Chemicals in Kids' Halloween Makeup & Other Products-Pretty Scary!

By Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Director Healthy Kids and Families Program Conservation Minnesota

A new report by the Breast Cancer Fund’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  found lead and cadmium in children’s face paint, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other problem chemicals in kids’ shampoos, lip balms, makeup and nail products. Hormone disrupting parabens and preservatives that release carcinogenic formaldehyde were found on labels. Laboratory testing detected the brain toxin lead and the hormone disrupter cadmium in Halloween face paints. Additional lab testing of a variety of kids’ cosmetics, including products purchased here in Minnesota, revealed the presence of the developmental toxicant toluene and possible carcinogens ethylbenzene and vinyl acetate in fragranced products. 

The FDA wouldn't allow these chemicals into products if they weren’t safe - right? Wrong. Cosmetics are among the least regulated products. The 75-year-old federal cosmetics law does not require pre-market safety testing or review of chemicals in products by the FDA. Ingredients in cosmetic products sold on the internet do not have to be labeled and secret ingredients in fragrance are not required to be labeled on any cosmetic products. The FDA has no authority to require recalls of products found to harm consumers and cannot require manufacturers to register ingredients or report cosmetic-related injuries. 

Lack of proper federal oversight of potentially harmful ingredients is a big concern. Cosmetic products are increasingly marketed to children with Disney and other kid-focused character branding. Children are uniquely vulnerable to adverse effects from chemical exposures because they are still growing and developing. Exposure to chemicals that disrupt hormones, impair brain development or increase cancer risk during key developmental windows from infancy through adolescence, can put kids at risk for adverse health effects later in life.

What did they find?
The report summarizes results from reading the labels of 187 children’s cosmetic products, finding chemicals of concern, fragrance and propylparaben in almost half of the products examined. Testing of 48 Halloween face paint products revealed trace amounts of heavy metals in 21 products, with some products containing as many as four metals. The report also describes results from testing of 48 products from 14 states for VOCs. Twenty percent of these products contained at least one VOC, four of which are linked to adverse health effects, toluene, styrene, ethylbenzene and vinyl acetate. 

I purchased five products at a Minnesota Toys R Us for VOC testing. With names like “Hello Kitty Bath Tote,” “Fashion Angels Rainbow Unicorn Beauty Set” and “Minions Nail Kit,” there’s no doubt these products are marketed to kids. Of the products purchased in Minnesota, the “Minions Nail Set” tested positive for the VOC acetone, commonly used as a solvent in nail polish, which can be toxic to children at levels higher than found in this product. 

The label-reading part of the project identified three different formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in six different kids’ cosmetic products. This finding is of note, because Minnesota law prohibits formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in products designed for children under age 8 at greater than 500 parts-per-million. Because the concentration of chemicals in these six products is unknown, we cannot determine if they comply with Minnesota law. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, so we are especially concerned about children’s exposure. 

Need for Stronger Regulation
Cosmetics regulation needs to be reformed to protect public health, including: a ban on ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, developmental harm and other health concerns; required pre-market safety testing of cosmetic ingredients by manufacturers; required full ingredient disclosure including fragrance ingredients; and preservation of existing state laws such as Minnesota’s bans on formaldehyde-releasers and triclosan. Retailers can take action by prohibiting ingredients linked to harmful health effects in product lines and expanding safer cosmetic product lines.  Finally, the report notes that manufacturers can meet consumer demand for safe cosmetics by avoiding the use of harmful chemicals in favor of safer alternatives, disclosing all product ingredients, adopting a restricted substances list that governs current and future use of chemicals and monitoring research on chemicals of emerging concern.  

Take Action: Tell Congress to pass strong cosmetic regulation. 

Consumer Tips for a Safer Halloween and Beyond
•    Avoid face paint - find a Halloween costume that doesn’t require it. 
•    Avoid darkly pigmented makeups. 
•    Find a do-it-yourself face paint recipe. 
•    Buy safer products – read labels and avoid products with added fragrance, parabens, styrene or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, imidiazoldinal urea or diazolydinal urea. 
•    Delay the use of kids’ cosmetic products - wait until kids are older. 
•    See more tips in the report 




Congress Finally Updates TSCA-What's in Store for Minnesota?

