Baby/Kid Gear
Want To Hear Something Terrifying? There Are Flame Retardant Chemicals In Kids’ Halloween Costumes

Want To Hear Something Terrifying? There Are Flame Retardant Chemicals In Kids’ Halloween Costumes

January 14, 2023

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

When your kids are young and blissfully unaware, getting around some of the more ghoulish aspects of Halloween is easy. It’s simple to avoid, say, lead in face paint or a toxic sugar overload. But as kids grow and become more socially aware, things get trickier. You might find yourself trolling Eco Etsy for, say, a handmade Elsa costume that doesn’t contain flame retardants. [Editor’s Note: True story!]

Sadly flame retardants in fabrics are not as easy to address as swapping conventional candy for organic. If you’ve ever looked closely at a store bought costume (the kind 99.9 percent of children seem to prefer), you’ve likely seen claims of flame resistance on their labels. Clothing flammability requirements are oddly confusing, but basically costumes are covered under something called the Flammable Fabrics Act. All clothing fabrics must meet a flammability requirement, but most don’t need added chemicals to pass. Some costume fabrics aren’t typical clothing materials, and do require chemical treatment.

What’s the big deal? FR-treated fabric means a kid racing around in a billowy costume, ill-fitting “princess” heels, and a mask won’t go up in flames when she trips over a flaming jack-o-lantern in the dark. Ostensibly that’s a good thing. But growing evidence links flame retardants with adverse health effects, including hormone disruption, reproductive issues, and neurological development concerns. Some of these chemicals have been banned or limited in the U.S. and other countries due to health concerns.

But Halloween is just one night, a kid begging for an Elsa costume might whine. While children probably won’t get significant FR exposure on Halloween, costumes don’t disappear like Cinderella after the ball at the stroke of midnight. A costume in a dress up bin or hand-me-downed to friends or family may continue to emit flame retardants into the air and dust. And FRs eventually wind up in our environment as costumes past their prime hit the landfill. Also? Don’t forget the workers who make the costumes. They are exposed long before and after Halloween—truly frightening.

So what’s a parent interested in safe Halloween costumes to do? Pay attention to fabrics, whether you’re DIY-ing, sewing, swapping with other kids, or buying new. “Inherently flame-resistant fabrics like wool are a better option,” says Veena Singla, a staff scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. Hemp and silk are also said to burn slowly, as are some synthetics like nylon or polyester. While you’re brainstorming costume ideas, add some common sense to the mix. As in, open flames = no and flashlights = yes. If you see a label saying a costume is “flame resistant,” chances are it is chemically treated. To quote Elsa, Let it go! Dress up as something else.

Read more: