Those fancy packages with colorful shadows, lipsticks, and blush can look enticing to little ones and gift-givers. The idea of a little princess (or prince!) wanting to make themselves look pretty as they have seen other grown ups do almost seems a staple in childhood.
The thought of toddlers destroying Mom’s $75 eye palette, though, is not as sweet.
Playing with makeup can be great role playing, which builds imagination and creativity. It can also build fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination.
But is play makeup safe?
Surprisingly, there aren’t a whole lot of regulations for cosmetics in general, let alone ones marketed for kids.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) currently only require color additives to have their approval. But what does that mean for the rest of the ingredients?
While makeup is supposed to be safe and labeled appropriately, it hasn’t stopped companies from including things like talc, parabens, lead, and even asbestos in their products. Child’s play makeup also tends to be labeled as a toy, allowing it to sneak under the FDA radar.
Even trusted retailers like Claire’s had trouble when it was discovered that their products had asbestos in them back in 2017 and again in 2019. (CNN) They have since removed those products and others containing talc.
Check Ingredients of Play Makeup
Where does this leave us when it comes to buying play makeup?
For me, it is a hard pass. But if you must, always check the ingredients in order to make sure the play makeup is safe.
Think about about where products are being applied – eyes, near the mouth, etc. These are areas that can provide chemicals and other harmful materials easy and fast ways to enter the body. Never mind the fact that is being applied to the largest organ on the body – the skin – where it can be absorbed.
Items with lead and asbestos seem obvious to avoid. However, talc, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, titanium dioxide, or benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) (that chemical smell in nail polish, etc) are other ingredients that cause irritation, reproductive issues, and even cancer.
It is hard to know what some of those hard-to-pronounce chemicals are, so generally, it is just easier to avoid them altogether.
Adult Cosmetics for Kids
If play makeup is a no go, can I just buy children inexpensive adult makeup?
While you stand a better chance of avoiding a lot of nasty ingredients due to closer FDA inspections, it is still important to check labels. Also remember that these are tested and meant for adults. Giving a small child an adult dose of medicine could be lethal. And using ingredients in safe amount for adults, might not be safe for children.
Natural or Mineral Cosmetics
Are natural or mineral based products safer for children?
Things to keep in mind when looking at these types of cosmetics is that just because it is natural, doesn’t mean it is safe. Check ingredients here too. You will presumably find familiar sounding materials which should be more straightforward to understand.
There is one to watch out for, though.
Many powder-based cosmetics use mica, which is not harmful when applied to skin. However, when inhaled, it can be toxic due to traces of lead, arsenic, and mercury. For children who are exploring makeup for the first time, it would be best to stick to cream-based eye shadows and blush to avoid the inhalation of minerals.
Safe Play Makeup Alternatives
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If play makeup is a must-have in your home, skip the toxins and check out these safer alternatives.
There are plenty of sets that include compacts, lipsticks, brushes, and more that allow children to role play makeup time without actually applying anything to the skin. This is the best way to keep play makeup safe.
The youngest can get their glam on with this plush cosmetics set by Wonder & Wise by Asweets. It includes a multi-colored palette, mirrored compact, nail polish, lip stick, lotion tube, and perfume bottle that all store in a grown up looking makeup bag!
Some of my favorite sets are wooden. This means they are sturdy and will last. Wooden sets make perfect additions for classroom dramatic play areas. The ones shown here by Imagination Generation, Early Learning Centre, and Janod include cute to sophisticated pieces as well as cases for storage.
If realistic is what you are going for, Melissa & Doug Love Your Look Play Kit is a must! All the items included are incredibly realistic, but have absolutely no actual cosmetics.
Lip gloss is a pretty easy DIY activity. Liz Heinecke has a simple, but detailed, recipe for making lip gloss using Kool-Aid on Scholastic Parents. It uses beeswax and coconut oil as the base, so the ingredients are clean. Be sure there are no allergies to anything used to make cosmetics.
As for eye shadow and blush, I had trouble finding a suitable recipe. For what it’s worth, I would stick to pretend for these.
For even more gifting alternatives check out the gift lists for toddlers and preschoolers!