Halloween is a time for children and adults alike to loosen up, show off creative costumes or other fantastical get-ups and indulge in treats that they hope will outnumber tricks.
Yet despite the carefree spirit of Halloween parties and parades, there are many ways to inadvertently end up injured, ailing or in distress while your friends are out howling at the moon. The candle conflagrations, the Halloween hit-and-runs, the greasepaint-triggered acne are all more common than the possibly apocryphal incidents of accepting apples or candy that some sadist has adulterated with razor blades.
Just in time for Halloween, several federal agencies and physicians' organizations have offered their recommendations for staying safe during the holiday once known as All Hallows' Eve.
The Food and Drug Administration compiled its "Lucky 13" tips for a safe Halloween. .
The American Academy of Pediatrics pulled together advice about safe costumes and safe pumpkin carving.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology sounded yet another warning about using decorative non-prescription contact lenses.
Even those with food allergies can enjoy a safe holiday, said Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist at NYU School of Medicine. He recommends shopping in advance for foods and snacks free of suspected allergens, bringing your own treats to parties or while trick-or-treating, keeping emergency medications such as epinephrine pens handy should an allergic reaction occur, and considering non-food items such as stickers and crayons instead of candies and foods whose mystery ingredients could prove hazardous.
Here are what we at ABCNews.com have unscientifically determined to be the Five Dumbest Things That Could Get You Into Trouble on Halloween:
1. Leaving a room with a candle burning inside a jack-o'-lantern. Let's face it, that could set your home on fire. "The one thing we do know is that Halloween is one of the top five days for candle fires," said Lorraine Carli, a spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass. For a safer Halloween glow, use short votive candles to minimize the risks of igniting nearby objects. Keep jack-o'-lanterns away from curtains. And, just like the firemen told you when they visited your elementary school for that childhood lesson in fire safety: never, ever leave a flame unattended.
2. Wearing a very long costume, because you could trip – or worse. Dr. Ryan A. Stanton, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians in Washington, D.C., shared the tale of treating a child in a Batman costume whose long, dark cape became stuck in a car door after his mother thought she had safely dropped him off. She drove away without stopping, unaware her son was being dragged about 15 feet "before the cape gave way," said Stanton, who treated the young Caped Crusader in the emergency room for cuts and bruises. Bottom line: overly long costumes can be hazardous to your health.
3. Domestic diva Martha Stewart may be sporting gold contact lenses as part of her Spellbinding Sorceress costume for her magazine's special Halloween handbook, but decorative lenses purchased without a prescription on the Internet, in salons, video shops, record stores or flea markets, can lead to infections or leave you blind, the FDA and eye care professionals say. These non-prescription devices have been illegal since 2005, warns the American Academy of Ophthalmology. So, even if your vision is normal, either see a licensed professional for a proper fitting of cosmetic contact lenses, or skip them when putting together this year's costume.
4. Trick-or-treating along public roads and thoroughfares in an all-black costume at night makes you virtually invisible and could turn you into the main character in one of Halloween's sorriest tales. Instead, the FDA's tips for a safe Halloween include the suggestion that you wear bright, reflective costumes. Or, place strips of reflective tape on your costume or trick-or-treat bag to make sure drivers and others can spot you in the darkness. Consider the terrible toll suffered each year by youngsters trick-or-treating after they've been dismissed from school for the day. Pedestrian deaths among children 5 to 14 are at least four times higher between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Halloween than on other nights of the year, according to a 1997 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the years 1975-1996.
5. Wearing makeup or other face paint without first testing it. The FDA recommends skin-testing such products by applying a small amount on your arm (inside your wrist or the crook of your elbow work well) a couple of days before you plan to don your costume. Dr. Bruce Robinson, a New York City dermatologist, recommends even stronger precautions. He suggests testing products once daily for a full week, or, ideally, for 10 days. "If you're going to use makeup without testing, be prepared for your skin to look very scary," he said.
A rash, redness, itchiness, swelling or irritation may indicate you're allergic to one or more ingredients in the product. The FDA recommends checking its online list of color additives to see if those in your Halloween makeup are FDA-approved for use on the skin. However, Halloween makeup packaging frequently doesn't include a full ingredient list; and you rarely see the words "dermatologist-tested" or "hypoallergenic," on the packages, Robinson said.
Finally, make sure you remove the makeup before bedtime to prevent skin and eye irritation. Robinson, who is also a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology, estimated that about 5 percent of his patients suffer skin problems at Halloween. "Notoriously, every year I have patients who get an allergic contact dermatitis, who get a breakout of acne, who get exacerbations of rosacea," Robinson said.
The culprits usually are preservatives or fragrances, which can trigger allergic reactions or the redness of rosacea. Halloween makeup can aggravate acne because it's "so very thick, it simply plugs the pores," or because people neglect to wash it off completely. If you can avoid wearing Halloween makeup, or that weeklong window for testing has closed, Robinson recommended choosing a costume with a mask. If your Halloween makeup makes your skin act up, Robinson advised removing it with cool water and a soft washcloth. If the skin is very irritated, apply cold compresses (a few ice cubes in a zipped plastic bag, tucked inside a sheet or pillowcase).