Kathleen Schuler, Co-Director Healthy Legacy, Healthy Kids and Families Program Director

Widespread human exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday consumer products contributes to increased rates of cancer, learning and developmental disorders, reproductive problems, asthma and birth defects.   Better regulation of chemicals could help reduce the incidence of these chronic health conditions and disorders.

That’s why Healthy Legacy as a 35-member public health coalition has been busy passing seven bills in the past nine years to protect public health from toxic chemical exposures in products. At the same time, we’ve been pushing for reform of the federal law that regulates industrial chemicals in the U.S., called the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA. If you’re familiar with TSCA, you know that TSCA was passed in 1976 and has not been updated since. In the past forty years it has allowed EPA to regulate only five chemicals of the more than 84,000 in commerce today. So we know that TSCA has failed in its job to protect our health. That’s why the states have stepped up to fill in the gaps in federal regulation. Thirty-four states have enacted 167 chemical protection laws in the past ten years.

Despite these important actions by state legislatures, a significant number of toxic chemicals remain on the market, including hormone disrupting chemicals such as phthalates in personal care and household products, BPA in can linings and receipt paper and toxic flame retardants in furniture and children’s products, among others. Both public health organizations and the industry have been pushing for TSCA reform, but for different reasons. While Healthy Legacy advocates for TSCA reform to create stronger public health protections, industries seek reform to address the patchwork of state regulations across the country.

This brings us to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a bill to finally update TSCA. This bill recently passed in both the U.S. House and in the Senate on June 7. The bill has some strengths and also some significant weaknesses. The original version of the bill introduced in the Senate three years ago would have been worse than current TSCA and would have preempted most state actions on chemicals. Due to the work of key legislators and advocates across the nation, the final bill is significantly improved, but still falls short of what most public health and environmental organizations can endorse.

See the statement of our national coalition, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Good New and Bad News
The bill will empower the EPA to tackle the worst chemicals and requires the EPA to address toxic chemical exposures in vulnerable populations, such as workers and children.  However, the rate and pace of chemical safety assessments will leave toxic chemicals on the marketplace for decades.  With a backlog of over 80,000 untested chemicals, the EPA will only be required to assess 20 chemicals at a time. The bill also places new limitations on EPA’s authority to require notification of chemicals used in imported products, including toys, clothing and other home products, allowing toxic chemicals to sneak into the marketplace and into our homes.  

The biggest problem with the bill is that it places new restrictions on states seeking to enact public health protections on toxic chemicals. This was the big win for industry in the bill, creating an initial preemption of state action on chemicals that EPA lists for assessment. However, due to some last minute negotiations by Representatives Pallone and Tonko, this initial state preemption was tempered.  

Where does this leave Minnesota and other states?
While states will no longer enjoy the significant leeway that the current law affords, states still retain some important authorities to protect their citizens from toxic chemical exposures. States can still enact laws relating to the first ten chemicals that EPA assesses, as well as chemicals subject to industry-requested risk evaluations.  States can also act on chemicals not designated as high priority by EPA and uses of priority chemicals outside of the scope of an EPA risk evaluation. The bill allows states to enact chemical reporting and monitoring requirements and state water, air and waste protections. In addition, actions related to laws passed before April 22, 2016 are grandfathered in and cannot be preempted.  Finally, states can take action on chemicals and products not regulated under TSCA, such as cosmetics, food packaging and food additives, which are under the purview of the FDA.

Congress has spoken and states will have to live with the new TSCA. With EPA only assessing 20 chemicals at a time, it’s clear that the Minnesota legislature will continue to have an important role in protecting Minnesota families from unnecessary toxic chemical exposures for years to come.



