Lower Your Family’s Risk for a Toxic Halloween
By the time your little trick-or-treaters change their minds about their costume choice for the hundredth time, it becomes tempting to grab a mass-produced costume, mask and wig from the closest Halloween superstore. Not so fast! In recent years, experts have started warning parents about a new Halloween danger in the form of costumes, masks, face paint and other accessories that could contain toxic chemicals.
In a 2014 study by the Ecology Center, experts tested more than 100 Halloween products, including costumes, accessories, party favors and decorations. Unfortunately, results showed that many of these popular items contain harmful chemicals and metals including lead, tin compounds, flame retardants and phthalates, which can lead to potentially serious medical problems.
While this news may be enough to send some parents running for Pinterest to look up homemade costume ideas, there are ways to keep store-bought costumes on the safer side:
- Choose costumes free of PVC, which often contains lead and phthalates, which are highly toxic.
- “Outgas” your child’s costume by hanging it up for a few days before your child plans to wear it, especially if it has a chemical/plastic smell. (Borrowed or used costumes will likely contain fewer chemicals, but won’t necessarily be chemical-free.)
- Have kids wear a layer of clothing under their costumes to limit exposure to their skin and be sure to wash hands after removing the costume.
In addition to costumes, parents should keep an eye on the safety of products like face paint and nail polish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides the following smart tips on how to use Halloween makeup safely:
- Perform a skin test a few days in advance on your child’s arm to make sure he won’t experience an allergic reaction, especially if he has sensitive skin.
- Only use products that are specifically manufactured for your skin and follow all application instructions.
- If the makeup smells strange or bad, throw it away, as it could be contaminated.
- Most face paint shouldn’t be used near the eyes as it can cause irritation, so don’t apply it too closely.
While the FDA regulates color additives in products that are FDA-approved, including theatrical makeup and Halloween products, it’s important to only use products for what they are intended. This means using nail polish on nails only, hair coloring on hair only and products for the face only on the face, with special care for any products used around or near the eyes. (Remember, if a product isn’t FDA-approved, it doesn’t necessarily follow FDA rules!)
And while color additives are regulated, not all aspects of makeup are monitored. Tests performed on behalf of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners on 48 Halloween face paints returned less-than-stellar results, with 21 products containing at least one heavy metal and some with as many as four, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury.
Another popular Halloween accessory, especially for teenagers, is decorative contact lenses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it’s not safe to purchase decorative contacts from a beauty supply or novelty store, flea market, street vendor or Halloween store, as they may be unsafe and/or illegal and could cause permanent damage. The AAP recommends only buying contacts from companies that require and verify your physician’s prescription, as well as those that sell FDA-approved products.
To check for recalls for any Halloween costumes or accessories, search the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and for more tips on keeping your trick-or-treaters safe this Halloween, check out our previous blog post, “Keeping Halloween Sweet, Not Spooky.”