Chinese-made Halloween makeup could be unsafe, say advocates

A new report shows face paints manufactured in China often contain heavy metals. Should the FDA require more transparency?

Andy Wong/AP/File
Children wearing Peking Opera makeup on their faces, wait for a training at Peking Opera summer camp organized by the Peking Opera House in Beijing in 2012.

Halloween makeup can have unexpected consequences, warns New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

In a press conference on Sunday, Senator Schumer informed families about the potential dangers of using face paint manufactured in China, according to the New York Post. He said these products often contain potentially unsafe ingredients such as chromium, nickel, lead, and cobalt.

“Parents are totally clueless as to what they’re putting on their child’s face. If they see it on the shelf they think it’s safe, but it’s not,” he said. “When you buy makeup for your kids, make sure it doesn’t say made in China.”

He held up makeup palettes by Rubie’s Costume Company, Wet N’ Wild Fantasy Makers, and Fun World, as examples. 

Schumer is advocating for stricter regulation, and says he sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging ingredient transparency for these products, which do not list the toxic ingredients on their packaging. Many companies may be unaware of the contaminants in their products.

In a report released by the advocacy group the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, all of the face paints they tested contained lead, and most contained the other toxic ingredients mentioned by Schumer. Canada and Europe have banned the use of lead in cosmetics, but the US has no such regulation.

The report also found that products were often labeled with claims like “hypoallergenic,” “skin friendly,” and “non-toxic.”

In fact, notes the organization, the FDA has little power to ensure product safety when it comes to cosmetics. The agency rarely tests cosmetic products, and it lacks the authority to make companies assess their own products for harmful contaminants.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says the inclusion of these toxic ingredients are likely unintentional, the result of complacency by the companies and manufacturers. The group blames the supply chain’s poor-quality ingredients and “a lack of manufacturer testing and regulatory oversight.”

“The FDA should require that raw materials be tested for purity, that ingredients in cosmetics be shown to be safe for children and other vulnerable populations, and that all chemical constituents in personal care products, including fragrance ingredients and contaminants, be listed on ingredient labels,” the report suggested.

Contaminated Chinese-manufactured products are nothing new. In 2007, The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford wrote about a spate of regulatory oversights by China on exports to the US, including pet food contaminated with toxic waste, defective truck tires, lead paint in toys, and even poisonous toothpaste. While Beijing began a concerted effort to crack down on these violators, Ford suggested the real culprit is a lack of free elections, press, and independent courts:

While China does have such regulatory institutions and allows the media to tackle product quality, can it simply continue to rely on the iron hand of unelected leaders to correct millions of businesses? And can it continue to prevent journalists from asking if China must adopt truly representative government?

Not when lives are at stake, both within China and wherever its exports go.

While Schumer will push for increased oversight in the US, the safety of products manufactured in China can only be regulated by China itself, whose exports to the US amount to $423 billion a year.

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