Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are organic compounds of phthalic acid added to some plastics to increase their durability, transparency, flexibility and softness. They are sometimes called phthalate esters or plasticizers. Many products contain phthalates, including vinyl floorboards, garden hoses, medical tubing, plastic packaging, soaps, shampoos, nail polish and, in some cases, sex toys.
There are two types of phthalates: low phthalates, which have three to six carbon atoms in their molecules, and the more toxic high phthalates, with a molecular weight of more than six.
The Food and Drug Administration is still researching the effects of these chemicals. However, there's a link between prolonged exposure to phthalates and several health problems. Because of these risks, phthalates are now banned from many products in the United States, Canada, Japan and European nations.
Phthalates and Sex Toys
Sex toys are not legally regulated and many still contain phthalates. Due to limited research, it’s difficult to say with any certainty whether phthalates in sex toys are an issue. However, several organizations and individuals worry phthalates in sex toys may pose a risk to the health of users. Materials containing phthalates are also porous, so sex toys made from these materials may harbor bacteria if they’re not cleaned thoroughly and potentially expose users to more health issues.
As there are no regulations on the sex toy industry, there’s no way for consumers to know for certain whether a sex toy contains phthalates. Many sex toys don't list all of the chemicals used to make them, and there is a small chance that even those labeled phthalate-free may actually contain these chemicals. However, some sex toys are more likely to contain phthalates than others.
Anyone concerned about sex toys with phthalates should avoid toys crafted from certain materials, including jelly, rubber, PVC and vinyl. Sex toys made with sex toy specific materials such as Cyberskin, UR3 and Mystery Meat may also phthalates. Sex toys made from 100 percent pure medical-grade silicone, hard plastic or acrylic, and natural materials like glass, wood, ceramic, and metal are unlikely to contain phthalates. TPE and TPR are also free of phthalates. However, these materials are porous, which could pose other risks.
In 2021, sex toy safety guidelines were released by the International Organization for Standardization. They do include material safety, including warning manufacturers away from phthalates. While ISO standards are voluntary, making note of which manufacturers adhere to them could be a step in the right direction when it comes to making safer decisions about sex toy safety.