The holidays are fast approaching, and we’ve got a few tips for you to ensure a safe and toxic-free gift-giving season. From children’s toys under the tree to cosmetic gift boxes for your colleagues and neighbors, check out our tips for a safe holiday season.
Toys and Children’s Products
Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, Congress, state legislatures and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). With legislation like the Child Safety Protection Act, important safety regulations have been implemented, like the requirement of appropriate choking hazard warning labels. Still, in 2014 (the last year for which data is available), there were 251,800 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments and 11 toy-related deaths.
For young children, the most dangerous type of toy is a small one that can pose a choking hazard. Mouthing or biting objects is a normal part of the developmental process. But for children who are younger than three, look for toys that are no smaller than the opening of a toilet paper roll.
Choose toys without lithium-ion batteries, which can sometimes overheat and cause toys to smoke, catch fire, or even explode. Lithium-ion batteries are used in rechargeable gadgets like hoverboards and remote-controlled planes and helicopters. Plastic and very flexible toys may contain toxic chemicals like phthalates and polyvinyl chloride, and some toys can even contain lead. To avoid toxic chemicals in children’s products, your best bet is to buy wooden toys or toys made from organic materials.
Lastly, stay informed of recalls and check your house for recalled products. You can subscribe to email recall updates at www.recalls.gov and you can search for past recalled toys at www.SaferProducts.gov. You can also report any unsafe products you encounter there as well.
Personal Care Products
Cosmetic gift boxes are a holiday favorite, but unfortunately our personal care products like soap and lotion are loaded with chemicals, and many of them have been linked to health problems like hormone disruption and even cancer.
Most people are troubled and surprised to hear that manufacturers can put almost anything they want in the personal care products we use on our bodies every day. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the power to require safety testing or approval before these products hit store shelves. Until regulation of our personal care products improves, it’s up to manufacturers, retailers and shoppers to avoid toxic chemicals.
This holiday season, if you’re buying sudsy items like bubble bath for your loved ones, watch out for sodium laureth sulfate and PEG compounds on ingredient lists. These ingredients can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a byproduct most often found in products that foam or create suds, and is considered a likely human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
We all love to smell good, but beware of the term “fragrance” on personal care product labels. “Fragrance” refers to a mixture of secret scent chemicals and ingredients. Hundreds of chemicals can be used to make a fragrance, some of which are linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems and allergies. Look for products labeled “fragrance-free” (and note that unscented does not always mean fragrance-free).
Other harmful chemicals to watch out for on labels include parabens, oxybenzone, diazolidinyl urea, phenoxyethanol, DMDM hydantoin and phthalates.
Companies like Honest Company and Tom’s of Maine formulate their personal care products without major chemicals of concern, but of course there is no guarantee that any particular product is 100 percent safe for everyone. Searching for products with low-hazard ingredients is the best way to avoid toxic chemicals.
Other Tips for a Toxic-free Holiday Season
Go BPA-free and choose alternatives to plastic where you can. BPA is found in canned goods, paper receipts and plastic ware. Look for glass products instead. BPA has been linked to cancer, infertility, diabetes and other health problems.
Avoid Teflon and non-stick cookware if possible, and choose iron or stainless steel pots and pans instead. Teflon and non-stick products can release perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated. PFOA is linked to cancer and other health problems.
Avoid “fragrance” in cleaning products and candles as well, and cut out air fresheners altogether.
Give the gift of houseplants to yourself and others. Houseplants have been shown to improve indoor air pollution and make indoor spaces healthier for breathing.