What's in face paint?
Some products contain restricted ingredients.
Kids love face paint. From butterflies and sparkly unicorns to tigers and superheroes, a dress-up costume isn’t complete without face paint to match. But is it safe? We tested 16 products to find out.
In 2014, we tested face paints and found one brand with extremely high levels of lead, which resulted in a recall of the product. Another face paint included a restricted preservative.
This year we tested 16 face paint products in a range of colours for the presence of heavy metals. None of the face paints had levels high enough to be worried about. But we found products that contained colouring agents that are restricted or not allowed. Many products also failed to meet basic labelling requirements.
Face paints are regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) under the Cosmetic Products Group Standard. They are only permitted to contain certain colouring agents or pigments. We reviewed the ingredients listed on product packaging and found face paints that shouldn’t be on the market.
Four products (Five Star No Mess Face Paint, Radical Paint Face & Body Butterflies Set, Radical Paint Face & Body Paint, and School Art Face Paint) contained colours that aren’t permitted.
Five Star No Mess Face Paint also included two restricted colours. One (CI74260) is not allowed in products intended to be applied in the vicinity of the eyes. The other (CI11710) is not allowed in products intended to come into contact with mucous membranes, such as the nose, mouth and eyes.
Radical Paint Face & Body Butterflies Set and Radical Paint Face & Body Paint lists a violet colouring agent (CI51319) that is only permitted in products that come into “brief contact” with the skin. This excludes face paints that can stay on the skin for hours.
We asked the companies to comment on our findings.
Five Star Products told us it contacted its supplier and has been advised the ingredients list was incorrect. It provided evidence of the correct ingredients list, which confirmed the pigments in this product are approved for use in face paints. Five Star Products also distributes School Art Face Paints. It told us these face paints no longer use the colouring agents listed on the label.
Director Maree Dalton told us the company has contacted its customers and is proactively working to correct the labelling.
Lincraft, the importer of Radical Paint, told us it has recalled its face paints and resolved the issue with its supplier. The chemical in question will be removed from all future production and batch numbers allocated to identify future batch issues. Lincraft will also approve new packaging for products being sold in New Zealand.
FAS Professional Face Paint lists cosmetic pigments in its ingredients list but doesn’t specify the colours used. The company sent us a list of its pigment numbers and all are allowed.
We’ve reported our findings to the EPA and Ministry of Health.
The Cosmetic Products Group Standard also sets out labelling requirements. As well as a list of ingredients, products are required to tell you how to use the product safely. They are also required to provide enough information so the New Zealand importer or manufacturer can be contacted.
Adequate contact information for an importer or supplier was missing from many of the products we bought. Some products provided only contact information for an overseas company. The Five Star and Time 2 Party products only provided a website address. The EPA told us the label must have enough information for a consumer to contact the importer or manufacturer without having to refer to a website.
The standard also requires that cosmetics state a batch code, to allow the manufacturer or supplier to identify when the product was made. Batch code information was missing from a number of brands.
Face paints contain coloured pigments, which can potentially introduce heavy metals to the product. How much is in a product and how often the product is used can be a safety concern.
None of the products had more than 1 part per million (ppm) of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury or lead.
The standard prohibits the presence of the heavy metals we tested except at trace levels that are considered “technically unavoidable in good manufacturing practice”. So, all of the products we tested met the standard.
However, our lab detected barium levels ranging from 1.1 to 207ppm in 14 products. The standard makes an exception for levels of certain forms of barium (barium sulphate, lakes, salts and pigments) used in colouring agents. But it doesn’t specify the amount that’s regarded as “safe”.
We sent our barium results to public health toxicologist Dr Jeff Fowles and asked whether the barium levels posed a health concern for children.
Dr Fowles told us there is no expected risk from using the face paint with the highest barium level of 207ppm.
“Although 207ppm appears to be a large figure, barium is vastly less toxic than most other metals of typical concern,” he said.
“It also doesn’t accumulate and is found in greater concentrations in the environment than many other heavy metals.”
Safe or non-toxic claims
Some of the face paints we bought claimed to be “safe” or “non-toxic”. But these claims don’t mean much. Face paints can contain ingredients, such as preservatives, that occasionally can cause an allergic reaction in some people, or cause eye irritation.
Some products recommend patch testing before use and some packaging has warnings not to apply the face paint near the eyes or lips, or on sensitive or broken skin. Despite the warnings, images on product packaging often showed people with paint on their eyelids or close to their eyes.
Allergic reactions to cosmetic ingredients are 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, wash it off and contact your GP. You can also call Healthline for advice on 0800 611 116.
What we found
These face paints had incorrect ingredients lists, or colours that are restricted or not permitted:
Five Star No Mess Face Paint
Radical Paint Face & Body Butterflies Set
Radical Paint Face & Body Paint
School Art Face Paint
Despite the warnings, images on product packaging often showed people with paint on their eyelids or close to their eyes.
Tips for using face paint safely
- Read the label and follow the instructions. Many face paints shouldn’t be used around the eyes.
- Do a patch test before you use a face paint for the first time. Apply a small amount on the skin, if the skin becomes irritated or develops a rash, don’t use it.
- Use a barrier cream or moisturiser for sensitive skin. This also makes it easier to remove the face paint.
- Don’t use face paints that smell bad, even if they are new. There could be bacteria growing in the paint.
- Only use face paint and glitter made for that purpose. Even non-toxic craft paints can cause reactions.
- Don’t leave face paint on overnight. Follow the instructions for taking off the product.
- Store face paints and other cosmetics out of reach of children. They could be harmful if swallowed.
About our test
We tested one sample of 16 face paint products in a range of colours for the presence of antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead in an accredited laboratory. None of the products had levels that were a safety concern.
We also reviewed the product packaging to check compliance with the labelling requirements of the Cosmetic Products Group Standard.
Testing for heavy metals was funded by the Ministry of Health.
Products tested (origin)
- Anko Painting Face Paint (China)
- Artistic Den Face & Body Paint (Australia)
- BYS FX Face & Body Paint (China)
- BYS FX Special Colour Wheel (China)
- FAS Professional Face Paint (New Zealand)
- Five Star No Mess Face Paint (China)
- Little Brian Face Paint Sticks (China)
- Play Studio Face Paint Set (China)
- Play Studio Face Paint Pens (China)
- Play Studio Face Paint Tubes (China)
- Radical Paint Face & Body Paint Butterflies Set (Australia)
- Radical Paint Face & Body Paint (Australia)
- School Art Face Paint (New Zealand)
- Snazaroo Classic Face Paint (UK)
- Time 2 Party Face Paints (China)
- UBL Face Paint Sticks (China)
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