Smarter Living: Stuff

Longer nights, baskets of gourds, random celebrities showing up at your doorstep demanding candy--yes, Halloween is upon us again. As a celebration (or contest) of creativity, All Hallows Eve is unmatched, and helping out with your child's costume is one way to get back a bit of the Great Pumpkin's spirit.

Costumes and Masks

Whether your child wants to be Iron Man, Hannah Montana or a fairy princess, drugstores and specialty shops across the country are stuffed with scores of mass-produced getups. You may think that a store-bought Optimus Prime costume is perfectly suited to your child's Transformer fixation, but many costumes and masks are made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC (also known as vinyl), a non-recyclable plastic whose production releases cancer-causing dioxins into the atmosphere. What's more, soft vinyl products, like shiny imitation-leather accessories, usually contain phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer.

You can avoid the creepy unknown element in a store-bought costume by creating one yourself. Mix hand-me-downs with a few safety pins and a little imagination for a unique costume that isn't nearly as scary as it looks. Here are a few ideas:

  • With a little paint or pieces of fabric, transform solid-colored leggings and turtlenecks into any variety of animal or insect. For instance, a white stripe down the back of black basics makes a skunk, and black polka dots on white creates a Dalmatian.
  • Bend wire coat hangers into half-moons or earlobe shapes and cover them with stockings for a pair of angel wings.
  • Hang crepe paper and lace from a flashlight for a fairy wand that will light the way on dark neighborhood streets.
  • Explore the endless mask possibilities afforded by paper plates, construction paper and papier mache.
  • Rummage through closets and thrift stores for forgotten fashions and uniforms to repurpose. An old cheerleader uniform can turn your child into a High School Musical star, and worn-out khakis can be the basis for Indiana Jones. Take scissors to any old outfit for a brain-dead zombie.
  • Use a little glue and a few strategically placed armholes to turn a gently used cardboard box into anything from a rocket to Spongebob Squarepants.


Many costumes seem incomplete without a face full of fake scars or a ghostly complexion. But costume makeup may contain toxic ingredients, like lead, that can readily be absorbed by the skin. So before turning your child's face green, blue or any other color, make sure your makeup choice doesn't come with any other frightening side effects. Here's how:

  • Whenever possible, create the desired effect with adult cosmetics rather than play and costume makeup, which is often imported from countries with lax regulations about product safety and ingredient disclosure.
  • Choose products that are listed in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics database.
  • Powdered products generally contain fewer potentially harmful ingredients than oil-based makeup, but if you do choose the latter, pay attention to the type of oil that is used. Mineral oils are harsher on skin than plant-based oils, but plant-based oils can cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Always check the expiration date before using any makeup product.
  • Even when you're confident that the product is safe, it's always a good idea to test a small amount on your child's arm a few days in advance to be sure he or she won't have an adverse reaction when you apply a larger amount.

Learn More

Halloween Treats

Take Out Toxics

last revised 10/4/2011

Get Updates and Alerts

See the latest issue >

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.

Donate now >

Share | |
Find NRDC on