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It’s crazy how many sex toys are made from harmful, chemical-filled materials. Well, maybe it’s not that crazy, given how much of everything we bring into our lives is made from, filled with, or coated with toxins. But still, yuck.
Like everything else, there are materials to avoid and healthier alternatives you can choose in their place. Most materials on the “avoid” list are found in cheap novelty sex toys, though it’s a good idea to always check the package regardless of price. Just because a toy is more expensive, doesn’t mean the brand has thoughtfully manufactured its products.
Healthier sex toy materials
Obviously, a body-safe sex toy is made from materials that don’t leach toxins. However, there is one other VERY important characteristic to consider: it should also be non-porous.
Sex toys that are porous have tiny spaces within the material that can harbor bacteria. These minuscule holes make the toy more difficult to sterilize and provide an environment that makes it easy for bacteria to live, grow, and multiply.
By contrast, sex toys that are non-porous have a completely smooth surface, making them water-resistant, easy to clean, quick to dry, and less habitable for bacteria.
Still, non-porous toys need to be cleaned properly to wash away any bacteria that have come into contact with it during use. And if the toy is insertable and/or will be used by multiple partners, it is always a good idea to use a condom for added hygiene.
Sex toy materials that are non-porous and hypoallergenic include high-quality medical-grade silicone, borosilicate glass, and stainless steel. Let’s take a look…
100% pure medical-grade silicone
Silicone is used to make sex toys softer, more flexible and more realistic. Pure medical-grade silicone is more expensive than food-grade silicone. However, it is worth the premium, because this is the only type of silicone that is deemed safe to use inside the human body.
Be careful not to fall for “fake silicone”. Thermoplastics (TPR and TPE), phthalate-leaching vinyl (PVC), and jelly “silicone” are often just referred to as just “silicone” on the label. If the toy is cheap and the label does not specifically say it is “medical-grade silicone”, you can assume it is one of these chemical alternatives masquerading as the real thing.
Made primarily from boron trioxide and silica (the main component of sand, not to be confused with silicone), borosilicate glass is highly durable and resistant to changes in extreme temperature. This means you can easily sterilize it in boiling water without worrying it will crack.
Borosilicate glass is hypoallergenic and lead-free. It is also safe to use with any type of lubricant and is often quite beautiful in design.
While stainless steel is considered hypoallergenic, those with acute nickel sensitivities may disagree. Nickel is what gives stainless steel its shiny gloss. So if the sex toy has a matte finish, it likely does not contain much (if any) nickel.
To be sure, look at the numbers that describe the type of steel used, such as “18/8 stainless steel” or “18/0 stainless steel”. These numbers indicate the percentage of chromium and nickel, respectively. So 18/8 has 18% chromium and 8% nickel, while 18/0 is nickel-free. Well, almost nickel-free, as there may be some trace amount.
While pots and pans may be scratched by metal utensils or harsh scrubs (potentially causing them to leach some nickel), it is less common to scratch a sex toy. That said, those with acute nickel sensitivities may prefer another material to avoid the risk.
A note on phthalate-free
Parabens and phthalates are less common in sex toys than they have been in the past. However, they are still used and need to be avoided. Something to note is that it is common for sex toy packages to read “phthalate-free” yet still contain other hazardous materials. Be sure to read the label or the brand’s website to ensure the materials and ingredients are safe. If the brand is not completely transparent about what goes into their toys, consider shopping elsewhere.
Sex toy materials to avoid
Materials commonly found in sex toys that you can and should avoid include: jelly rubber, synthetic latex rubber, polyvinyl chloride (shortened as PVC or vinyl), low-grade silicone (which usually contains chemical additives), cadmium (heavy metal), phthalates (endocrine disruptors), and some less recognizable names such as trimethyltin chloride (highly toxic), toluene (the toxic smell associated with gasoline and paint thinner), carbon disulphide (industrial solvent), and more.
A quick note on Lucite
Lucite is widely considered a safe, non-leaching material for sex toys. And it’s likely that it is. However, I’m including it in this “avoid” section, because Lucite is a hard, durable plastic and I’m just not a fan of plastic. So, this is 100% my personal bias.
Lucite is often mistaken for glass, but Lucite is not glass. It is polymethyl methacrylate. Common/recognized names for Lucite include acrylic, acrylic glass, and Plexiglas. The non-plastic (and yes, more expensive) alternative to Lucite is borosilicate glass, which we’ll discuss below.