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Halloween makeup: safe or toxic?

Some parents may think the ghost-white makeup they slather on theirkids’ faces this Halloween night is safe because of the “non-toxic”label on the package.

Some parents may think the ghost-white makeup they slather on their kids’ faces this Halloween night is safe because of the “non-toxic” label on the package.

Think again, says John Bennett.

Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, says many makeup products that claim to be non-toxic contain heavy metals such as lead. That shocking revelation is highlighted in a 2009 report titled Pretty Scary: Could Halloween Face Paint Cause Lifelong Health Problems? by the U.S.-based Campaign for Safer Cosmetics.

Ten out of 10 face-paint products tested contained lead, which can harm children’s developing brains, the report said. Six out of 10 contained nickel, cobalt and/or chromium at higher-than-recommended levels.

“We wanted to make sure parents understand what they might be putting on their children’s faces and give them an opportunity to do the alternative — to make their own or find other ways of dressing children without resorting to these chemically laced makeups,” Bennett says.

He suggests parents visit safecosmetics.org to learn about natural, homemade makeup recipes. For example, to get brown makeup, the website recommends mixing chocolate sauce into a cocoa-butter base.

Blane Holtz, manager of Ottawa’s Malabar Costume House, says he sells only premium makeup such as Kryolan from Germany and Ben Nye from the U.S.

“I don’t carry basic Halloween cheap made-in-China makeup,” he says. “I stay away from that. You have no idea what’s in it. I wouldn’t let a kid put a lead product on their face.”

Neither will Oresta Korbutiak, an esthetician who runs Oresta Organic Skin Care in Ottawa. She plans to dress her seven-year-old daughter, Kalyna, in a dog costume with only a touch of natural makeup.

“Some people may say you only wear it once … but it’s the bottom of the barrel on the list of ingredients,” Korbutiak says.

“I won’t put it on my daughter.”

Consumers in dark about ingredients

Several makeup products on store shelves this Halloween season lack lists of ingredients, so consumers are in the dark as to what, exactly, is in them.

Sierra Club Canada is trying to change that.

“Health Canada doesn’t require full labelling, and the toxic chemicals in makeup in general — not just for face paint — are considered proprietary information. So we can’t see what toxic materials are actually in them,” says John Bennett, Sierra Club Canada executive director. “We think, ultimately, this is something Health Canada should take up and require full labelling of all the ingredients.”

Bennett says his group has been lobbying and consulting with Health Canada for more than a decade to get detailed ingredients listed on products such as cosmetics and genetically modified foods. He doesn’t believe there would be an economic tradeoff if all companies were required to list their ingredients.

“We need to have a system in which the public has the full information to make the choice.”

Health Canada could not be reached for comment.

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