Halloween is one of the most eagerly anticipated ‘holidays’ for many kids and adults. You get to transform yourself into some ‘one’ or some ‘thing’ different, and if you’re good at it, people won’t know it’s you under your super-hero, pirate or unicorn makeup and costume! Be sure to get your kids to make a final decision on their chosen character with time to spare before the big day. Much to parents’ frustration, many kids will change their minds a few times before they finally settle on ‘the one’ for trick-or-treating and their school’s or friend’s Halloween party.
As a dermatologist with a busy practice I am often asked by parents about the safety of Halloween makeup. “Are there harmful ingredients and is there potentially any lasting damage to my child’s delicate skin?” The short answer is, “yes there can be”, but like anything you put on your face and body, it’s important to ask the right questions and read the label to ensure you are not using harmful or irritating products.
When I researched the subject, I found some truly Halloween-scary information. Times have changed. It’s not like years ago when if you wanted to produce blood dripping down your face, all you needed was a mixture of a little red food dye and corn syrup. And plunking a white sheet with two holes cut out for eyes on your kid so they can go out as Casper the Ghost, won’t do the trick (or treating), either. Halloween makeup and costume expectations have risen to another level with the more ghoulish, dramatic, or exotic the makeup, the better. However, globalization of products made in countries whose regulations are loose or non-existent is today’s reality and parents must be vigilant.
However, I believe we need to be practical and realistic. First, your child is not likely to be covered in makeup for an extended period of time. But, I am also a Mom and kids need to have fun, not live in a bubble. We are talking about one night, or maybe a school afternoon and night. Let your kids have fun and of course, use common sense. Applying glue to bare skin doesn’t require a dermatologist to tell you that this may cause a bad reaction.
I also believe in the less is more theory, so not slathering makeup all over is clearly a good idea. One article I read noted that Halloween makeup can have formaldehyde in it, which is a carcinogen. This is true, but many large, mainstream cleansing product manufactures still use formaldehyde preservatives, so it’s likely there is already a tiny amount in your child’s shampoo.
The majority of reactions to skincare are irritant-related and not allergic, which means they are an inconvenience but will not give you any lasting effects. All makeup, whether it’s yellow or green cake color for your little Pokémon or Hulk characters, have ingredients that can irritate but are less likely to result in an allergic reaction.
The same dye in lipsticks is in green face cake paint. These are called FD& C grade dyes. Reactions to FD& C dyes are rare and are typically irritating, but only last a few days with no lasting effects. FD&C dyes are derived from coal tar, which is a by-product of petroleum. The amounts of lead and arsenic in coal tar are regulated by the FDA and Health Branch Canada.*
I believe this is one time it’s worthwhile to spend more on these products. I recommend you purchase real theatrical makeup. Theatre makeup will be more expensive, but is safer. You should buy the products at established costume stores, not ‘pop-ups’ that open only for a few weeks before Halloween, or at your pharmacy where costume makeup kits are inexpensive but are generally poorer quality. If your child has some minor redness or flaky skin the next day, don’t panic. Too much soap can produce the same results. If you want to be super careful, you can try testing the makeup on one spot a couple of days before Halloween to see if there’s a reaction. I recommend dabbing a little just in front of your child’s ear so it’s not noticeable if there is an allergic reaction.
Hope you and your little trick-or-treaters have a wonderful, safe and irritant/allergy-free Halloween!
Common sense pointers
Buy theatrical paint or makeup at a costume store used by stage actors
2. Check to see if the product has been vetted by your Government Environmental Agency
3. Glues, adhesives should be avoided for use on really young children due to higher potential for irritation and allergic reactions
4 . Prosthetics that require glue and adhesives should be purchased at costume stores catering to theater companies, and again, should not be used on young children
5. Paper masks are great, rubber masks are fine for a short period of time
*For more information from Health Canada on consumer products relating to cosmetics go to: