I remember one Halloween as a small child, I desperately wanted to go as early 80s Madonna. My mom dutifully sprayed my hair into a colorful mess and fitted me with lace gloves. It's years later and now my own daughter would like her hair colored into a metallic creation, but I worry about safety. What kind of hair paint is safe for toddlers? Surely the quality has improved in 20 plus years, right?
As it turns out, Halloween hair color has come a long way since my mother sprayed my hair with what could only be considered toxic, colorful Aqua Net. I remember the smell to this day. It smelled like a combination of the oil paint they used to paint the cinderblock walls of my elementary school, and the spray-on hair dye my grandmother layered on her hair every morning as she stood in her tasteful gold brocade and turquoise bathroom. There are now hundreds of hair paint offerings on Amazon and in the glorious seasonal aisles of Target, with colors spanning across the rainbow, tinted perfectly to go with your child's choice of costume. At Target yesterday, there was Ariel hair color directly beside the Ariel mermaid costume and all the under the sea trimmings, which was conveniently located across from the Dogfish Head Ale display. One stop shopping at its finest — I mean, if you aren't going to drink beer while buying hair color for your toddler, when are you? But is the hair color safe? What kind of hair paint actually is safe for toddlers?
Hair chalks are everywhere, but if you look, you can still find the hair mascara paints and gels that offer a broader range of features than the chalk, specifically ultraviolet reactivity. These mascaras and paints are specifically formulated with some form of strontium aluminate powder, they glow for extended periods of time in the dark, and are highly reactive to the blue light of an ultraviolet bulb, noted the Kosmic Kreations website.
Other hair paints are chiefly metallic or pure white in nature, designed to shine and block more than glow, though several brands do claim UV reactivity on top of being gold or white. They're not as strong-smelling as their predecessors, but that doesn't mean they're without odor. The bright day-glow pink paint sold at my local costume supply store still has a significant smell to it, even if it's not awful. That, to me, is worrisome. If it smells chiefly of caustic chemicals, how can you be sure it's safe to put on your children? If these are labeled "keep out of reach of children," what kind of hair paint is safe for toddlers?
I spoke to hair colorist Lisa Haley to determine which hair paints are the safest and best for toddlers, and which you should avoid. She tells Romper, "Most of the paints are designed to serve a specific purpose, like glow-in-the-dark or they're waterproof. They're mostly fine as long as your child isn't biting on their hair while the product is in. Kids don't really like to follow rules, though. I know my own babies wouldn't pay attention to see if they have paint on their hands from playing with their hair before they ate something or sucked their thumb."
And that's where the problem comes in — accidental ingestion. Yes, if your kids are older, it's fine. Tell them not to eat it, and wash it out at the end of the night. That's not as simple with an 18-month-old who goes from pulling her hair to eating her fist though. The instructions are really clear — "Not safe for ingestion. Keep out of reach of children. Keep away from eyes and mouth." If your child rubs their eyes or eats their hand — as toddlers are wont to do — after playing with their hair, their eyes may become irritated, and they may become sick.
It's just not worth it. Stick with the all-natural chalk or DIY your own hair color with Kool Aid. You can even pick out a wig if you're wanting to change your kid's hair for trick-or-treat purposes. I promise it's just as fun, and they're too little to care. Besides, how are you going to get them to sit still for the hair paint anyway?
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