The Potential Toxic Dangers of Holiday Decorations

December 08, 2019

The family is celebrating Christmas
JayDee Huppert

The holiday season is usually a time for both excitement and stress related to decorating, shopping, and friend and family gatherings.  In recent years, you may have heard the buzz about the potential toxic dangers of holiday decorations.  Especially if you have pets or small children, this may leave you feeling concerned. So, how worried do you need to be about these lurking dangers?  Read on to find out.

One of the biggest concerns is for small children that put things in their mouth.

Yes, holiday decorations (and even toys) can have toxic chemicals on them.  Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to tell just by looking at product.  Lax production regulations outside of the U.S. make an exported item more likely to be toxic.  Luckily, our skin is a great barrier for protecting us from these harsh substances.  The biggest risk with chemical exposure during the holidays is when small children or pets get these items in their mouths.  They are then significantly more likely to absorb anything they come in contact with.  

Ornament toxicity is overhyped.

Ornament toxicity exposure risk is quite low, according to experts.  Handling decorations does not pose any significant health risk.  

Following these simple rules will keep you safe this holiday season:

  • To be cautious and minimize any small risk, it’s important to practice good hand washing after handling your decorations.
  • Keep decorations and wrapping paper out of reach from children and small pets.  If they find it, there is a good chance they will try to put it in their mouth.  
  • If your decorations are cracked or peeling, it’s best to toss them.

The potential hazards of holiday decorations and toys.

  • Toys.  Unfortunately, toy quality can be largely unknown and also pose a risk for lead exposure.  This is particularly true with painted toys.  Try to check consumer reports that issue annual lists of poor quality toy brands and toys themselves. Be extra cautious with toys that contain plastic or paint.  Additionally, batteries can be a big hazard in electronics that kids may receive (especially button batteries that can be easily swallowed and cause burns and other severe problems.)  Always try to choose brands you trust and that have been reported to be safe.  
  • Christmas Decorations.  Reports are issued each year that show a potential for lead exposure when handling Christmas lights and ornaments.  However, the actual risk is relatively unknown. While they definitely shouldn’t be used as children’s toys, they may become an object of entertainment for novel curious eyes. Again, skin exposure is relatively harmless, but be careful with the mouth!
  • Wrapping paper. Again, it’s hard to know which papers to be wary of.  With holiday paper getting more shiny and colorful each year, there is a risk of heavy metals exposure due to ink, dyes, and gloss.  For a general rule of thumb, don’t let it near eyes or mouths.  Also, don’t use it as a starter in your fireplace.  Burning wrapping paper can release to toxic metals. Breathing heavy metals is a much bigger issue than skin exposure.  In the end, don’t be afraid to wrap those presents in pretty paper, just keep an eye on your little ones.
  • Holiday plants.  Common holiday decorative plants such as pine trees, mistletoe, holly, and more can all pose a small risk when ingested. Luckily, none of these plants lethal.  However, they do carry a small risk of causing symptoms such as vomiting, rashes, diarrhea, and an upset stomach.  On extremely rare occasions, an allergic reaction may occur.  Overall, however, plants don’t pose a significant risk even when a kid or pet manages to ingest some of it. (Let’s face it they have probably eaten much worse.)

There’s enough to worry about this holiday season.

Don’t get too worked up over toxicity this season.  Your skin is amazingly resilient and will protect you and your family with the right precautionary steps. With a little toy research and extra child (or pet) proofing of your home, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the holidays to their fullest, as they should be.

Wishing you and your family a happy, toxin free holiday!! 

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