It's a scary world out there on Halloween, but not for the reasons you might think.
Warnings from health professionals and environmental advocates are flying this month about dangers far beyond witches, bats and black cats. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 41 million kids between 5 and 14 go out trick-or-treating. That's a lot of young children crowding the roads as they dash from house to house.
Dark costumes and ill-fitting masks make it hard for drivers to see kids and for kids to see cars. Billowy sleeves and skirts brush by open flames on porches and at parties. And we haven't even talked about the sweets. Trick-or-treaters bring home piles of candy, putting them at risk of tooth decay or weight gain.
One organization is even using the holiday as an excuse to promote its head lice product, saying that as kids try on each other's costumes and wigs, they are at risk of getting lice.
You might be tempted to just stay home with the porch lights turned off. But you can have a better, safer Halloween. Here are some ways to protect yourself and your kids when you're in costume, to help you all keep your teeth, and some alternatives to going door-to-door.
Five tips for costume safety
1. Avoid decorative contact lenses. Those vampire eyes, glow-in-the-dark lenses or other vanity contacts sold over-the-counter may sound like the perfect finishing touch, but they can cause permanent eye damage, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
2. Make sure you're visible to cars by wearing bright, reflective costumes or by adding reflective tape to costumes and treat bags, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests. Carry flashlights or glow sticks so you can see and others can see you.
3. Keep costumes short enough so you won't trip on them.
4. Look for the label "flame resistant" on costumes, masks, beards and wigs, suggests the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. They won't be fireproof, but they will resist burning and should extinguish quickly. Also avoid costumes with baggy sleeves and flowing skirts that could accidentally brush against candle flames.
5. Make sure masks fit securely and have wide enough eye-holes so you can see. Better yet, the safety commission says, use makeup and hats instead of masks that block vision or restrict breathing.
Five non-candy foods that won't get your house egged
1. Pretzel packs
2. Single-serve bags of Goldfish
3. Freeze-dried fruit, such as Funky Monkey Snacks
4. Snack-sized microwave popcorn bags
5. Squeezeable applesauce
Five non-candy items that still feel like treats
2. Temporary tattoos
Five places to trick-or-treat outside the norm
1. In downtown Tampa, head toward the history museum or aquarium for trick-or-treating and children's activities. The Tampa Bay History Center is inviting families to "A Night at the Museum" from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 30. Kids can dress up and bring bags to collect treats through the exhibit "Out of this World: Extraordinary Costumes from Film and Television." Cost is $14 for adults and $9 for children. At the Florida Aquarium, "Guppyween" has trick-or-treating among the aquatic creatures and entertainment from 4 to 8 p.m. SundayOct. 23. It costs $12 for ages 12 and older and $2 for the younger set.
2. Ongoing activities throughout the month offer plenty of opportunities to celebrate Halloween. Head to Lowry Park Zoo, SeaWorld Orlando or the Magic Kingdom for festivities that won't traumatize little ones. Zoo Boo runs until Oct. 30, with haunted houses that get ranked according to scare factor. SeaWorld's Spooktacular allows kids to trick-or-treat at the park during the day on weekends and there's a special Sesame Street show. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has treats at night, a parade and special fireworks for guests on select nights until Nov. 1.
3. Introduce children to a greener Halloween at Whole Foods, 1548 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The market is hosting Green Halloween from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29. Children can enter a costume contest at 5 p.m. and trick-or-treat among vendors offering healthy snacks.
4. Get nocturnal at Largo's McGough Nature Park, 11901 146th St. N. The park is celebrating "Owl-o-ween" on FridayOct. 28 with trick-or-treating along the nature trail, talks on creepy critters and marshmallow roasting. Cost is $3 per person, and children 2 and younger are free. The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Reserve a spot at (727) 518-3047.
5. If the mall is more your speed, Westfield Brandon and Citrus Park are inviting children 12 and younger to trick-or-treat at participating retailers from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 31.
Five things to do with candy (besides eat it)
1. Make a trade. Kids and parents can broker deals to swap the Halloween candy with them in exchange for a book, music or other goodie.
2. Sell it. Rodney Holcombe of Advanced Dental Associates in New Tampa is among dentists participating nationally in the Halloween Candy Buy Back program. Holcombe will buy unopened candy for $1 a pound (10-pound limit) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 at his office, 15303 Amberly Drive, Suite D. The candy will be shipped to U.S. troops through Operation Gratitude. Search for other participating dentists at www.halloweencandybuyback.com.
3. Donate it yourself. Operation Gratitude accepts candy until Dec. 5. Ship to Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard, 17330 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys, CA 91406. Find a donation form and shipping tips on the website at www.operationgratitude.com. Florida-based Operation Shoebox also welcomes extra Halloween candy to send overseas. Mail to 8360 E. Highway 25, Belleview, FL 34420, or see www.operationshoebox.com.
4. Collect change instead of candy. The iconic UNICEF collection boxes are available at Crocs stores nationally. Call ahead to the Ellenton store at (941) 721-3700 to make sure they are in stock. Find donation forms and other ways to participate at www.trickortreatforunicef.org.
5. Eat it, but wisely. Instead of going into sugar shock as you overindulge, slowly parcel out the candy. You can reserve it for gingerbread houses in December, bake it into cakes and cookies, add small pieces to homemade trail mix or freeze to add to ice cream or milkshakes later.