Hidden Scents in our products and the Great Lakes

Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Director Healthy Kids and Families at Conservation Minnesota and Co-Director of Healthy legacy

I’m betting you’ve never heard of galaxolide.  Galaxolide is a little known chemical that is very likely in your body and in your home. It’s a synthetic musk that is added to an array of scented home and personal care products including perfumes, shampoos, detergents, air fresheners, room sprays, plug-ins, candles and cleaners. Increasing use of this chemical has resulted in its presence in the human body and in the Great Lakes.

Women’s Voices for the Earth commissioned an analysis of galaxolide using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals, an internationally recognized tool for assessing the hazardous properties of chemicals. In order to identify chemicals of high concern, the Green Screen® rates and scores chemicals, based on 18 different health and environmental endpoints, including persistence and bioaccumulation in the environment and toxicity to aquatic life. Galaxolide’s score reflects the highest level of concern for the safety of the chemical, a Benchmark 1-“Avoid.

Toxic to Aquatic Life and Humans
Galaxolide is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. It is persistent in the environment and builds up in the human body. It’s also been detected in umbilical cord blood and breast milk. One study found galaxolide in bodies of 91 percent of people tested and levels in blood were correlated with greater use of lotions and perfumes.  That’s a problem because there is evidence that galaxolide is a hormone disrupter, which means that exposure to tiny amounts of the chemical can impact health. Researchers found that exposure to galaxolide may also inhibit resistance to other chemicals, resulting in a higher accumulation of chemicals in the body.  

Galaxolide in the Great Lakes
Galaxolide enters the environment through wastewater discharge and atmospheric deposition. It has been detected in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario sediments, doubling every 16 years in Lake Erie and every 8 years in Lake Ontario. It's also been found in the waters and air above Lake Michigan. Right in our own backyard, levels of galaxolide in Lake Superior are the second highest among the Great Lakes, second only to Lake Ontario.

Action Needed
Now that the hazards of galaxolide are evident, manufacturers who still use it need to phase it out of their products. SC Johnson is one of just six manufacturers in the U.S. importing and using this high production volume chemical. Over 80 products made by JC Johnson contain galaxolide, including Windex, Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles, Shout! and Glade air fresheners. Take a moment to urge SC Johnson to protect the Great Lakes and our health by eliminating the fragrance chemical galaxolide. 
How can you avoid products with galaxolide? Since fragrance ingredients, like galaxolide, are not required to be disclosed on a product label or website, it can be challenging to avoid when purchasing products. Here are some quick tips:

•    Look for fragrance-free cleaning products (remember that “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free) or if you have a question about whether a fragranced product you use contains this chemical of concern, call the manufacturer and ask — if they don’t provide the answer you need, ask yourself whether or not it is a product you need, and voice your concerns about the hazards of Galaxolide.

•    Make your own cleaning products. Here are some to get you started.

•    Research and purchase brands that don't use galaxolide and that you trust.


New Study Found Toxic Chemicals in Car Seats

By Kathleen Schuler

The Ecology Center and Healthy Stuff just released their latest research on toxic chemicals in children’s car seats. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of seats tested contained hazardous halogenated flame retardants (those with bromine or chlorine) and over half contained non-halogenated phosphate flame retardants, some of which may also be hazardous.  Five of the car seats tested contained chemicals recently banned by the Minnesota legislature.

Should parents be worried?
Yes, a little. The main reason parents use car seats, aside from the fact that they’re required by law, is to protect their little ones, in case of an accident. So conscientious parents look up safety ratings for car sets before they buy. Fewer parents are aware of the fact that these very same car seats could contain toxic chemicals linked to thyroid problems, learning and memory impairment, decreased fertility, behavioral changes and cancer.

There’s no doubt that babies and young children can spend hours every week in a car seat, so we need to make sure that the car environment is as safe as possible for kids. Manufacturers add chemical flame retardants to the fabric covering and/or foam in the car seat to meet fire safety requirements. Added flame retardant chemicals are not chemically bound to the car seat materials and are thus released over time. Infants, toddlers and children can be exposed through inhalation, ingestion and dermal (skin) absorption of these chemicals. Heat and UV-ray exposure in cars can accelerate the release of these chemicals from products into the vehicle interior.

