What toxic substances are in kids costumes?
The short answer is, a lot. In one study, researchers tested 105 types of costumes and found that 33 of the 105 costumes contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) components and a good portion of those also had tin in them (5). The same study also found that some kids costumes even contain phthalates that were recently banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in children's products (5).
Other items like masks, trick-or-treat bags and even jewelry aren't 100 percent safe either. Scientists have also found lead in some of the inner masks of kids costumes and some trick-or-treat bags have high levels of bromine in them (5). In jewelry, the main toxic substance we worry about is cadmium. Cadmium can help increase the durability of pieces and is extremely cheap and easy for industries to get their hands on as far as metals go which is why it is so readily used for kids' jewelry (3, 4).
Why should I be worried about them?
Many costumes and costume parts contain toxic substances that cause asthma, learning disabilities, harm the liver, can mess up reproduction and even cause cancers (5). These toxic substances have no place in products for our little ones, but America's chemical safety laws are not as strong as they should be and things are able to slip through (5).
Even very small amounts of these chemicals can cause some pretty concerning health effects (1). For example, some health effects that scientists know for sure that are caused by cadmium are kidney, bone and lung damage (1). And chemicals like phthalates, can mess up how a person's hormones should normally work (6). All-in-all, you definitely don't want children exposed to too much of these toxic substances.
Children can be exposed through these substances when they suck or chew on parts of the costume, through skin contact, and depending on where the costumes are stored and are played with, through contaminated household dust (1, 2). For example if a vinyl mask is part of a costume, it can lead to exposure to phthalates when the mask is chewed on (not hard to imagine for many kids!), when it's touching the skin, and when the phalates particles come off the mask in the home and then become part of the household dust that is inhaled or eaten (6).
Preventing too much exposure is really important since children absorb chemicals more easily than adults, and their organs are also smaller, meaning the organs get more easily overwhelmed by the amount of toxic substances than compared to adult organs (1). While this all may sound very scary, don't fret yet! There are lots of safer options when it comes to dressing up.
Here are some ideas for dressing up to the max and minimizing kid's toxic chemical exposures:
- Look into alternatives to metal jewelry. Wooden or silicone beads and twine make for an excellent art day, and ensure that children have a beautiful necklace or bracelet to wear that doesn't contain cadmium. They will also be pretty excited when they get to say they made their own jewelry.
- Choose costumes that are all cloth. Avoid purchasing costumes with clear flexible plastic. Look for the words polyvinyl chloride, PVC, or vinyl.
- For makeup and masks, use paint and pencils made from clay or other natural ingredients, or make your own. We love this tutorial on DIY face paint! Or make your own mask using paper mache or felt.
- Try your hand at some DIY costumes. This tutorial shows how a little magic can turn a cardboard box into fairy wings, taco outfits, and even Legos!