Trick or Treat MorgueFile cohdraHalloween costumes are supposed to be scary, right? But this is a bit too frightful for my taste:

  • Face paints can contain lead, which can impair brain development at extremely low doses, as well as nickel, cobalt and chromium, which can cause skin sensitization and contact dermatitis.
  • Lipstick can also contain hidden lead.
  • Nail polish often contains dibutyl phthalate and toluene, chemicals linked to hormone disruption and cancer.
  • Cosmetics in powder form can easily be inhaled. Depending on the particle size, the powder can lodge in children’s nasal passages and even lungs.
  • Products containing fragrances may contain allergens or hormone-disrupting chemicals.
  • Many hairsprays contain toxic chemicals and fragrance. Kids can easily breathe in sprays.

All that’s from a Halloween safety tip sheet from the Environmental Working Group. And it’s only the face paint and makeup department!

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  • According to EWG testing, other costume items can be scary too. Popular commercial Halloween masks and fake teeth are often made from a variety of potentially harmful synthetic materials that aren’t always very well labeled. Plastics, for example, are often softened with endocrine-disrupting phthalates—but rarely do manufacturers list the ingredients, let alone their dangers.

    I hate to reinforce my reputation as a killjoy, putting the damper on all the fun in the name of child safety. Halloween is actually one of my favorite holidays. (I love the costumes and the chocolate and, back in my day, the nighttime marauding—what a great combination). I think I can tolerate kids gorging themselves on sugary candy one night a year. I’m not a zealot about that. But I do think parents should insist on safe products for our kids—on principle if nothing else.

    Even if a little dose of phthalates over the course of one Halloween evening won’t kill them, we should demand that toys and other products made expressly for kids meet certain basic safety standards. End of discussion. Why? Mostly because it’s commonsense, we love our kids and want above all else to protect them from harm. And it’s also because this generation of kids already absorbs more chemicals and toxics than anyone has before them. They are guinea pigs in a big, twisted experiment and it’s not fair.

    In a Public News Service story about EWG’s findings, pediatrician Marny Turnvil says more than 80,000 chemicals are approved for use in consumer goods, and with little safety testing, children are at greater risk today than in past generations. “They are starting their lives with a bigger body burden of chemicals to begin with because we have exponentially increased the number of chemicals in our society every ten years since 1940.”

    EWG recommends making your own costumes at home, which I think is a really grand idea on so many levels (my colleague here at Sightline was busy last week collecting materials to transform his daughters into a faucet and a stoplight.)

    Here are additional tips from EWG for “greening” your Halloween.


    Image courtesy cohdra at