A porous sex toy is one that has tiny ridges or holes along its surface — which may not be visible to the naked eye — causing the toy to act similarly to a sponge, soaking up bodily fluids or lubricant when used.
A Guide To The Safest And Most Dangerous Sex Toy Materials
If you’re shopping for a new sex toy, it may surprise you to learn that unsafe knockoff toys can be found right next to quality brands on the store shelf.
Vibrators and sex toys made from subpar materials often look (and sometimes even cost) the same as high-quality products, but buying cheap sex toys can be downright dangerous to your health and well-being.
As we’ll talk about in just a bit, the sex toy industry is highly unregulated.
To avoid purchasing a product that won’t potentially harm your health, it’s important to understand what materials to look for in a body-safe sex toy — and which ones you should avoid.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- What Are Body-Safe Sex Toys?
- Why Porous Sex Toys Are Dangerous
- The Safest Sex Toy Materials
- What Are Toxic Sex Toys?
- Unsafe Sex Toy Materials You Should Avoid
- Are Amazon Sex Toys Dangerous?
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Complete Guide To Vibrators and Everything Vibrators hub, in-depth and evolving resources that comprehensively explore all aspects of vibrators from the different types and how to use them, to materials and safety — created to help you achieve the sexual pleasure you deserve.
What Are Body-Safe Sex Toys?
As the name would suggest, body-safe sex toys are designed and manufactured with safety — as well as pleasure — in mind.
Body-safe sex toys are crafted from materials that don’t use potentially harmful chemicals or common allergens during the manufacturing process.
With regular care and cleaning, sex toys crafted from body-safe materials can have a long, healthy life span because their materials don’t break down as easily over time.
Additionally, they won’t leach harmful chemicals into your body when you use them. Likewise, they can mitigate any sex toy allergies you may have, as they’re crafted from materials that are less likely to contain allergens.
An Unregulated Industry
Despite the importance of safe and sanitary sexual health aids, the sex toy industry is disturbingly unregulated.
Most sex toys are considered “adult novelties” and as such, they’re not regulated as medical devices by the FDA, barring a few exceptions.
Chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have been discontinued by some major children’s toy companies, but may still be used to manufacture sex toys that can be purchased in the United States, United Kingdom, and Asia.
Of course, there are sex toy manufacturers and designers out there making high-quality, effective products that enhance sex lives around the world.
Companies like Lovehoney, LELO, Lora DiCarlo, and MysteryVibe are strongly committed to offering non-toxic sex toys that work for everybody.
There are also professional groups that are fighting to make things safer for consumers.
You don’t necessarily have to know how sex toys are made to find safe options, but you should understand which materials are safest — and which ones should be avoided — which we’ll talk about in just a bit.
If you’re buying from a sex toy shop, store employees should be able to tell you what’s in a toy you’re considering. If that information isn’t readily available, it’s probably not a good choice.
Similarly, just because a product might be on sale, it doesn’t mean that it is safe.
Many sex toys are sold as “novelty” items.
This means that they aren’t subjected to the same manufacturing standards as other body-safe products like toothbrushes or syringes.
Finding a healthy sex toy is important, and quite frankly, the government isn’t going to be much help.
Allergens are another consideration where materials are concerned. Sex toy allergies can be very serious, and monstrously uncomfortable.
Many people suggest investing in hypoallergenic sex toys, especially if you’re not sure about potential allergies you may have.
But what does hypoallergenic mean, anyway?
Hypoallergenic sex toys are those that do not generally contain common allergens in their materials but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t potentially irritate your skin.
“[Hypoallergenic] means whatever a particular company wants it to be,” explains the FDA.
What this means is that a company can use the term to market their products without having to prove this claim — to anyone.
For this reason, you’ll still need to be very careful with anything labeled “hypoallergenic,” especially if you have sensitive skin or known allergies.
Our best advice is to purchase and use toys manufactured by quality brands you can trust and made using body-safe materials.
Why The Porosity Of Sex Toys Matters
When discussing sex toy materials, the terms “porous” and “nonporous” often come up in conversation — and rightfully so.
The porosity of any sex toy is just as important as the material it’s crafted from.
As we’ll talk about later on, nonporous sex toy materials include medical-grade and body-safe silicone, ABS plastic, Lucite, glass, and metals like stainless steel, gold, or silver.
Nonporous sex toys can be cleaned and sanitized easily, as they don’t absorb lubricant and bodily fluids — or the bacteria and viruses they may harbor.
Porous sex toys are notoriously difficult to clean and sanitize, as they absorb and hide bacteria beneath the surface. They can transmit bacteria or viruses easily and are generally best avoided for this reason.
