Aug 122014
 

“TPR-Silicone”? Silicone blends? NOPE. Not possible.

For quite some time, we used to believe that there was some bizarre “10% rule” where a manufacturer only had to create a sex toy that contained 10% silicone in order to actually call it silicone for marketing. When I learned that there are no regulations, I learned that the “rule” was a myth and companies could be lying about the material. They could use any material, and claim it to be any material. There is nothing stopping them from out and out lying. And then the lies get spread further because the retailers usually have no option but to parrot the information given to them by the manufacturer.

When I first started reviewing in 2008, we (the consumers) thought that silicone blends and “TPR Silicone” was a thing. The manufacturers called it that, the retailers (of course) called it that. In fact, many retailers still do! A google search of that term shows that it’s still being used on many sites. I don’t know, can’t know, which retailer was the first to explain the various materials – Edenfantasys, for all its downfalls, did a service in providing their material safety rating scale which helped educate a number of people about jelly, cyberskin, etc. The material safety was ranked on a scale from 1 to 10. In order to give credit where credit is due, the material safety scale was created by Shanna Katz and someone who went by “Delilah Douglas” on EF.  Sadly though, they still list TPR Silicone as a material. Many new sites model after their material list, and the myth/misinformation perpetuates. Given the drastic decline of Edenfantasys, I highly doubt that there’s anyone there who would care enough to change their information.

How to Tell TPR from Silicone

Ever since I started burning sex toys, I’ve noticed certain traits. For one, jelly and TPR can be completely clear, crystal clear, but silicone can not be. Silicone can be clear, but it is a somewhat “cloudy” clear. TPR and jelly has also a certain feel that you’ll never get from silicone, and an elasticity you’ll not get from silicone. So if something is crystal clear and can stretch to fit around your ankle? That cock ring is not silicone.

ScreamingO

Most often, when I find a sex toy still being advertised as “TPR Silicone” on a retail site, a look at the manufacturer’s site shows that they’re merely calling it TPR. It’s hard to say who is to blame for the inaccurate listings…..did the manufacturer wise up and the retail store hasn’t made changes to the listing? Or is the retail store trying to fool you? Information changes, so what we used to believe as fact is no longer, and when this old, incorrect information still persists, the myths persist.  Sites like this are not out to purposely misinform, but I hope that the information given will be changed as more is learned about these materials and the truth. Information changes, so what we used to believe as fact is no longer, and when this old, incorrect information still persists, the myths persist. 

The Confirmation – TPR Cannot be Blended

I have a few industry friends I can turn to for further investigation when I get one of my hunches, and this was no exception. I can’t name names nor say anything about my “informant” but they work with materials and and have worked for a few large sex toy manufacturing companies. They confirmed for me that it is not possible to blend TPR/TPE with silicone. They’re different materials, and simply cannot be “blended” to create one material type.  They said that one could, technically, layer the TPR and silicone, so that the silicone layer is what is seen by the consumer, but it’s a stretch and it’s very expensive to do so – therefore that negates the whole reason for it. This person reiterated what I’ve suspected, which is that “a lot came from [earlier in the industry] when silicone started to become popular and some were trying to pass it off by saying TPR/TPE silicone”.

Once Again I Lash Out at Screaming O for their “SEBS Silicone” Claims

I decided to dig deeper because of the material naming discrepancies that I still sometimes see; one culprit as mentioned above is Screaming O. I’ve burned their cock rings that they claim are made of a “material” called SEBS, which they claim stands for “silicone elastomer blend”. Not only can you not even blend silicone with a thermoplastic elastomer, but everywhere else in the chemistry world, SEBS stands for styrene-ethylene/butylene-styrene.  The Screaming O cock rings are extremely stretchy and soft. They’re probably over 80% plasticizers (likely mineral oil). When lit, they burn like Indiana Jones’ torch – hot, bright and resistant to extinguishing from a gust of air. The Screaming O rings were the only thing I’ve burned that I couldn’t extinguish by blowing out, I had to toss them under running water. Silicone doesn’t behave like that. And of course, after being burned, the Screaming O rings left no ash — the hallmark of silicone — just a look of melted plastic.  I can’t tell if the material Screaming O is using truly is this SEBS stuff or if they’re just using that acronym as a made-up term for their made-up material. I’d have to raise funds to get a ring sent to the lab like I did with the Hello Touch to find out for sure. I’m skeptical of their material, though, highly skeptical. Styrene is a chemical that many are side-eyeing pretty hard, and aren’t sure how toxic it could be.  If we’re gonna continue to get all technical and science-y, Screaming O (and other sex toy companies too, like Vibratex) use the term “Elastomer” as a material name, when it’s actually a material type. I’d be willing to bet that when most companies are describing their item as being made of Elastomer, it’s really TPE – thermoplastic elastomer. Wikipedia says it’s “also called” thermoplastic rubber (TPR) so I am not yet sure if there is a chemical difference between TPR and TPE, if they’re the same thing, etc. There are different types of TPEs, but I don’t know if all of those types could be used in the sex toy application. We’ve seen these mystery materials come in a variety of shore strengths, too. The softer they are, the more porous they are, and the more likely they are to break down. There’s a big different in how the TPR like these items behaves vs the TPR of say the Eroscillator. I’ve yet to hear that someone’s Eroscillator attachment melted or started to break down, or got “greasy”. Those attachments have much less softening content, though, too. I’ve tried to contact Eroscillator about the material, but they won’t respond.

