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Phthalates In Sex Toys

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

tpe elastomer sex toys, tulipsA Toxicant In Sex Toys

Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) found in sex toys are toxic plasticizers to soften firm materials to make them feel softer. They are often found in PVC vinyl. If vinyls do not have any softeners, they would feel like hard plastic but there are safer alternatives.

Phthalates are also used in cosmetics, fragrances (perfume), air fresheners, scented candles, ink, and many other products, including sex toys. Food is the leading source of exposure to them. Phthalates are not intentionally added to food but get into food such as dairy, meat, oils, processed foods, baked goods, and infant formula through food additives.

Phthalate Health Concerns

In sex toys, phthalate molecules are not chemically bound to the plastics they soften. As such, phthalates can break free from plastic reasonably easily. They have been shown to disrupt the human hormonal system, diminish fertility, and adversely affect the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. In addition, phthalates have been linked to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, and autism spectrum disorders. One of the most common toxic additives is DEHP, a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxicant readily found in numerous PVC products, including sex toys.

Phthalates & Diabetes

In 2012, in a study published in the journal of Diabetes Care, researchers at Uppsala University found a connection between phthalates found in cosmetics and plastics and the risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes. They found that even a modest increase in phthalate exposure will double the chance of developing diabetes.

Damage To Sperm

Exposure to some phthalates may cause damage to sperm DNA. This means that it may be a generational health issue. Exposure to these endocrine disruptors is considered a serious problem with diminished sperm count and deteriorated sperm quality. It has also been linked to infertility and a higher incidence of congenital malformations of the genital tract.


A European study has indicated that exposure to phthalates through breastfeeding can cause a reduction of reproductive hormones, genital malformations, and undescended testes in male babies (phthalate syndrome). In one study, 81 percent had seven or more phthalates detected.

Female Reproduction

Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system through estrogenic effects and thus disrupt the female reproductive system. Some phthalates are associated with decreased estradiol levels, diminished ovarian reserves, and anovulation when an egg (ovum) doesn't release from your ovary during your menstrual cycle.

Some believe that phthalates mimic estrogen, but it is BPA that mimics estrogen, while phthalates block testosterone action. In one study, it was determined that phthalates could also be associated with miscarriage, mostly between 5 and 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Checking Materials & Ingredients

A significant issue in determining if a product contains phthalates is that manufacturers won't list them in their products. They have no legal requirements to divulge that they are in them, so consumers are left in the dark.

The Most Popular Phthalates Compounds And Their Metabolites:

  • BBP: butyl benzyl phthalate
  • MBzP: mono benzyl phthalate
  • DBP: di-n-butyl phthalate
  • MBP: mono-n-butyl phthalate
  • MiBP: mono-isobutyl phthalate
  • DEHP: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
  • MEHP: mono-(2-ethylhexyl)
  • DEP: diethyl phthalate
  • MEP: monoethyl phthalate
  • DiDP: diisodecyl phthalate
  • DiNP: diisononyl phthalate
  • DnHP: di-n-hexyl phthalate

Phthalate Sex Toy Misinformation

The Smell Test

A common myth about phthalates is that you can always tell they are present because of that new shower curtain smell. This misinformation is all over the internet and indicates that the phthalates can be detected by this scent when in fact, some phthalates can be nearly odorless. It can be impossible for consumers to know if their sex toys contain them.

Sex Toy Material Claims

Many websites on the internet that are well-meaning and trying to promote health will make blanket statements that are misleading to consumers. You will see overly generalized statements warning to avoid all materials such as jelly, rubber, PVC, and vinyl. They often tell you to only buy 100% pure medical-grade silicone, hard plastic, glass, metal, ceramic, and some phthalates-free elastomers such as TPE and TPR.

This is an example of misinformation. For example, not all PVC, vinyl, or rubber is made with phthalates, and technically silicone is considered a rubber. Also, you will not find that any sex toys that contain color are made with medical-grade silicone, but that does not mean they are not body-safe and phthalate-free.

Consumers should not be looking for medical-grade silicone; rather, they should be looking for platinum-cured or post-baked peroxide-cured silicones. To learn more about this, please see our silicone sex toy guide: Silicone Sex Toys: Is Yours Real & Safe?

Phthalate Bans

Phthalates are strictly regulated in the European Union, and The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has banned them from children's toys and childcare products. Anything more than 0.1% by weight of phthalates is considered toxic. 

Why Are Phthalates Still Used?

They are inexpensive, and it is the way many companies have always made their products and they are resistant to change. Unfortunately, the industry is rarely proactive about the health of its customers and instead responds only when there is strong pressure to do so.

In 2006, Greenpeace tested some sex toys and found that seven of the eight sex toys it had tested contained between 24 and 51 percent of phthalates. Since then, there has been a reduction in using phthalates in sex toys by some of the major sex toy manufacturers.