As we’ll go over in more detail, porous sex toy materials may include those made from jelly rubber or natural organic sources like leather or cloth.
Which Sex Toy Materials Are Safest?
Although we refer to them as sex “toys” because they’re fun, they aren’t frivolous — nor should they be crafted from just any old plastic.
Personal allergies or sensitivities aside, several materials are safest for sex toys — and your body.
Body-safe sex toy materials are those that are nonporous and therefore easy to clean, and they are made without using potentially harmful chemicals.
Body-safe sex toy materials include:
- Medical-grade and body-safe silicone
- Borosilicate glass
- Stainless steel
- Chlorine-free vinyl
- ABS plastic
All of the materials listed above are free from common allergens and chemicals that are known to be harmful with ongoing contact.
Let’s take a closer look at the safest materials used in non-toxic sex toys.
Medical-Grade And Body-Safe Silicone
I consider silicone to be the king of sex toy materials, honestly. It’s easy to clean, nonporous, and doesn’t generally increase the price of a toy.
However, there is more than one type of silicone. The two most commonly used in the manufacturing of silicone sex toys are medical-grade and body-safe silicone.
Medical-grade silicone is platinum cured, which means it is crafted using a more expensive type of mold made from platinum, resulting in higher-quality silicone.
Medical grade silicone is as body-safe as a medical tool or a device that might be implanted inside a human body long-term.
The process to approve silicone as medical-grade is rigorous, but it is the very best sex toy material available.
Body-safe silicone, on the other hand, refers to silicone that is safe for skin contact but isn’t designed for internal implantation.
Body-safe silicone is cured in a precious metal like gold or silver and is perfectly safe for eating utensils, non-pierced jewelry, food molds, and sex toys made for internal and external use.
Body-safe or medical-grade silicone is ideal for everyone, provided that allergies are not an issue. Its surface is nonporous, so it can be cleaned and sterilized easily.
If you’ve never used one before, using glass sex toys might sound a little scary.
In truth though, annealed borosilicate glass — which is strengthened by slow cooling — is a very safe sex toy material.
Free from lead, borosilicate glass is made from silica and boron oxide.
It is completely nonporous and easy to clean. In fact, it is one of the few toy materials that can be sanitized in boiling water.
Borosilicate glass is incredibly durable, despite being classified as “glass,” and we promise that toys made from this material won’t shatter inside you.
We know you were thinking about it.
We use stainless steel for tons of things, from tools to eating utensils, to jewelry, to needles.
This material is inexpensive, nonporous, lightweight, and lasts essentially forever.
With all that in mind, metal sex toys crafted from stainless steel are a solid choice as long as no allergies are present.
Stainless steel is sometimes mixed with nickel, which is a common allergen. If you’re in the market for a stainless steel sex toy, it’s important to look for one that is nickel-free.
Gold And Silver
Both of these metals are safe for use in sex toys, however, allergies are a serious concern for those who have them.
Gold and silver are both nonporous and easy to clean, and they can make some of the most beautiful sex toys imaginable — including those disguised as wearable jewelry.
We don’t always think of vinyl sex toys as being body-safe, but they can be. Fans say that vinyl feels closer to realistic skin while still being nonporous and easy to clean and sanitize.
However, not all vinyl is created equal, even though the term is often used to describe this material in all its forms.
Chlorine-free vinyl is not toxic and is perfectly safe for use in sex toys.
This type of vinyl can include Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and Polyethylene Vinyl Acetate (PEVA), which are used in everything from food storage bags to baby teethers.
That said, when vinyl is blended with dangerous plasticizers like phthalates or chlorine, it becomes an unsafe material for a sex toy because these chemicals can leach into your body during use.
When shopping for vinyl sex toys, we recommend choosing a seller and brand that you know and trust, since vinyl contains phthalates or chlorine is dangerous — and it can be nearly impossible to discern it from the body-safe types.
As we mentioned earlier, high-quality brands will use the safest materials possible.
Vinyl requires more diligent cleaning and sanitizing compared to other body-safe sex toy materials, so you’ll want to consider the extra steps needed before you buy.
Like vinyl, all plastics are not created equal, either.
ABS plastic, also known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a body-safe and nonporous thermoplastic that’s used in a wide range of consumer products, including sex toys.
But again, unless you’re a specialist, it might be difficult to tell what you’re getting at first glance so it’s important to examine the material list of any sex toy you’re considering.
ABS plastic is hard and its texture isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Although some toys are crafted fully from ABS plastic, others use a combination of body-safe materials in tandem.
