We spoke with New York City dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, an expert in skin conditions and diseases such as acne and rosacea, as well as those affecting hair and nails. Shah filled us in on the hazards you might encounter through your Halloween costume — it turns out the scariest part of your costume might be what’s in your makeup. Here’s what to look for, and how to avoid the risks.
Colorful makeup and dyes
“Besides color additives, makeup contains a number of base ingredients, such as fillers, fragrances, binders, emollients, and preservatives, to name a few,” says Shah. “In cheap Halloween makeup, it’s usually these base ingredients that are lower quality and likely to cause skin problems. Halloween makeup has also been found to contain detectable levels of heavy metals that can cause problems.” As far as reactions go, Shah says that the heavy texture of Halloween makeup makes it more likely to cause acne. But a few pimples should be the least of your worries. “The FDA does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be FDA-approved before going to market,” she warns. “The exception to this is color additives, which do require FDA approval, but it is possible to have reactions to dyes.” Shah advises checking the FDA-approved list of color additives. She says red dye is known for causing reactions (it’s also found in other colors) as is PPD (paraphenylenediamine), found in black and dark colored cosmetics and dye.
Masks, prosthetics, plasticizers, and adhesives
Even if you’re not wearing makeup, you may be putting your skin at risk with low-quality masks, plasticizers, or prosthetics when worn for an extended period of time. “Absorption of these plasticizers through the skin from wearing a mask for a short time is low, but the risk is still there,” says Shah. “A poorly fitting mask can [also] cause skin irritation.” Another risky Halloween add-on may be your faux eyelashes or nails. “Glue can damage the nails or cause loss of the eyelashes, either due to pulling and traction [or cause a] skin reaction at the lash line or eyelids,” says Shah.
Be on the look out for heavy metal
And no, we don’t mean the loud music. “The scariest and most concerning substances found in Halloween makeup are heavy metals, which can be toxic,” says Shah. “For example, lead has been found in these makeups, and although lead poisoning doesn’t commonly occur via the skin, it can be absorbed through the skin.”
How to be safe this Halloween
Do a patch test
Shah suggests doing a patch test any time you are using a new product or have sensitive skin. “I recommend applying a small amount to your inner arm — the inner elbow or inner wrist work well — to see if you develop a reaction,” she says. “Some people may develop a reaction immediately; whereas in others it might take a few days, so it’s a good idea to test it out for a few days, even up to a week.”
Check your ingredients
“There is a list of approved color additives on the FDA’s website, so check your makeup’s ingredient list against this list,” says Shah. Be sure to bring the list with you when shopping for costume makeup, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Don’t be too frugal
If you spend more money on face paint or Halloween makeup, you can expect better quality ingredients. “If your regular makeup isn’t going to complete your Halloween costume, try to go for high quality theater makeup,” says Shah. Look for natural-based makeup to be safe.
Treat your skin right
Be mindful of the instructions on your costume makeup — they’re there for a reason. “If you must use inexpensive low quality makeup, don’t use it around your eyes or mouth, especially if it’s not meant for that area,” says Shah. For example, certain dyes are only FDA approved for certain areas. When it comes to removal, wash your makeup off as soon as possible. “You may need to double up on the cleansing (such as a makeup wipe or remover followed by cleanser) to ensure all the makeup is off, and apply a gentle moisturizer with calming ingredients to reduce any mild irritation or dryness. If you have a more significant reaction you may need to see your dermatologist.”