An examination of the properties of both silica gel and sil-a-gel, comparing and contrasting the two.
IN THE FUTURE: A video of experimentation of the two materials will be included in this post.
DISCLAIMER: theories detailed in the following article have neither been proved nor disproved. They are based on observation and research and should be taken as such. Facts about silica gel and sil-a-gel have all been sourced. No claims are being made in attempt to defame the Doc Johnson brand. Attempts to reach out to Doc Johnson have not been returned. All theories presented are the sole opinions of the author.
“What is Sil-a-Gel?”
Straight from Doc Johnson, the answer – vaguely – is that:
“Sil-A-Gel is an anti-bacterial compound that we add to all of our Made-in-USA products. It is not a coating or a separate material. It is added into our material in the raw mixing phase so that the anti-bacterial agents are actually engrained into the product and will not wash away with use. Sil-A-Gel helps stop the spread of unwanted and potentially bad bacteria forming on your favorite products. Although you should always wash your products with mild soap and water, Sil-A-Gel is our way of going the extra mile to make sure that your products are as safe and clean as they can be.”
Immediately this seems overly like a sales pitch, which it no doubt is – they want you to believe that theirs is the best product, as any other manufacturer does. However, something else comes to mind: what are the ingredients of this “anti-bacterial compound?” Don’t we, the consumer, have the right to know what we are purchasing? What we are putting into our bodies?
Doc Johnson packages that proclaim “sil-a-gel” on the back have always earned an interrogating side-eye from me; the sickly sweet smell emanating from the package did not quell any of my fears. The incredible lack of answers available as to what sil-a-gel is has not only been alarming, but at times, it’s downright disheartening. Many have chosen to relegate sil-a-gel toys away from their wish-lists for the fact that it is so likely to be toxic, though others still have chosen to accept Doc’s claims that it is anti-bacterial and must be safe for the human body. If Doc says so, it’s true, right?
Wrong. Lilly, of www.dangerouslilly.com, has this to say in her own post about the additive, in regards to the boasted “safety” of sil-a-gel: “Sil-a-gel is an Additive, NOT a Material…Oh, I know, all these SilaGel added dildos claim to be phthalates-free. But you know they can lie as there are no regulations for sex toys, right? Right. And Doc Johnson only claims that it will act as an anti-bacterial agent.”
Still, i’ve opted simply to never recommend a sil-a-gel product to anyone asking, and decided to never purchase one for myself – i’d rather stick to safer materials like silicone, glass, and hard plastics.
Until, that is, today. When i decided i would need to be purchasing a sil-a-gel product. No, not for personal use – for experimentation, in order to either substantiate my suspicion or negate it.
At work, I finished my favorite seaweed snack and tossed it into the recycling bin. For reasons unknown, i stood for a moment peering into the bin at the plastic pack of silica gel that was at the bottom of my foods packaging. A flurry of thoughts entered and exited my mind, as they often do; about the reasons for silica gel, why it would possibly be necessary for my seaweed…for keeping it dry, i suppose, as seaweed is technically prone to moisture…and that’s when it occurred to me that “silica gel” sounds awfully similar to sil-a-gel.
So do their purposes.
Let’s consider, for a moment, what could lead to bacterial growth inside of a porous dildo: the retaining of moisture. If moisture was bacterias Valentine, silica gel would be it’s shitty, territorial ex, driving away all possibility of moistures presence. So, theoretically, it makes sense why it’d be a reasonable assumption that it would stave off bacterial growth within dildos – hence “anti-bacterial.” Thus began my journey into something probably way out of my reach – i’m no scientist, for god’s sake – but passionate about sex toy materials, i most definitely am, and i’d like to share with you all my growing theory on this subject. Broken down into clues, let’s dive deeper into the “anti-bacterial” statement.
Sil-a-gel is “anti-bacterial:”
Doc Johnson’s description leaves much to the imagination with this statement. They’ve admitted it’s a compound, but not much else has been revealed. Considering that porosity leads to trapped moisture, and silica gel combats that moisture, one might assume that it would prevent bacterial growth. However, this does not account for bodily bacterias leftover from fluids that the object may have absorbed in use. How would silica gel combat those? Well, it wouldn’t. It would only stave off the moisture and thus limit the growth of potential bacteria. Next, silica gel is adsorbent, meaning that it rejects the absorption of moisture, pushing it out and leaving it as a thin film on the surface of the object. This could theoretically mean that, if silica gel was used inside of a sex toy, the moisture pushed to the outside would be washable. “ …material silica gel removes moisture by adsorption onto the surface of its numerous pores rather than by absorption into the bulk of the gel.” This still does not mean that the toy is non-porous or that the toy will not harbor bacterial growth.
*IF* this is true, then what of the safety, you ask? Doc Johnson claims their sil-a-gel additive is composed of ingredients deemed FDA safe. Still assuming that this is a correct assumption, and silica gel is being used, let’s take a look at “Stabilizing silica gel – non-crystalline micro-porous solid powder, nontoxic, flame-resisting, used in brewery of grains for beer to improve taste, clearness, color and foam, removal of non-micro-organism impurities.” Microorganisms are bacteria; the removal of non-microorganisms is directly contradicting the “anti-bacterial” status, so let’s move on to another type of silica gel: “translucent, micro-pored structure, raw material for preparation of silica gel cat litter. Additionally dried and screened, it forms macro-pored silica gel which is used as drier, adsorbent and catalyst carrier.” Wondering what a catalyst carrier is? Me too. I found this:
The silicas sold on this particular website are colloidal: further investigation revealed that Colloidal silicas are suspensions of fine amorphous, nonporous, and typically spherical silica particles in a liquid phase. Using our imaginations, we can assume that a liquid form of silica would likely be easier to be “added into [our] material in the raw mixing phase” (doc johnson).
