09:31am Saturday 18 January 2020

Paint Me Not: Face Paints on Halloween Could Trigger Allergic Skin Reactions, SLU Doc Warns

Sofia Chaudhry, M.D.
Sofia Chaudhry, M.D., is the assistant professor
of dermatology at SLU.

Like any cosmetic product, face paints contain many ingredients that have the potential to irritate the skin and cause a reaction called allergic contact dermatitis. These ingredients range from dyes to preservatives, pigments, solvents, fragrances and antioxidants.

“The frequency of contact dermatitis is low, but one cannot predict who will have a reaction,” said Chaudhry, who is also a SLUCare dermatologist. “However, people with a history of known skin contact allergies or sensitive skin should avoid face painting.”

To check if your skin is allergic to a particular paint or cosmetic product, Chaudhry suggests doing a ‘poor man’s patch test.’ To do the test, apply a small amount of paint on the inner arm, cover it with a band-aid and remove it within 48 hours. Watch for any redness or irritation for an additional 48 hours.

Chaudhry also warns people to think twice before getting the widely trending temporary black henna tattoos. While the traditional natural henna is typically safe to use on the body, black henna can be harmful to the skin as it contains a black dye called paraphenylenediamine (PPD).

This chemical sometimes causes red and itchy skin, blisters, and pink and scaly patches that may take a while to heal.

“There have been many cases of severe acute allergic reactions to the PPD that is in black henna, and occasionally there have been long term serious consequences of scarring and permanent changes in skin color,” Chaudhry said. “Henna tattoos should be completely avoided on the face.”

To ensure a safe Halloween, Chaudhry suggests these important skin safety tips:

  • Make sure the brushes/sponges used to apply of the paint are clean.
  • Do not apply paints to inflamed or sensitive skin.
  • Avoid face paint around the eyes.
  • Follow the package instructions on the correct way to remove the paint. Avoid harsh wipes with fragrance and other potential allergens/irritants.
  • If you have signs of a mild contact dermatitis, such as mild redness, itching, burning or scaliness, you can try some over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment. However, if that does not help or the reaction is more severe, seek care from a physician. 
  • Use water-based cosmetics instead of oil-based cosmetics to help prevent acne breakouts.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. SLUCare is the physician practice of Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Riya V. Anandwala

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