Halloween is the scariest night of the year. But you don’t want to frighten yourself with an allergic reaction to your costume makeup. 

Using face-safe cosmetics is essential – especially if you’re creating spooky looks for children. Unfortunately, there are ghoulish consequences to using Halloween makeup palettes that don’t meet legal requirements… 

Some cheap Halloween makeup contains harmful chemicals

Face paint seems fun and harmless, but it could contain toxic chemicals. Cheap makeup palettes may include heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel.

Canada, the EU, Japan, and the UK have all banned heavy metals in cosmetics, and they’re restricted in the USA. Yet cheap makeup from other countries isn’t tightly regulated. One-off exposure to heavy metals is unlikely to cause you harm, but it’s still best practice to buy safe products.

Colour additives are another Halloween face paint risk. The FDA has approved eight fluorescent colours for cosmetic use, and luminescent zinc sulphide is also approved for limited cosmetic use. If you’re in doubt, check the FDA’s summary of colour additives for clarification.

It’s not just the ingredient list to pay attention to, either. Always check the instructions before applying Halloween makeup. Earlier this year, a 6-year-old ended up in hospital after reacting to face paint near her eyes.

Poorly applied prosthetics may cause a sticky end

If you’re feeling ambitious, face paint may seem too basic. Many people try Halloween prosthetics – inspired by SFX makeup artists like Julie Hassett, Beatrice Sniper and Roligore. Just be careful how you’re attaching those prosthetics to your face. 


Only just realised the red light removed details 🥹

♬ Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips with Me - Tiny Tim

Theatrical adhesives like Spirit Gum are designed for safe use on the face. Glues found around the home like PVA, glue sticks and super glue are not. Strong glues can tear your skin when you remove prosthetics, and they can also irritate your skin.

Fake blood is another special effect to use with care. The red dye in fake blood can react with petroleum, a common ingredient in oil-based makeup.

Old face paint applicators can become germ-infested 

You probably don’t dress up that often unless you’re into cosplay. So your face paint palette gets used once at Halloween, then forgotten until next year. Reusing last year’s Halloween makeup may seem like a good money saver, but it’s not always safe. 

While cosmetics in tubes can be applied directly to the face using fingertips, makeup palettes often come with sponges, blenders or brushes. If these applicators are stored damp from year to year they can become a breeding ground for germs, including E. coli and staphylococcus. 

How to find face-safe Halloween makeup 

Although you need to be wary of nasty ingredients in Halloween makeup, there are many safe alternatives. Companies such as Go Green promote their face paints as free from heavy metals. Natural Earth is another brand to look for, as its products are certified non-toxic. 

When trying a new cosmetic product, do a patch test on your arm or neck 24-48 hours beforehand. If you’ve got sensitive skin, avoid any Halloween designs that include makeup near your eyes. 

Always read the instructions before applying cosmetics and prosthetics. Never use a product if instructions aren’t printed in your native language. You need to understand what’s in your makeup palette!

If you suffer from skin conditions like eczema, it’s best not to paint your face. Even well-regulated products can cause a reaction if they’re used on broken skin. And if you start to feel your skin itching or your eyes reddening/watering, remove your makeup immediately.

We hope this article hasn’t spooked you. We just want to avoid consumers getting a nasty fright this Halloween. Follow our guidance and you’re well-placed to protect your face from garish side effects.

Hooley Brown is an expert in beauty and cosmetics regulation. We also specialise in food and beverage compliance. You may find these articles we’ve written interesting:

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