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Too many kids use ‘extremely toxic’ toy cosmetics: public health experts


This is not child’s play.

Many kids in the US could be using potentially toxic beauty products, a new study found.

Using makeup and body paint seems like harmless fun for kids – but marketing to children doesn’t ensure the cosmetics’ safety, researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the nonprofit Earthjustice have warned. Toxic chemicals, such as heavy metals, have been tied to serious adverse health effects, and can be especially harmful to young children.

The joint team analyzed results from over 200 surveys, finding 79% of parents claimed their children aged 12 or younger use makeup-like products designed for play – including lip gloss, face paint and glitter.

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggests that approximately 54% of children use those products at least once per month, while 12% use them daily.

Additionally, 20% of the children surveyed wear the products for eight hours or more, while one-third also admitted to accidental consumption.

Girl putting makeup on face
Glitter, lip gloss and face paint are amongst the many products advertised to children.
Getty Images

“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,” co-author Eleanor Medley said in a statement.

“In this context, it is important to uncover how makeup and body products are being used by children to characterize risk and improve safety,” Kendall E. Kruchten, a study co-author, added.

The study comes as New York State tightens laws around cosmetic ingredients. Beginning June 1, the state will ban the sale of beauty products that contain mercury, a known neurotoxin, which is often found in skin-lightening agents.

Mercury, specifically, has been linked to a number of serious ailments, including certain cancers, respiratory and kidney problems, loss of certain senses and even death.

Makeup on yellow backdrop
Seen as harmless fun, cosmetics and other body products marketed to children could actually be more harm than good.
Getty Images

“Children are particularly vulnerable to adverse health risks associated with chemicals often found in makeup and body products,” Dr. Julie Herbstman, senior study author and Columbia professor, said in the university news release.

“In addition to dermal exposure through the skin, behavioral patterns such as hand-to-mouth activity may increase exposure to products through unintentional ingestion,” added Herbstman, who also serves as the director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health.

She explained that due to children’s tiny stature, rapid rate of growth, tissue and organ development and “immature immune systems” put them at higher risk of harm due to dangerous toxins.

Until recently, the Food and Drug Administration did not require cosmetics companies to list their products’ ingredients on the label. While some did, all brands will soon be required to report all ingredients to the FDA beginning this year. It marks the first change to cosmetic laws of its kind in over 80 years.

Glitter in girl's hair
Children exposed to toxins are at higher risk of adverse health effects, researchers claimed, due to their developmental stages and small frames.
Getty Images/EyeEm

The restrictions on the beauty industry come as the cosmetics market balloons to a staggering global value of $254.08 billion just two years ago – and it is estimated to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the global market for children’s cosmetics alone has the potential to reach a value of $1,795.15 million by 2026, according to estimates.

In 2021, experts cautioned adults of the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – otherwise known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” – in cosmetic products. Such contaminants have been linked to many chronic illnesses including cancer.

In a study produced by the University of Notre Dame, researchers analyzed the ingredients of over 200 makeup products. They discovered that more than 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained alarmingly high levels of fluorine, which indicates the use of PFAS.

“It is alarming that industry is being allowed to sell makeup and body products marketed to children that contain extremely toxic chemicals,” said Lakendra Barajas, an Earthjustice attorney, adding that the Columbia and Earthjustice study’s findings can provide relevant data about the use of these products amongst children.

Hopefully, Barajas continued, federal agencies will be more apt to take steps to protect children from exposure to the chemicals.

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


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