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Safeguarding Our Kids: The Hidden Dangers in Children’s Cosmetics

Face paint, body glitter, lip gloss, and nail polish. The products are marketed to children in brightly colored packages adorned with images of princesses, unicorns, and cartoon characters. They must be safe, right?

In fact, cosmetics for kids, like those for adults, are subject to little regulatory oversight and have been found to contain toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium, asbestos, phthalates, and formaldehyde. Experts say that even products advertised as “nontoxic,” “organic,” or “natural” must be regarded with caution since such terms are not defined by the US Food and Drug Administration for makeup and, therefore, have no legal meaning. In contrast to the regulatory challenges in the U.S., the European Union, under the auspices of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), enforces stringent regulations through REACH to ensure the safety of cosmetic products. This includes strict limitations on toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, and phthalates, aiming to protect children from the adverse effects of these dangerous chemicals.

Still, debate has raged about whether strict new safety standards for kids’ cosmetics are needed, given the uncertainty about their levels of exposure.

A study by scientists at Columbia University found that most children in the United States use makeup and body products that may contain carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.1 The study, based on more than 200 surveys, found that 79 per cent of parents say their children 12 or younger use makeup and body products marketed to children, like glitter, face paint, and lip gloss.

Toxic chemicals in children’s makeup and body products (CMBP), like heavy metals, are especially harmful to infants and children. These chemicals, whether intentionally added or present as contaminants, have been linked to cancer, neurodevelopmental harm, and other serious and irreversible health effects.

“There is increasing evidence of harmful ingredients often included in adult cosmetics and CMBPs, and children are more biologically susceptible to the effects of toxicants,” the study says.

Children are particularly vulnerable to adverse health risks associated with chemicals often found in makeup and body products. In addition to dermal exposure through the skin, behavioural patterns such as hand-to-mouth activity may increase exposure to products through unintentional ingestion. Additionally, children’s small body size, rapid growth rate, developing tissues and organs, and immature immune systems make them biologically susceptible to the effects of toxicants.”

Unfortunately, currently little is being done at the federal level to protect children from toxic chemicals in children’s makeup and body products.

“Trying to educate my daughter at eight years old about what skincare should be like is really difficult when you’ve got influencers who she believes more than anyone else,” “It feels like her childhood has now been taken away.”

Testimonies from parent

Paediatric dermatologist Dr Tess McPherson says it is important children receive “information, not misinformation” about skincare. The growing trend of children as young as eight using skincare products could leave them with irreversible skin problems, the British Association for Dermatologists has warned.

The principle “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin” underscores the importance of thoughtful selection in safeguarding children’s well-being.

  1. Results are published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health(link is external and opens in a new window) ↩︎

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