Many ABS plastic sex toys use medical-grade or body-safe silicone for the parts that come into contact with your skin, saving the firm plastic for accents, buttons, or handles.
A member of the plastics family, Lucite is often mistaken for borosilicate glass at first glance because of its brilliant, crystal-like transparency.
Lucite is the trade name for an acrylic polymer made from polymethyl methacrylate and it’s probably most recognizable by the other common names it goes by: Plexiglass, acrylic, and acrylic glass.
Although it isn’t made from glass at all, Lucite is a durable, nonporous, and body-safe sex toy material — not to mention that it’s less expensive compared to borosilicate glass.
This transparent thermoplastic polymer is often used as a glass substitute in sheet form — such as windows.
As a body-safe sex toy material, it provides a glass-like appearance and feel, which is particularly ideal for those who are skittish about using sex toys made from actual glass.
Toxic Sex Toys: Materials You Should Avoid
The truth is that low-end sex toy manufacturers are not going to tell consumers when they’re about to buy toxic sex toys made from unsafe materials.
As we talked about earlier, a product from a quality brand can look very similar to one crafted from subpar materials — some of which can be harmful to your health.
Just because a sex toy shop carries a product, it doesn’t mean it was crafted from body-safe materials.
Even if a cheap knockoff isn’t laden with dangerous chemicals, subpar materials can lead to rashes or skin irritation when they come in contact with your most delicate bits.
Additionally, although not every sex toy being sold on the internet is cause for concern, you definitely need to be aware of potentially unsafe materials to avoid when shopping online.
In this section, we’ll talk about:
What Are Toxic Sex Toys?
Toxic sex toys are those crafted from materials that have been manufactured using potentially harmful chemicals.
You may be thinking, “Aren’t sex toys regulated to make sure they aren’t dangerous?”
You’d think so, but they most certainly are not, as we talked about earlier.
Sex toys are typically sold for “novelty purposes,” rather than the medical devices they are.
There are a few exceptions, but virtually any vibrator, cock ring, or dildo purchased from an adult shop is going to be classified as an “adult novelty” — which means it’s free from government regulation.
We don’t think anyone is intentionally manufacturing dangerous sex toys in some terrible game of vaginal Russian Roulette.
The truth of the matter is that body-safe materials generally cost more money during the manufacturing process compared to subpar and cheaply-made materials found in dangerous sex toys.
Let’s say you see a wand vibrator or mechanical clit sucker you’d like to purchase, but it’s outside your budget.
You notice another toy that looks exactly the same except for the brand name. You buy it, thinking you found a great deal, without realizing that it was made using some of the unsafe materials listed below.
Buying the cheap version of a product makes sense if you’re talking about a store-brand can of soup or a knockoff designer bag.
However, sex toys are likely to be inserted in and around some of your most delicate and easily corruptible body parts.
Even if they aren’t leaching harmful toxins into your skin — and some of them definitely can — they could make you more susceptible to rashes and skin irritation during use.
Sex toy allergies are a thing — and cheap materials are more likely to include potential allergens.
In my opinion, sex toys have to be at least as safe, clean, and well-manufactured as a hypodermic needle or a toothbrush.
My rule of thumb? If you wouldn’t lick it with confidence, it doesn’t belong in your bikini zone.
Unsafe Sex Toy Materials You Should Avoid
There are two types of materials you generally want to avoid — those that use toxic materials, and those that require strict use and care standards to be used safely because of their porosity.
Although sex toys may contain some of the chemicals we’ll talk about below, there is limited research regarding how much exposure actually occurs during their use.
That said, it is always best to err on the side of caution — especially since there are so many body-safe options available.
As we mentioned earlier, the porosity of any sex toy is just as important as the material it’s crafted from.
A nonporous sex toy has a smooth surface that won’t absorb bodily fluids or lubricant, whereas a porous sex toy has tiny ridges or holes along its surface that cause the toy to soak them up — along with bacteria and viruses they may harbor.
Porous sex toys are difficult to clean and nearly impossible to fully sanitize.
Because they absorb and hide bacteria beneath the surface, porous sex toys can transmit bacteria or viruses easily — even if you’ve cleaned them — unless they’re covered with a condom.
As we’ll explain in more detail, porous sex toy materials include jelly rubber and natural organic materials like leather or cloth.
