Is your Halloween face paint giving you skin damage?

It is the month of October, which in most communities, means, Halloween! Dr. Victor Ong, Aesthetic Medical Practitioner, The M∙A∙C∙ Clinic gets us up-to-date on how to care for your skin, whilst still having fun.

As our playlists fill with tales of haunting ghosts, ghouls, and stranger things, we scout for the best costumes and ideas for that special look. With this in mind, I am sure everyone has at some point, stumbled upon and considered buying that awesome face paint or makeup which would complete it.

Face painting too has become rather commonplace. Go to your local theme park, fair or children parties and you will find one. As someone who, on a daily basis, gets people to apply creams and medications on their skin, I often get asked if these products are safe for use. The short answer: Yes. But, to ensure everyone has a good time, equip yourself to recognise some red flags. 

Dr Victor Ong, Aesthetic Medical Practitioner, The M∙A∙C∙ Clinic, Malaysia


Face paint is, by definition, categorised as a cosmetic product. In Malaysia at least, it is illegal to sell a cosmetic product without first notifying the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA). You recognise such products with a notification number displayed as NOTyymmxxxxxK (y: year, m: month, x: serial number) usually printed on either the bottle or label. Doing a quick search of the register, as of today, 238 products appear when the term ‘paint’ is used and only 10 products appear when the term ‘face paint’ is used.

Cosmetic products and ingredients also technically, do not have to be tested by the authorities before they are sold. This is true for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well. Testing is usually done during the post market surveillance phase. The authorities do however require them to be safe when used according to their directions and manufacturers to be compliant to Cosmetic Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP). This would mean that notified products are relatively safer than non-notified products. You can search for through the database for any of your cosmetic products on Complaints on any suspicious products can be accessed through the site as well.

It should also be noted that some products marketed as safe for children and teenagers may also contain some harsh ingredients which can cause skin irritation. Keep an eye on the label. Toxic ingredients like lead, mercury, zinc or asbestos can be found in some and many products have been recalled when these concentrations are found to be higher than the regulated amount. Other natural ingredients in cosmetics like latex in face and body paints, cobalt, nickel, and chromium have caused people to develop sensitivities too.

Photo courtesy: Freepik
Photo courtesy: Freepik


To add to the complication, heavy metals can be concealed under different names too. For example; lead is found in kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, or kwalli. Mercury as calomel, or mercurio. If you are not familiar with a particular ingredient, it is probably worth taking your time to look it up.

As you scroll through the tutorials by media influencers on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube, there is an abundance of use of fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark face paints. Perhaps, you have even considered a few of these for your next rave or late night out. Marketed as neon, day-glo, UV-reactive, glow-in-the-dark, luminous, fluorescent or fluor, they all generally share the similar quality of glowing under black light. Additionally, luminescent colours are also able to glow in the dark thanks to a reaction with luminescent zinc sulfide, which is the only approved glow-in-the-dark colour. In actual fact, the number of UV reactive pigments certified as safe for skin use is very limited. As of September 2022, the range of approved UV pigments for cosmetic use based on the FDA website is D&C Orange No. 5, No. 10, and No. 11; and D&C Red No. 21, No. 22, No. 27, and No. 28.

There are many other UV pigments in the market, a majority of which have not been tested yet to be used in cosmetics, so according to regulations, any product using them cannot be labelled as a cosmetic and should not be used as such. The good thing is that many companies have conducted their own tests with independent labs and those tests have established that the pigments are safe for use on the skin, according to these companies. Unfortunately, these tests are not enough to make a product compliant, but they do provide a level of security when deciding to use the product, provided the label is accurate. These bright colours can make you glow, but do keep them away from your eyes. Glitter is great too for that extra sparkle, but avoid craft glitter as there may be metallic fragments in them which can injure your skin and eyes. 


So, after all that, how is it still safe? Unlike daily cosmetics and skin treatments, face paint is quite rarely used. Some people only ever use it once or twice a year and it is in contact with the skin over a much shorter duration of time. One can argue whether this short duration is significant enough to cause any long term or significant damage. That being said, the same cannot apply to daily cosmetics like perfumes and scents, make-up, dyes or nail polish which are used way more often and kept on for much longer. For comparison, actors in Chinese operas are known to be exposed to heavy metals through the face paints that they frequently use. Among the heavy metals found in these face paints include arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and to a large extent, zinc. These have found to give an increase in risk of developing cancer.

In the natural environment, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury and nickel can occur. Particularly so if the area in question is polluted. What this means is that even natural, non-purified extracts may contain traces of these elements as well which tends to bioaccumulate if taken further down the food chain. In fact, we expose ourselves to these metals on a daily basis through the air that we breathe, and the food or water we consume. When it boils down to purchasing any cosmetic or face paint, use trusted brands from quality manufacturers when possible.

To avoid complications when applying face paints:

 ▪️ Test a small amount of the product a few days before using it on you or your child’s face. It is better to find out early if you are allergic to a small amount of the product on the arm instead of a large amount on your face on Halloween day.

▪️ Be cautious when purchasing products online and with product labels written in a language you do not understand.

▪️ Read the directions carefully and practice good hand hygiene before applying any cosmetic.

▪️ Needless to say, you should avoid sharing makeup with others and if the product smells bad, throw it away or use another one.

▪️ Remove any product left on the face at the end of the day and try not to leave it on overnight.

Trick or treat. It’s time to get scary. May you have a Halloween full of candy. Ghosts are hiding. Watch your corners. Time for a night of fun, fright and horrors.

Most important of all, Happy Halloween!

Want to know more on skincare treatments, visit  to BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT.

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