What Healthy Stuff Found
Healthy Stuff tested fifteen 2014-model car seats for various hazardous chemicals, including bromine, chlorine, lead and other heavy metals. They then rated the car seats regarding the presence of toxic chemicals. Car seat rankings and chemical test results are available at  Top rated companies in the study, Britax and Clek, have employed green engineering solutions to reduce hazards in their products while still meeting all safety standards.  Britax has eliminated all halogenated flame retardants and none of the chemicals tested were found in the Clek products.

The Graco My Size 65 convertible model rated dead last of all the products tested. The rating is based on the hazard rating of the chemical used, the company’s policy on phasing out halogenated chemicals, and whether the chemicals were present in multiple materials and components of the product. The Graco rating was very upsetting to me personally because that was the very model I had bought for my grandson last January. I chose that brand and model because of the great safety and customer ratings, good
price and also because Graco had pledged in 2012 to eliminate the use of Tris and Firemaster 550 chemicals in their products. According to this study, they are now using other chemicals of concern, HBCD, TBC and UBC. Ask Graco to pledge to disclose and phase out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives and follow through on their plan. Sign the petition to Graco at

Not Needed for Fire Safety
Car seat manufacturers are required to meet the same federal fire test standards that apply to car interiors. The report recommends updating fire safety standards to account for real life conditions, citing the fact that chemical flame retardants in car seats delay ignition by only a few seconds. This does not provide meaningful protection when the engine caches fire, as it takes two minutes for the passenger compartment to fill with smoke and up to five minutes for the vehicle to catch fire. Non-toxic engineering approaches to both prevent and suppress vehicle fires are recommended.  The best rated car seats in this study meet fire safety standards  without toxic chemicals.

Regulated in Minnesota
Five of the car seats in this study would be banned in 2018 in Minnesota under the Firefighter and Children Health Protection Act* because they contain HBCD or TDCPP in a children’s product. Four of the car seats tested contained a chlorinated tris chemical, either TDCPP or TCPP. TDCPP was banned from children’s sleepwear in 1976 because it was found to be mutagenic and linked to cancer. HBCD, the other banned chemical was found in three of the car seats in this study. Governor Dayton recently signed this bill that also bans two additional toxic flame retardants (deca-BDE and TCEP) in children’s products and upholstered furniture. Deca-BDE was not found in car seats tested in this study and testing for TCEP was not included in the study. (*Car seats with levels of TDCPP and HBCD exceeding 1000 parts per million would be prohibited from sale in Minnesota on July 1, 2018. Retailers may sell existing stock until July 1, 2019.)

Another bill that did not pass in the Minnesota 2015 session was the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA). It would have required that manufacturers report priority chemicals in children’s products that the Minnesota Department of Health has determined are hazardous and likely to expose children, including two of the chemicals in this study (deca-BDE and HBCD).  If it had passed, TFKA would have empowered state agencies to provide information to parents on nine priority chemicals in kids products so they could purchase products for their children that protect their safety without unnecessarily exposing them to toxic chemicals.

What’s a parent to do?
First of all, your child’s safety in a moving vehicle is the top priority. Keep using your car seat, regardless of how it was rated in this study. HealthyStuff recommends the following:

  • When purchasing a car seat, look for companies that have comprehensive chemical policies. is a good resource for car seat ratings, though all models have not been tested.
  •  Limit your child’s time in a car seat. Use your car seat only for travel, not for napping on home use.
  • Limit direct sunlight on the car seat and high temperatures, because more chemicals are released in a hot car. Park in the shade or in a covered parking area whenever possible.  
  • Vacuum the interior of your car and the car seat frequently to eliminate dust particles to which chemical flame retardants cling. Also open car windows when possible.
  • Back to that Graco car seat I bought for my grandson, I’ve added another precaution.
  • If you own a car seat that was rated poorly in this study, in addition to the above, cover the car seat when sitting in the sun with a thin baby blanket or towel to prevent sunlight degradation. Also to prevent dermal exposure if flame retardants were used in the textile, cover the car seat with a light blanket so baby’s skin is not exposed. It might help and it can’t hurt!



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