Sex toy materials to avoid include:
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
- Carbon Disulfide
- Thermoplastic Rubber & Elastomer (TPE/TPR)
- Rubber (if you are allergic)
- Jelly Rubber
- Natural porous materials
- Low-grade versions of quality materials, which may include glass, metal, and silicone
A Note On Detecting Hidden Unsafe Materials In Sex Toys:
When shopping for new sex toys, it’s wise to check the packaging for a list of toxic materials that the product is free from — particularly phthalates and BPA, which are generally used in other base materials.
For instance, a sex toy’s packaging might list that it is made from PVC plastic, which often contains phthalates in tandem, but the box won’t list phthalates as a separate material.
A product’s packaging will often mention if the product is free from phthalates, however, and that holds true for BPA, as well.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, is a synthetic plastic polymer that can be found in an array of common, everyday products made from plastic and vinyl.
A PVC sex toy is especially worrisome because it may contain high amounts of chlorine and PVC is strongly tied to phthalates, which we’ll talk about next.
About 90% of vinyl material, barring Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and Polyethylene Vinyl Acetate (PEVA), contains this industrial chemical.
A good rule of thumb is that any material that is banned for use in children’s toys shouldn’t be found in a sex toy.
Trimethyltin and dimethyltin chloride are compounds used in the manufacturing process of PVC sex toys.
These are highly toxic and effects from exposure can include seizures, respiratory problems, kidney failure, and cancer, along with damage to the eyes and brain.
Phthalates are often found in products that contain PVC, even though the US Environmental Protection Agency has declared them to be a toxic chemical.
These industrial chemicals are commonly used to make plastics softer and more flexible, but they’re also used in fragrances, cosmetics, and so much more.
Phthalates have been linked to some pretty serious health issues that include breast cancer and metabolic dysfunctions, and they have the potential to affect fertility.
Exposure to certain types of phthalates may be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and they can reduce testosterone concentrations.
Thankfully, there are plenty of body-safe sex toys and vibrators to choose from.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A, also known as BPA is a synthetic estrogen chemical and common ingredient that’s found in everything from food and beverage container linings to industrial equipment.
BPA is known to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing), in addition to being a reproductive toxicant.
BPA has been tied to a host of health issues that include cancer of the prostate and breast, cardiovascular abnormalities, hormonal and developmental disruptions, and even diabetes.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are typically used in things like paint or adhesives, but they can also create a strong plastic-like smell when used in sex toys.
Some vendors may advise that customers wait for 24 hours before using a toy once it’s removed from the packaging but if a strong smell remains beyond that amount of time, it’s a good indication that excessive amounts of VOC have been used — making it less likely to be body-safe.
Some VOC ingredients might include toluene, benzene, tetrachloroethylene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, or methylene chloride.
VOCs are emitted as gasses and their fumes can cause a variety of short and long-term effects depending on the chemical and duration of exposure.
Such effects may include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, allergic skin reactions, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, or damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.
Additionally, some VOCs are known to cause cancer in animals or are suspected to be carcinogenic in humans.
Phenol is a chemical that synthesizes plastics but may be used in the production of rubber and nylon.
Although it’s used in trace amounts in household items that include disinfectants, antiseptics, and even mouthwash, toxic exposure to phenol can result in a variety of health effects depending on contact duration.
Phenol exposure can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, weakness, exhaustion, skin burns, and liver or kidney damage.
Although there has been a decline in the use of phenol in sex toy manufacturing, it’s important to check the label before purchasing those made from rubber or nylon.
Carbon disulfide is a chemical used during the manufacturing process of rubber. This chemical emits a strong odor similar to ether.
Carbon disulfide exposure is most commonly found in sex toys made from rubber, although in recent years it has been used in their manufacture to a lesser degree.
Although rubber sex toys can be safe, those that emit a strong odor are best avoided.
Effects from carbon disulfide exposure include headache, dizziness, vision changes, and poor sleep, but it can harm everything from skin to eyes, blood, nerves, heart, and kidneys.
Toluene can be used to create rubber and may be used during the leather tanning process in sex toys made from that material.
Like VOCs, respiratory exposure to toluene may occur if using a sex toy immediately after removing it from its packaging, but it can also occur during skin contact and use.
Effects of toluene exposure can include throat, eye, or nose irritation, dizziness, cognitive impairment and reduced reaction time, numbness in the hands or feet, damage to reproductive organs, and pregnancy loss.
Cadmium is a heavy metal with severely toxic effects on humans.
Although it might seem like cadmium might only be found in metal sex toys, the truth is that it may be used as a plastic softener and to create yellow, red, and brown pigmentation in some paints.
Does this mean that you should avoid all sex toys that are yellow or red?
No — but it is worth checking the product label to make sure any pigment isn’t cadmium-based, particularly if you’re not purchasing the toy from a trusted brand.
