Thursday, February 22, 2018

Is Silicone A Safe Alternative to Plastic?

Bright colors, easy to clean, unbreakable, fun prints- it is easy to see why silicone products have taken over the kids and baby market.  The benefits are many but the question in many parent’s minds is the same:  is silicone safe for my child?

The answer is yes, but there is a “ but”

First of all- what is silicone? 
Silicone, not to be confused with silicon ( a naturally occurring substance and the second most abundant element on Earth after oxygen) is a man made polymer created by adding carbon and/or oxygen to silicon.

 The  FDA has approved  food grade silicone as safe - meaning it will not react with other materials or release hazardous compounds when heated.  It is considered a “ food-safe substance”  which is why it can now be found in numerous baby bottle nipples, plates, sippycups, baking dishes, kitchen utensils, mats and even toys.  

Unfortunately, in the past, government agencies have been known to allow chemicals that leach into everyday use products.  My rule of thumb is to play it safe and minimize chemicals that have the potential to leach until there is clear evidence they do not.  It is the precautionary principal:  basically I do not want my family, and especially my kids, to be guinea pigs while companies test out the safety of their products on us  (ie- BPA was allowed in baby feeding products for years until the government realized it is an endocrine disrupting chemical that affects the hormones of small children.... and even now it is still allowed in toys and other items marketed towards kids) 

Another factor that is important to consider is the purity of the silicone:   not all silicone is created equal.  Less expensive silicone products can contain fillers.  When choosing silicone make sure you choose 100% food grade silicone, since these fillers can compromise the quality and durability of silicone.

Finally, it is important to confirm the silicone, especially brightly colored silicone, has undergone lead testing, since the colorants could be a source of lead.  Most children’s product will specify they are BPA and lead free; if they do not ask the manufacturer.

Bottom line?  Here is when we consider it safe, or not, to use silicone products. 

  1. Cooking/ Baking:  BEST TO MINIMIZE or AVOID
Even though the FDA says it is safe to use silicone under high heat, there are some studies that question how stable silicone is when exposed to extreme heat. These studies have found that small amounts of certain compounds called siloxanes can leach from silicone when it is exposed to both fat and temperatures over 300 F.   While the amount of siloxanes leaching is very small, these compounds have been linked to reproductive impairment, liver changes, and some may be endocrine disrupting.

If you bake once or twice a year - like I do- it is OK to continue to use silicone products, however if you are an avid baker it is best to avoid baking in silicone every day at very high temperatures.

The good news is that absolutely no siloxanes have been found to leach from silicone products that are not exposed to very high heat and fat. Thus it is safe  to use food grade silicone for place mats, drinks, and meals served to kids.  Used in this capacity it is a  safe and convenient alternative to plastic.  Thanks to its flexibility, light weight, easy cleaning and hygienic and hypoallergenic properties (it has no open pores to harbor bacteria), it is especially convenient for snack containers, bibs, mats and protective sleeves.  

Once again, as an alternative to plastic silicone toys and teether can be an alternative.  I still prefer -hands down- natrual materials like wood and 100% natural rubber especially for teethers and pacifiers.

As with everything mix things up at home- don’t rely only on silicone!   Other safe materials include:  wood, stainless steel, glass (where appropriate and often with silicone protectors), natural rubber etc

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  1. According to Tamara Rubin there have been trace amounts of cadmium found in 50% of the silicone products she has test. What are your thoughts on trace amounts of cadmium in silicone products? Are the above products cadmium free?

  2. Hi- I have not tested the above products for cadmium.

    The products I saw that Tamara tested (and I do think she does a great service to all by testing so many products) are not mentioned on my post...... she does, however, explain that she found 'trace amounts' and that (she) " would feel comfortable saying that items with 40 ppm cadmium or more should not be considered safe for use by children." but those under 40 she would consider safe....

    I have not, unfortunately, found any other person or organization who has tested silicone products and found trace levels of cadmium....

    Bottom line? As I mention in the post I still prefer and recommend more natural materials: glass, wood, natural rubber. Hands down these are the best alternatives. I think silicone sleeves placed on glass products for kids are indeed a better alternative for children who alternately might be using plastic or melamine dishware, and I still do not recommend exposing silicone to heat.

    regarding bottle nipples : that I am aware off (I might be wrong??) the two options for bottle nipples are silicon or latex (not to be confused with natural rubber). Latex can wear down and give off nitrosamines that are carcinogenic. So here too I would choose silicone. Obviously, 100% cadmium free .... perhaps I will reach out to TR and ask if she can publish the results of more bottle nipples she has tested and teething toys (although I would still recommend a natural rubber or wood teething toy first).

    Hope this was helpful?? Thanks for your valuable comment!