little girl in dog halloween costume getting makeup on her face
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Is It Safe For Your Baby To Wear Makeup On Halloween? Experts Weigh In

Before you grab the eyeliner, read this.

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Halloween is the only time of year when you’ll find parents scouring their makeup bags to find the perfect eyeliner to make whiskers on their 3-month-old's cheeks so their tiny cat costume isn't in vain. And when eyeliner isn’t enough, you might be tempted to find some face paint to add something extra to your kid’s costume. But can you put makeup on your baby for Halloween? You just might want to put down that blending brush.

Is it safe to put makeup on a baby?

Although you have your heart set on making your 4-month-old into Frankenstein for Halloween, it might not be worth slathering their sensitive skin with a lot of green face makeup. “While it is safe, it is important to remember that baby skin is sensitive and can be more reactive, especially to ingredients, preservatives or dyes that can be found in certain makeups,” Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City tells Romper. But what makes Baby’s skin so darn delicate? “Babies have a higher surface area to volume ratio, meaning they can absorb more through their skin than adults,” explains Dr. Charles Puza, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Thus, anything applied to large parts of babies' skin carries a higher risk of systemic absorption,” he says.

What are the risks of putting makeup on a baby?

While it might be cute to paint your newborn’s nose black and give them whiskers to look like a cat, a raging skin infection isn’t quite as adorable. “Particularly for those with sensitive skin, makeup can trigger redness, dryness, flaking and overall irritation of the skin,” Garshick explains. “In some cases, it can also trigger breakouts or clogged pores.” But wait, there’s more — and it’s not good. “Allergic contact dermatitis is when you develop a potentially lifelong itchy, flaky red rash whenever you are exposed to a particular ingredient,” warns Puza. “Putting makeup on your baby risks irritant rashes, developing allergies, and systemic absorption of the various chemicals in the makeup.”

What ingredients should you avoid?

Of course, you should look closely at the makeup label to see what you’re putting on your baby. Thing is, it might not always be clear, Puza says. “Many makeup products aren't fully transparent with their ingredients,” he says. “Consequently, you can't be entirely sure what you're applying to the skin.” Still, there are some ingredients that are a definite no-no. “Some ingredients that may be more likely to cause sensitivity in babies include fragrance, formaldehyde and other preservatives, alcohol and certain dyes,” says Garshick. “In general, it is recommended for baby products to be simple and free of allergens or irritants.”

What age is too young to put makeup on a baby?

There is no hard and fast rule on when your little one can put on some pink face makeup to look like Peppa Pig. But the younger Baby is, the greater the risk for skin irritation. “A younger child will have more sensitive skin, but in general, the use of makeup may also depend on how reactive the individual's skin is,” says Garshick. “The more sensitive, the more reactive it can be to face make up.” And it’s not just the application and wearing of the makeup that might pose a problem, but removing it as well, since all that scrubbing can be even more irritating.

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Here's how you can use makeup on your baby more safely

If, for example, you want to make your little Leo baby into a lion for Halloween, there are ways you can apply the makeup so that it causes minimal irritation to their skin. “You can create a barrier with Vaseline before using the makeup to try to minimize skin irritation,” advises Puza, who recommends using a ceramide cream to help repair the skin’s barrier. In addition to reading the labels to ensure the safety of the makeup, “be sure to limit the use and duration and to gently rinse it away when done,” says Garshick.

Can you put face paint on a baby?

You bought your baby the cutest little cat costume for their first Halloween. What would completely make the costume even more adorbs, though, is by painting their face to look like a kitty, too. But can you put face paint on a baby? It’s not really recommended, Dr. Karan Lal, DO, MS, FAAD, a pediatric dermatologist and Society for Pediatric Dermatology member tells Romper. “Babies have very thin skin and absorb substances at a much higher rate than adults,” says Lal. “I would avoid any paint on babies less than two years of age as the skin barrier matures at around this age. Even then most face paint companies won’t recommend face-painting kids under age 3.”

“Babies’ skin is more sensitive and more prone to irritation,” says Dr. Morgana Colombo, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintap. “Furthermore, because of their small size they are at higher risk of systemic absorption of potentially harmful chemicals in face paint.”

What ingredients does face paint have that regular makeup doesn't?

Unlike the foundation and blush you might have in your own makeup bag, face paints are made from very different (and sometimes dangerous) components. “Face paints have been identified to have certain metals including nickel, cobalt, mercury and chromium,” explains Lal. These heavy metals might be important in everyday items like a shower head or in coins and cutlery, but they’re not meant to be slathered on the skin. Case in point: in a study of Chinese opera actors, researchers found that their risk for developing cancer was much greater due to their usage of face paints that contained heavy metals. While this wouldn’t necessarily be the case for your kid, (since they’ll only be wearing the face paint for one night), you might not want to expose your child to harmful heavy metals even for a short time while you trick-or-treat.

What could happen if you put face paint on a baby?

There’s no way to know how your baby’s skin might react to face paint. They might not have any reaction at all, or they might have a breakout. “They can potentially have an allergic contact dermatitis to the ingredients and have an itchy rash or get pimples from occlusion of their pores by the paint,” explains Colombo. “More importantly, they are more prone to systemic absorption of potentially harmful chemicals in face paint such as cadmium and lead, and other agents such as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds.”

Although your child might look so cute with some whiskers or a painted orange face to match their pumpkin costume, the risks in using face paint on a baby might outweigh the reward of snapping a cute shot of your kid. After all, the only spooky thing you want to encounter on Halloween are some sweet ghosts and goblins — not the chance that your kid’s painted skin could potentially make them sick.

Study referenced:

Wang, B., Su, Y., Tian, L., Peng, S., Ji, R. (2020) Heavy metals in face paints: Assessment of the health risks to Chinese opera actors, PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32408442/

Sources interviewed:

Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City

Dr. Charles Puza, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Karan Lal, DO, MS, FAAD, a pediatric dermatologist and Society for Pediatric Dermatology member

Dr. Morgana Colombo, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintap

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