Making Halloween Healthier

by ElizabethMonaghan on October 17, 2012

Written by ElizabethMonaghan

As Halloween approaches, I’m haunted by voices from last year’s neighborhood party. “Umm, cute,” other parents said, looking perplexed as my 16-month-old son, William, danced around them. “What’s he supposed to be?”

“A ghost,” I insisted, privately acknowledging that he looked like a deranged marshmallow. I’m the world’s least crafty mother, and at the time, I was nine months pregnant with Fergus. I had little energy to devote to costume planning. I thought we’d make do by painting a face on William’s oversized white turtleneck.

What happens when the turtleneck shrinks, the weather requires layering, and the boy fixates on a new pair of boots? You get a mini Stay Puft with happy feet.



Having vowed to do better this year, I’ve already begun thinking about costumes, treats, and decorations. I’ve also become more aware of Halloween’s particular sets of hazards to children’s health. I’m not just talking about sugar overload. It turns out that Halloween costumes and decorations are frequently full of chemicals linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, and other serious health problems. To avoid them, I’ll keep these guidelines in mind.


• Skip the face paint. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 face paints contained lead, including a product that was labeled “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic.”

• Skip the fake blood, hair-color sprays, and other make-up products, too. They often contain hazardous ingredients.

• Avoid PVC. It’s used to make masks, which off-gas dangerous chemicals directly into children’s faces. Look for masks made of paper or natural latex.

Repurpose a tote bag instead of using a plastic pail for trick-or-treating.

• Decorate naturally. Hit the farmer’s market for gourds that might double as Thanksgiving decor. Send the kids into the back yard to collect colorful leaves. It’s cheaper, it reduces exposure to risky chemicals, and you don’t have to store them the rest of the year.

• Use long-lasting LED candles in your pumpkins and votive holders. Most wax candles are made of paraffin, which releases toxic benzene and toluene when burned. LED candles keep the air clean and eliminate the risk of burned fingers and charred pumpkins.

Offer friendlier treats. I’m going to adjust the contents of this year’s treat bowl. Most candy is so processed, colored, and preserved that I’m not comfortable handing it out. I’m also more sensitive to kids whose food allergies exclude them from indulging in candy treats. I’ll likely offer a mix of organic hard candies, colorful pencils, and coins.


Making the holiday safer is an incremental process. Not every parent has the time (or in my case, the skills or talent) to make a costume from recyclable cardboard and aluminum foil. (My boys will probably be dressed in matching, pre-owned lobster costumes that I just spotted on eBay.) Still, we can all take action to protect our children from dangerous chemicals. Every healthy step, including something as simple opting for no face paint, moves us in the right direction.

Fergus, William, and I wish you and your family a Happy Halloween!

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