What is Styrene Ethylene Butylene Styrene (SEBS) and is it Safe?

It’s becoming more common to see Styrene Ethylene Butylene Styrene (SEBS) used as a substitute for PVC in toys.  But the question is whether it’s a safer replacement or not . . .

What is SEBS?

SEBS is actually a form of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) with styrene added.  Green Peace lists SEBS as an acceptable alternative to PVC in toys.  Polyolefin plastics such as Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) are the most common building blocks for SEBS, which don’t need plasticizers (like phthalates) or stabilizers (like lead) for flexibility.

Additives, such as plasticizers and stabilizers, are a necessary component of all PVC formulations.  Without these additives, PVC is brittle, degrades easily, and is unversatile. Softeners are not chemically bound to the PVC polymer, but rather float around the polymer, like water in a sponge, giving the plastic the flexibility required.

SEBS is already used in the production of toys (teething rings by Tolico in Denmark) and can replace PVC for the production of dolls heads (with hair) using rotational molding techniques, one of the most difficult PVC substitutions.

So Where is SEBS Rubber Normally Found?

Often called by the brand name Kraton®, SEBS is used in a wide variety of general-purpose rubber items as well as in handlebar grips, toothbrushes, sports mouth guards, diapers (as the elastic component) and teethers.  The chemical resistance of SEBS is similar to natural rubber, having excellent resistance to water, acids, and bases.

My Conclusion

So long, complicated story short – - toys like Boon’s Odd Ducks are a safer option than the hundreds of other PVC yucky duckies out there!

>> Hop over to our store for loads of carefully researched BPA, PVC and Phthalate-free bath toy options :-)

P.S.  On an interesting side note, SEBS is also used in the electrical industry for such items as flexible cords.  Hmmmm . . .  now I’m wondering why we’re not seeing more SEBS in place of PVC electrical cords.  I’ll be looking into that!

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  • Paige

    You scared me for a second! That BOON duck is my toddler’s LOVE. Thank goodness it is “still” OK! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmrnka Joe Mrnka

    Your assesmant of safety of the product is correct, your explanation of what it is made of is not.
    SEBS is a type of synthetic rubber invented many years ago. It is not made of polypropylene or polyethylene but it can be readily mixed with them. SEBS is often found in cheap shoe soles, gel shoe inserts, soft grips on kitchen stuffs, automotive soft touch items or grab handles. Most often SEBS is plasticized with high purity mineral oils similar to baby oil. It is a very stable plastic, and it is not necessary to stabilize it with large amounts of stabilizer or heavy metal stabilizers as used in PVC. They are also readily recyclable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmrnka Joe Mrnka

    There is a different plastic that is actually made of polypropylene and polyethylene and that is EPDM. It too is safe, also used in making of shoes but also rubber membranes for roofs. It also is plasticized with high purity mineral oils and is even more stable than SEBS.

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