A comment on a Lovehoney forum about UR3 stated the following:
Let us remind ourselves that silica gel is odourless, and additional scents are added to doc johnson toys – likely to mask the smell of the PVC. Grace.com says that “silicas in particle form that are used by polyolefin manufacturers as carriers for catalytic compounds [are] critical to manufacturing Polyethylene. In this application, the silica acts as more than a carrier of catalytic agents but also as an active participant in the polymerization process.” Polymerization is a plasticizing process; polyethylene is the most common plastic. The absence/low amount of phthalates in sil-a-gel toys may, in fact, be accounted for by the presence of silica gel – as both are plasticizing agents.
Returning to the “anti-bacterial” property of sil-a-gel, the purpose of the desiccant is detailed as the following: “In many items, moisture encourages the growth of mold and spoilage. Condensation may also damage other items like electronics and may speed the decomposition of chemicals, such as those in vitamin pills. Through the inclusion of silica gel packets, these items can be preserved longer.” Further reading reveals that “Other applications include diagnostic test strips, inhalation devices, syringes, drug test kits and hospital sanitation kits.” But what about the direct use of silica gel? Hazard.com and Chemcas.org suggest that contact with silica gel should be kept to a minimum by wearing protective gloves, face masks, and the like, while the FDA says “Silica gel, also referred to as silica aerogel or hydrated silica, is listed by the FDA in the United States as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), meaning it can be added to food products without needing approval. Silica is allowed to be added to food in the US at up to 2% as permitted under 21 CFR 172.480.”
With this in mind, http://www.geejaychemicals.co.uk/faq.htm states the following:
As there is no confirmation as to whether or not sil-a-gel is indeed silica gel, and there is no information regarding the percentage of it that is used in the toys that include it, “an unpractical amount” seems possible but I cannot make claim to the safety or non-safety of it based on the FDA’s approved percentage. One thing that remains in line with my theory, however, is that the FDA does not require approval of silica gels addition to products: In a statement taken from the Lorax of Sex’s silicone guide, Doc Johnson’s Director of Product Development and Licensing said that “Sil-A-Gel… is anti-bacterial, cadmium and latex free and utilizes ingredients that are on the FDA Safe Ingredient List….that is where the SIL stands for.” Ingredients listed on the FDA safe ingredient list do not require FDA approval. As dildos are not a food, this is absolutely bypassable, and the fact that there are ingredients listed in the safe ingredient list says absolutely nothing about whether they’ve used the appropriate 2% or not. Medical safety and food safety are highly sought after in sex toy materials; having, technically, neither of these, we can continue to assume that avoiding Sil-a-gel is the smart option.
Let us now examine this case of a Doc Johnson sil-a-gel toy turning orange:
Returning back to 2010 when Eden Fantasy was still popular, I found this comment in a forum post about sil-a-gel:
How does this substantiate my theory that sil-a-gel is just a renamed silica gel?
Check this out:
Silica gel comes in a form known as a humidity indicator. “Silica gel may be doped with a moisture indicator that gradually changes its color when it transitions from the anhydrous (dry) state, to the hydrated (wet) state. Common indicators are cobalt(II) chloride and methyl violet. Cobalt (II) chloride is deep blue when dry and pink when wet. It is toxic and carcinogenic, and was reclassified by the European Union in July 2000 as a toxic material. Methyl violet can be formulated to change from orange to green, or orange to colorless.” If silica gel is being used, that would explain why the toy turned orange: too much moisture was trapped, or too much moisture was repelled. Of course, it could have been a product of shoddy material, leftover lube, or even mold that turned the dildo orange, but knowing what we do about silica gel, i’m confident to add it to the list as a possibility.
*please note that the original poster cited above was not available for further comment.
Still not certain that sil-a-gel is actually silica gel?
To be honest, neither am I. There’s just no way for any of this to be proven without a statement of ingredients from Doc Johnson or a thorough lab test. Dangerous Lilly cited a lab test in her blog post cited above, but it primarily focused on the content of phthalates – something that silica gel doesn’t have, so it wouldn’t have shown up.
Also: if you didn’t read the disclaimer at the beginning of the article, scroll back up and do so now. This entire piece is simply the product of my own research, observations, and comparisons. Derive from it what you will. I can tell you, though, that i have both silica gel and a sil-a-gel dildo on their way to my house, and will be filming an experiment of absorption/adsorption and any possible color changing properties (the latter will filmed only if time permits, however results will be updated if achieved).
I don’t want to make these claims without also reminding you all that it is possible that sil-a-gel and silica gel are not the same. Just as it is possible that they are. In the interest of being as thorough as possible, if you feel there’s been an oversight in my research, or if you have your own information to supply me with, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
All material on this blog is the intellectual property of the author. All opinions disclosed are the sole opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of those cited within. This post was not sponsored. No affiliate links have been used.