Other companies are also attempting to reduce harmful chemicals. For example, according to FDA in 2010, DBP and DMP are now rarely used in cosmetics. DEP is the only phthalate still commonly used in cosmetics highly used in fragrances.

How Do You Buy Phthalate-Free Sex Toys?

There are now many companies are making phthalate-free PVC products and using bio-based materials because of increased consumer awareness. However, consumers have to rely on a few helpful sites, books, and videos that educate them on these issues to make good choices and protect themselves from harm. That is why we provide this education and provide only body-safe sex toys that are phthalate-free. We want you to be educated and provide you with safer products.

Challenging To Prove

It is challenging to determine if products may contain harmful ingredients such as asbestos, formaldehyde, parabens, triclosan, and phthalates. Even when a company claims they are free of those chemicals, independent lab tests can show those chemicals are still in the products they sell. This can be true even when a company claims absolute transparency and is involved in the complete supply chain, including holding suppliers and raw material providers to the high standards they proclaim. Let's explore how this can be done.

No Regulations

The sex toy industry is not regulated and is considered adult novelties. This means that there is no oversight of the safety of most sexual products. To learn more about this, please explore our helpful guide: Why Are Sex Toys Called Adult Novelties?

Third-Party Manufacturing

The manufacturer does not always make their own brand-name sex toys. They are often created by a third-party manufacturer who labels their products and sells them to them wholesale. They, in turn, sell their products to distributors, retailers, or directly to the public. Unless a brand is independently testing their products made by a third-party manufacturer, they will have no verification that the actual manufacturer is making their products without harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, this is a rampant problem as many third-party manufacturers will still use unsafe materials and ingredients because they are cheaper, and it helps increase their profit margins.

Shading Testing

An example of how shady some manufacturers can be when testing their own products can be found regarding talc powder. One company that sold talc claimed that their talc was asbestos-free. Asbestos can cause permanent lung damage and cancer, and it naturally grows with talc, so it is often mixed in. Talc is found in many cosmetics such as baby powder, lipstick, mascara, face powder, blush, eye shadow, and foundations. It is so prevalent in talc that consumers should consider avoiding any products that contain it.

Because the FDA has no authority over such testing, the company was self-regulating the presence of asbestos. It turns out that they were only testing one teaspoon per ten tons of talc powder. Furthermore, they used low-powered microscopes to check for asbestos because there would be less chance of detecting the asbestos, but they could claim the looked for it.

It is challenging to trust companies to fully disclose the truth about harmful toxins and toxicants in their products. In many cases, those reselling the products are entirely in the dark and trusting what a manufacturer tells them because they have no way to verify a manufacturer's marketing claims.

Phthalate-Free Claims

Some manufacturers claim that their products are phthalate-free, but it is impossible to know if they are valid unless every product is tested independently at a lab. Even with reformulations of old products, new products can sometimes contain ingredients or materials that may be more harmful than the original.

For example, BPA substitutes that are more harmful to the health of consumers than BPA are Bisphenol AF (BPAF), bisphenol B (BPB), and bisphenol Z (BPZ). However, companies that use those harmful alternatives can now label products as BPA-free leading customers to think they are safe.

Reducing Exposure

It is highly unlikely to completely eliminate exposure to phthalates because they are in so many things. However, reducing exposure can be vital for one's health, and we believe that ensuring that all of our sex toys are phthalate-free is just one way to do that.

In addition to buying only phthalate-free sex toys, another way to reduce exposure is by purchasing fragrance-free products. Unfortunately, products that contain fragrances often have phthalates, such as DEP (Diethyl Phthalate). They are used to extend the aromatic strength of fragrances and have been found in 75% of fragranced products. Fragrance ingredients are not labeled in fragrances because they are considered a trade secret, thus consumers have no way of knowing if they contain phthalates. If you want to lower your exposure, you should opt to only buy fragrance-free products.

Impact Of Small Health-Focused Companies

Many small companies like us that care deeply about their customers and offer more pure ingredients and materials in their products often demonstrate to the big companies that making safe products is not only possible but profitable because it's what consumers want. 

By educating consumers and working hard to bring only healthy products for sexual health, we are leading by example and have been for over two decades. Many companies in our industry snickered at us over the years because they thought we were an overly cautious company that was just causing trouble for sex toy manufacturers who were not interested in changing. Yet here we are, having been a significant force in many of the changes to sex toy safety today. We have always cared deeply about people, and we will never stop fighting for your health.

Our Activism

Professionals and consumers can explore our global efforts to make changes within the sexual health industry through our Safe Sexual Product Campaign via The National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality:

For additional education about toxins and toxicants in sexual health products, please explore our Body Safe Sex Toy Guide.

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