Ask Lilly: Silicone vs Silicon vs Silica Gel
Silicone. It’s the “gold standard” material of sex toys for most, and it’s also the material we’re the most leery about. You see, for years we were tricked. For years we were sold silicone sex toys that were anything but, because there are no regulations and they can tell us it’s made of fucking unicorn poop and wouldn’t get into trouble. So we started taking a lighter to it and calling it out when we’d find something that didn’t deliver on its claims. The industry seems to have gotten a lot better with silicone usually being silicone, and us seeing more affordable silicone options.
But we still have a lot of confusion. I recently cleared up the whole Sil-a-gel debate (additive; not material) but I keep getting asked about Silicon and “Medical Grade Silica Gel”. Take a guess at where we’ve heard the latter. Come on, I’ll give you three guesses. Yep, AMAZON. Ebay. AliExpress. So I decided I had no choice but spend some money and see what is what.
Is Medical Grade Silica Gel Even a Thing??
The term “medical grade silica gel” is coming up so often on the sites I don’t recommend you shop at for a major reason: I suspect it’s a language barrier thing. When you see it you can assume that the listing is made by one of those companies that is selling knock-offs and cheap crappy toys straight from the China plant they were made in. Most of the items listed on Amazon as “medical grade silica gel” shipped from China; it was hard for me to find some that were on Prime (because I’m cheap AND impatient). The other thing I notice: On most listings that say “medical grade silica gel” they ALSO say “medical grade silicone” somewhere in there, or just silicone. The only thing I can find for silica gel is the desiccant stuff; it’s found in hard pellets. It’s related to silicon. It’s NOT a sex toy material and should never be trusted. I think that if you see something listed as this, run the other direction. You have a 2 out of 3 chance that it’s not silicone.
The first item I picked, I picked because it obviously wasn’t silicone – the material is crystal clear. This rabbit is weird and cheap and who would want soft spines?? Anyway, what’s interesting is now the listing mentions nothing of medical grade silica gel, or silicone. You can see in the screencaps below that it used to. It’s now listed properly as TPE. It’s a good thing I got screencaps; I did that initially because I assumed that at some point they would stop selling the item. I didn’t realize some would actually change the material listing.
The second item I chose because it looked like it *could* be silicone, and it was cheap and didn’t come directly from China. On Amazon, it’s called Utimi brand – the rabbit up above did come in branded packaging that said Utimi, but this blue thing came branded as Shaki. Hey, it’s not the first time they called it one brand on Amazon and I got another. This Utimi brand also wasn’t the only brand I tried to purchase – I tried to purchase two others of a different brand, from a different seller, but they both were canceled. The listing showed something like “12 in stock” but then shortly after ordering it was canceled. They wrote to tell me they’re sorry, it’s out of stock. And never coming back in. And here’s a refund. It felt kinda shady, if I’m honest. Oh have I mentioned that my user profile on Amazon links to my blog? Is that relevant? hmmm
And the third item is a little bunion-protector/toe separator. I’ve seen these and similar foot things on the site just as silicone, or as the silica gel. I actually purchased something similar a few months back, looking for a cushioning heel cup. I thought the material felt identical to the Tenga Eggs, but since I wanted to return the item I chose not to burn it. There are a ton of these on the market, most are listed incorrectly in terms of material, and the material looked a lot different than the rabbit. Since the “frost” sorta reminds me of the white O2 layer on some Tantus toys, I thought there actually was a chance it could be super-soft silicone.
The burn verdict: The crystal clear rabbit was obviously not silicone, but we knew that just by looking. The material lit up easily and burned like an oil lamp, the material merely melting/deforming. No ash. The blue thing behaved exactly like silicone – a scorch mark I wiped away, ash when it finally caught a bit of a burn, not much material destruction. The toe thing? Behaved just like the crystal clear rabbit – it burned bright, hot and easily with obvious deforming/melting and no ash.
The use of silicon vs silicone doesn’t really seem to be a cultural thing or a language-barrier thing; I’ve seen all variety of people misusing this term. It becomes even more confusing then, and makes us side-eye real hard, when a manufacturer rep uses that term on social media.
Silicon (Si) is not silicone. Not even close. It does eventually make up another awesome sex toy material though – glass. Guess where else it’s naturally found? Quartz. This isn’t something that eventually makes up your average soft dildo, folks. Whether it’s a typo or just a lack of understanding of science and the elemental chart, the use is too common and should be corrected whenever you see it. Does seeing it being used mean that they may be lying? I’m not sure. It’s too easy to mix up the two when you are not paying attention to basic material information.
Silicone can be a liquid or a solid. People sometimes say “silicone rubber” and they don’t mean they think it’s a blend, they’re saying it to convey that it is a rubber-like version of a silicone product. I’ve also seen some say “silicone elastomer” to convey the same meaning, but without the negative connotations of the word “rubber” (they don’t realize it’s redundant to us, and makes us wary). It can be super soft and squishy, or really firm. Silicone can hold onto strong odors1. It won’t melt when it touches other cured silicone products. It’s essentially non-porous and bacteria, mold, and other fungi won’t breed and make homes in the tiny pores. When you burn it, if it catches, you’ll see a light grey ash. It can be cheap or expensive.
But please, don’t ever call it ‘Silicon’ and run from places that say ‘Medical grade silica gel’.
- yes, you can get rid of the odors, yes I’ll write about that down the line ↩