The term TPR Silicone is very misleading and very incorrect; people hear “silicone” and think that it’s safe, and non-porous. I’d like to see retailers eradicate the language, and I can only hope that when they’re contacted, they will change the terminology.  If you see a site selling items listed as “TPR Silicone”, please consider contacting them to change the wording.

 

Disclaimer: I am explaining things in the best way I know how. I’m dealing here in many “facts” that I can’t promise are all 100% accurate – we lack the ability to be super scientific about this. I don’t have a chemist by my side, I don’t have a lab. I’m sharing with you what I think, what I’ve been told, what I am inferring from my own test results thus far, and what my reason and logic is filling in. The information here may change as we learn more–this post is evidence that as the years go by in the sex toy industry, things are changing and past truths are becoming myths.

 

  • Property Of Potter

    There are still other sites that are using the same material guide – SheVibe included. I’m not sure if any toys are labeled as such, but it’s definitely still on the list.

    It makes sense why companies started labeling things this way, but it’s awfully confusing.

  • Yes, it’s something they’re currently working on fixing, in addition to providing info about the material and porosity of stuff.

  • Tmcaurinus

    I always thought, why WOULD anyone blend silicone with a porous material anyway? Because even if it were possible, it would defeat the whole purpose of silicone… Unless, of course, there really had been a 10% rule and it was done to be able to call it silicone, which we now know is false anyway. :)

    Speaking of silicone coating over an elastomer material, Epiphora says the Tenga Iroha is made this way, and feels really nice and squishy. Seems like a good idea as long at the porous substrate is completely and durably sealed away from any contact.

  • Naminia

    I looked at the website for my local sex toy store, and nearly all of the toys are made from “thermoplastics” or “hard plastic”. What does that mean? I mean, thermoplastic can be a lot of different materials.

  • Noces Blanches

    Hi Lilly,

    I was pointed to this post by a friend of mine after a long discussion I had with her about materials used in sex toys and the burn test she mentioned from your blog.

    The burn test is what interested me the most as a chemist, because burn tests on Silicone materials are largely irrelevant. The only way you can test how much Silicone content is in a product and determine the actual composition is by doing a chemical analysis. Contrary to popular belief no product contains 100% Silicone. Commercial Silicone products are all made up of a blend of Silicone (usually PDMS) a variety of plasticisers, pigments, binding and curing agents, polymers and a whole host of other components.

    It is this ratio of Silicone to other agents and the type of components that will determine flammability. The fact that a toy burns does not automatically mean that it is fake or unsafe. It just means that it has a flammable content, which in most cases is FDA approved anyway.

    You also mention a couple of times that Silicone can’t be clear. Pure Silicone is de facto quite transparent and in some applications almost glass like (some contact lenses are made from silicone). Another example of clear silicone products would be clear phone cases for instance. So yes, you can have clear Silicone, but there are downsides to it. Clear Silicone products usually require a different kind of plasticiser and curing agent like hydro peroxide which make them unsuitable for molding into sex toys.

    Finally I want to say one last thing on your post title. TPR Silicone a myth? It sure is. TPR refers to thermoplastic rubber, Silicone is a thermosetting rubber. They are completely different types of materials, so anyone claiming they are selling TPR Silicone is most likely talking out of their backside.

    I hope this has helped a little bit without going into too much technical detail.

    Keep up the work on the blog

  • Thanks for your info! To clarify:

    “The only way you can test how much Silicone content is in a product and
    determine the actual composition is by doing a chemical analysis” Yes, I know. I’ve had a test run. However, if you read the burn articles we determined (and I’ve been told by an industry professional, too) that silicone, rubber, pvc, tpr all burn differently. Can I tell you how much silicone is there? Of course not, nor did it claim to. But if there is grey ash, then silicone is present. If it melts, and there’s no grey ash, then it’s not silicone.

    “Contrary to popular belief no product contains 100% Silicone. Commercial
    Silicone products are all made up of a blend of Silicone (usually PDMS)
    a variety of plasticisers, pigments, binding and curing agents,
    polymers and a whole host of other components.” For the purpose of our discussions about sex toys, this is getting a little too unnecessarily detailed. It’s understood, but not the point. When I say, when others say, “100% silicone” they are trying to make the distinction that someone is not claiming that the material is “40% silicone and 55% PVC and 5% fillers” or something ridiculous (but we can’t anyways, because even if one COULD blend silicone and PVC, why WOULD they).

    “You also mention a couple of times that Silicone can’t be clear.” This is accurate, and I should link to my interview with Metis Black where she says that about contact lenses. But these items you mention are not sex toys. They’re not a degree of softness that you’d want in a silicone sex toy. Which is what is being talked about in this post. This post is about sex toys, and to explain that if someone sees a soft, squishy material on a sex toy that is 100% crystal-glass clear, it isn’t silicone. For someone to use a silicone that clear and have it be a softness that one would want in a sex toy, it would be extremely expensive from what I’ve been told by industry professionals who are material experts when it comes to the silicone used in sex toys.

    “so anyone claiming they are selling TPR Silicone is most likely talking out of their backside.” Yep, that’s the point here!

  • You’re right, they can. They’re saying it because they’re not sure whether to call them TPE (elastomers) or TPR (rubbers) or what the differences may be, so they’re just wording it that way. Assume that to mean they are referring to the softer, porous (but non-toxic) materials. Hard plastics are like ABS plastic, i.e. the handle on your vibrator. Non-porous and non-toxic.