Cadmium exposure can affect multiple organs and is carcinogenic.
Short-term exposure to cadmium can result in flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, and muscle pain. Long-term exposure to low levels of cadmium can result in lung, kidney, and bone disease.
Thermoplastic Rubber & Elastomer (TPR/TPE)
Thermoplastic rubber (TPR) and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) are terms describing a combination of thermoplastic and rubber.
This combo can create materials ranging from very soft to feeling like hard plastic, but they’re less expensive to work with on the manufacturing side of things.
Sex toys made from TPR and TPE often mimic the feel and texture of human skin and some may resemble silicone.
In fact, TPR is sometimes called “fake silicone.”
Sex toys made from TPR and TPE are said to be long-lasting when given proper care.
So is TPE safe? What about TPR?
The bad news is that TPR and TPE sex toys will break down over time — especially if left uncovered or in an environment that isn’t temperature-controlled.
Although TPR and TPE are free from phthalates, they are porous materials. As such, they are difficult to clean thoroughly and nearly impossible to fully sanitize.
Rubber, which is widely used in a variety of products including sex toys, isn’t inherently dangerous but it can cause allergic reactions in those with a latex allergy.
Particularly if you are especially sensitive to latex, always make sure to choose latex-free and body-safe toys.
Jelly rubber sex toys seem like a lot of fun because they tend to be cheap, colorful, and many of them have novel shapes.
Jelly rubber can develop strange smells and break down over time, however, possibly leaching chemicals into your body during use.
Although some jelly rubber sex toys can be safe in the absence of toxic chemicals, the cheap stuff often contains phthalates, not to mention dyes or perfumes to cover up the telltale rubber smell.
Jelly rubber is also a porous material, so it requires deeper cleaning and can be harder to sanitize.
Sure, you can buy toys made of jelly rubber and toss them out after a single-use, but think of the landfills.
Natural Porous Materials
Natural sex toy materials can include leather, sheepskin, lambskin, cloth, or even polished wood and all have their passionate fan base.
They are, however, porous.
The payoff is not worth the danger, even though these materials are obtained from natural sources.
Toys that are porous (or downright absorbent) can lead to the spread of STIs when shared. As with other porous sex toys, those made from natural materials are also nearly impossible to sanitize.
If you must use such a toy, be sure to use a new condom over it with every new partner or when switching between orifices.
Low-Grade Versions Of High-Quality Materials
Low-grade versions of quality materials including glass, metal, and silicone may seem safe at first glance.
However, if they don’t come from reputable manufacturers, you never know what you’re getting.
Cheap glass can break or splinter. Substandard metals can discolor, rust, or leach chemicals, not to mention cause an allergic reaction if they contain nickel.
That isn’t to say that all inexpensive sex toys are made from subpar materials — some budget-friendly brands do offer products that are made from safe materials.
But you should only buy inexpensive sex toys from brands you trust.
Are Amazon Sex Toys Dangerous?
As we mentioned earlier, not every single sex toy being sold on the internet is cause for concern, even those found on Amazon.
In fact, you can find many name-brand products for sale on that platform — and they’re just as safe as they’d be if you bought them from a brick and mortar sex toy store.
The problem with some sex toys on Amazon and other online retailers like Alibaba or WISH is the prevalence of cheap knockoffs that mimic high-end brands.
Generally speaking, toys that look like knockoffs of more expensive toys are best avoided.
I used to review sex toys for Amazon sellers regularly. I mean, who wouldn’t want to try out free sex toys and have orgasms for “work?”
One day, a knockoff rabbit vibe that I had been assured was well-constructed from body-safe materials literally broke off inside me.
I was holding the plastic end with the buttons, while the silicone end remained inside. My husband had to pull it out.
Not only did it kill the mood, but it also scared the hell out of me.
I was very lucky not to have needed a trip to the emergency room.
My point is this: sometimes you’ll pay a little more for safe materials and better quality, but your health is well worth that investment.
Safe sex toys are everywhere within reach, but it takes a careful eye and a wealth of knowledge to avoid potentially harmful sex toy materials.
We suggest that you ready yourself to ask questions or do your own research when buying safe sex toys.
Our recommendations are a good place to start if you’re looking for a new sex toy since every pleasure aid we recommend is body-safe and free of harmful chemicals.
If you’re new to buying sex toys, a high-end adult shop should have consultants who can guide you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — those folks have heard it all!
Can we help? If you have questions about sex toy materials or need guidance on finding and using toys crafted from safe materials, visit our sex toy forum by clicking on the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article.
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