Face Painting for Kids – The Scary Truth

kids eating cotton candy

Kids love getting their face painted! It is something that we see at fair and fetes and markets everywhere. The people who do this face painting are really clever artists and some of the work they do is amazing. But have you considered what you are actually allowing them to put on your child’s face? 

When Marcus was younger he always wanted to have his face painted. I personally hated it. The paints they used were generally full of pretty nasty stuff. And you have to wait in line for ages for it to get done. I have a million other places I would rather be than standing in line. Then in 5 minutes after he has had his face painted, he has rubbed it off. It’s on his hands, all over his clothes, the car, my clothes and anything else he has decided to touch. 

Thankfully he has grown up now, so no longer nags to get this done, which is a blessing for me. But what options do parents have when they have young children wanting their face painted?

kid standing beside a wooden wall

Are Children’s Face Paints Non Toxic?

Many children’s’ face paints are advertised as being hypoallergenic, non-toxic and safe, and that they comply with standards.  These claims really don’t mean much.  Can face paints cause an allergic reaction? Yes they can. Many face paints contain colouring agents and preservatives that can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Warnings on face painting packaging may include phrases such as:

“Do not apply to open wounds”, or

“avoid contact with eyes, nasal passages, mouth or other orifices as abrasive irritation may occur”.

Images on product packaging often show children with paint on their eyelids or close to their eyes. Which is misleading as warnings are written on the products advising you to avoid applying paint in these areas.

Heavy Metals in Face Paints

Testing done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that children’s’ face paints can contain potentially hazardous levels of heavy metals. These include lead, chromium, cobalt and nickel. These are not listed in the ingredients. They likely got into the product by the use of poor quality, contaminated materials from the manufacturer.  Lead has the capacity to harm children’s brains at very low levels. Chromium, cobalt and nickel are all skin irritants which can result in contact dermatitis.

children having fun

Hazardous Ingredients in Face Paints

Face painting may expose your child to other hazardous ingredients such as:

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA):

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Say no more.


Fragrances can contain hundreds of chemicals. Studies show many of these may be linked to a variety of health problems, including allergies and skin reactions.


Recognized as having potential links to cancer, neurotoxicity and skin irritation.


Are seen to cause allergic reactions, endocrine disruption, contact dermatitis, and possibly increase the risk of breast cancer.

Diazolidynl urea:

Is a preservative known for its potential to release formaldehyde into products. It is widely understood to cause allergic skin reactions and rashes in some people.

Propylene glycol:

Propylene glycol can quickly penetrate the skin. It has been linked to contact dermatitis, skin rashes, dry skin, respiratory, immune and neurotoxicity and delayed contact allergies. It also allows the increased absorption of other substances.

Alkyl Polyglycoside:

This is linked to skin allergies and irritation.


This is used as a preservative and stabilizer.  Exposure has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions. Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.


Some pigments contain coal tars such as Blue # 133 or Yellow No 5.  These are linked to asthma, urticaria, dermatitis, headache, hay fever, concentration difficulties, depression, skin rash, learning difficulties, behavioural problems, swelling of lips and tongue, hyperactivity, aggressive behaviour, insomnia, confusion, anaphylaxis, and may be carcinogenic.

5 Ways to Avoid The Hazards of Toxic Face Paints

Scary stuff when this is marketed to our children.  With face painting being something we think is a standard childhood treat and activity, what can we do?  Here are my 5 top recommendations:

  1. Don’t let your child have their face painted (if you can).  Of course, this is not always possible because of nagging, school performances and so forth.  I get it.  But try as hard as you can – offer something else instead. Try saying something like “oh there is such a long line – instead of having your face painted why don’t you jump on the bouncy castle”.
  1. If you need to use face paints check the ingredient list and buy those free of the hazardous chemicals and pigments. Which face paint is the best? I can’t comment on which is the best, but some non toxic face paint ideas are : Vida Natural Face Paints by Livos and Natural Face Paint Packs by Pure Poppet.
  1. Make your own face paints. This is a great idea especially if you want a face paint for sensitive skin, that way you know exactly what is in it. Here is a great natural face paint recipe and tutorial by Mommypotamus
  1. If you have to use standard face paints, always do a skin test on your child first to make sure they won’t react. And never, never paint close to the eye area.  Remove the paint from the skin with a gentle soap and warm water as soon as you can after application.
  1. Be sneaky. If you know you are going to a fete, take your own face paint with you and ask the artist to use your paints and brushes. This also reduces the risk of any bacteria being transferred between the kids.

Choose Safer, Natural Face Paints

I don’t want to be seen as the fun police, taking away the fun of childhood, but I feel my child’s health and safety is a priority.  The good thing is, as more of us start thinking like this, change occurs in the market. This will provide us with a greater choice of safer, natural, chemical free products for our children.   

There are plenty of blogs and forums with people commenting and sharing stories about face paint gone wrong and their children having reactions from face paints.  Being informed can help keep your kids safe.  I would love to hear your experiences with face painting. And if you know of any safe, kids face painting brands, I would love for you to share those too.

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