test measured total lead. The minimum level of lead that could be detected was 0.1ppm; ppm=parts per million.
  • Country of manufacture is shown in brackets.
  • "Trace" levels of lead lists products where lead was detected at or above 0.1ppm and below 10ppm. Most products contained more than one colour (we tested each colour).
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