Thursday, December 4, 2014

Healthy Holidays: 10 tips for safer gifts

By Kateri Wimsett, Education & Outreach Specialist

Making a list?  Checking it twice?  Finding out who’s naughty and nice?  Yes, it’s that time of year again, the holidays are here.  As a mom to two young children and a proud aunt of twelve, when this time of year rolls around I start making my lists.  It’s important to me that the gift I give is not only thoughtful but also safe.  As someone who works in Children’s Environmental Health, I spend part of my professional life learning about toxics and their health impacts in our daily lives. With this in mind, I’ve learned some great ways to find safer holiday gifts.

1) My number one favorite way to avoid toxics in products is to give the gift of my time. Some of the best gifts I’ve ever given are lunch and bowling dates with my nieces. I get to spend the afternoon having fun with them and their parents get some well-deserved quiet time. It’s a win- win! A bonus from gifts like this – less mess from gift wrap and packaging! Consider going to the movies, or a play, or a museum.  Go on a hike or a bike ride. Scrapbook together. By spending quality time with my little loved ones I’ve learned more about them as people.  Priceless!

2) Books!  Children of all ages love books.  Check out activity books and coloring books.  They are educational and fun.  Another option to consider is a gift subscription to a children’s magazine.  Kids love getting mail and it’s a gift that keeps on giving every month. 

3) Read the labels completely. What’s the toy made of?  What’s the age label on the toy?  Is there a warning label or safety message on the box? In 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that hospital emergency rooms across the country treated 265,000 toy-related injuries. Find ways to prevent  toy-related injuries here.

4) Consider toys made from natural materials like solid wood, cloth, paper (paper dolls and puzzles anyone?) and wool.  We love board games at our house.  From Candyland to Jenga and beyond -  we’ve got it!

5) Plastic toys?  Try to avoid toys that list vinyl or PVC as an ingredient.  PVC is the soft flexible plastic often found in bath toys, dolls, and teethers.  Look for toys marked PVC free or phthalate-free. The plasticizing chemicals, called phthalates, are linked to hormone disruption. If you’re not sure what a product contains or is made of, try looking it up on  They’ve tested thousands of products for a variety of toxics and chemicals of concern.

6) Avoid children’s metal jewelry.  These may contain a variety of harmful metals such as lead and cadmium.  For more information on this see the CDC’s web page on Toy Jewelry.

7) Avoid toys with small metal pieces and, especially, small magnetic pieces. 

8) Consider toys to play outside like a new ball, sidewalk chalk for hopscotch, or maybe even a new badminton set.  Sometimes the constant December rain can be a bit disheartening, but it’s amazing how a new toy to play outside motivates kids to put on boots and jackets and go outside for fresh air.

9) Stay up to date on toy recalls by subscribing to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s email updates.  It’s easy and free.  You can sign up at here.

10) Gifts like nail polish, lotion, bubble bath, and perfume can be fun, but these products are not required to have any safety testing. There are ingredients in many of these products that are linked to health issues. Read this blog post from last year’s Healthy Holidays series for a quick guide to finding safer personal care products. You can find health and safety ratings for personal care products using Skin Deep.

Have fun and enjoy the holidays safely!

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