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Paul McRandle

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Scary Looks Without Scary Contents

Posted: 10/30/09 11:02 AM ET

At last, Halloween is upon us. Now comes the party-going and canvassing for candy, the costume malfunctions and insipid sweets, all capped off by a sugar spike that will send children and adults peaking and crashing for the weekend. Yes, the costume is ready and the dish is full. The one item that's left for last is putting on the pallor of death, the alien skintone or the dripping slashes that will complete the look. And what a variety of toxic products there are to choose from--eye shadow with neurotoxic mercury, lead-bearing lipstick, hair dyes pigmented with carcinogenic coal tars.

When I was eight years old, I wanted to dress up like the mummy, which got as technically advanced as wrapping myself in toilet paper. To make the tissue adhere, I smeared cold cream on my face and arms. It wasn't the success I'd imagined. The toilet paper looked soggy and pruned, like the soles of callused feet after a long bath, and within minutes the cold cream began to itch and then began to burn. I tried to tough it out--it was my only costume--but before I hit the streets I was back in the bathroom wadding up the paper and washing off the cold cream. I am not a great Halloweener.

So here's some advice:

I don't know what was in the cold cream I used, but an allergic response might have been brought on by something in the fragrance or the mineral oil. Always read ingredients lists before applying new products to yourself or your children. See "Beauty Secrets" on NRDC's Simple Steps for chemicals to avoid.

Use adult makeup on yourself or your children instead of cheap, costume makeup, which is more likely to contain toxic substances like lead or formaldehyde.

Test it on a small patch of skin several hours before applying it for the costume. This will give you time to check for an allergic reaction and come up with a plan B should one arise.

Look for powdered products--these generally contain fewer harmful ingredients than oil-based makeup.

And instead of letting your kids use glitter sticks, which may contain allergenic parabens and irritating glycol ethers, mix glitter with aloe vera or body lotion for application.

For more tips and information, see "Homemade Halloween" and "Are There Safe Cosmetics for Kids" at NRDC's Simple Steps.