Polymer Clay Safety – Weigh the facts

This sweets bracelet looks good enough to eat…but don’t. It’s polymer clay from France’s Cristalline.

On her Artpreneur blog Judy Dunn provides a clear, cogent article about the fears surrounding polymer clay. Putting her degree in chemistry to good use, Judy takes a logical, scientific approach to the subject.

The same gallery owner who suggests that it would be good to avoid purchasing a polymer clay necklace because of the risks that phthalates pose, carries jewelry made with resin, enamel, and other "toxic" materials in her gallery.

When the customer buys any of these finished products, they are chemically stable and safe, just as a polymer clay necklace would be. But the artists are exposed to potential toxins in the creation of the work. Used intelligently, the risks are manageable with all these materials. There is no real risk to the consumer with any of them. If we want to eliminate risks, let’s do it judiciously, and with consideration of the facts.

Arm yourself with more facts by reading Judy’s entire post. Thanks to Rachel Carren for pointing out the article.

If you’re really into recycling, Lindly Haunani suggests you remember to put organ donation on your list. Recycle yourself!

  • reply Steph ,

    Oh thanks for this article ! I have been a bit worried about those issues… I heard that Fimo removed phtalates from their clay ( but don’t know what they are using now…) . I think I’ will use latex gloves to work with polymer clay from now on..

    • reply Judy Dunn ,

      Thank you for the support Cynthia….it was a bit scary to post this. Not easy to go up against environmentalist, because I consider myself to be concerned about the environment. There are so many dimensions to the issue that are ignored. I could not let it go without a response.
      BTW, my chemistry degree is a B.S., not M.S. But I do have a degree. 😉

      • reply Lunes ,

        Christine – ce que tu as fait avec les bonbons est vraiment magique! Bravo. Ton blog est super aussi.

        • reply Melanie West ,

          I appreciate Judy’s comments on the health risks of polymer clay on the user and the consumer. I totally agree that fear shouldn’t be the driving force, and that accurate information about a product is vital.

          My concern about polymer clay, however, is not so much about the health impact on the user or consumer, but on the environment. Yeah, there’s the issue of cured pc sitting in land fills for centuries, and the fact that petroleum is used in the manufacturing of it, but that’s not what I mean. My concern is two fold – the uncured pc in landfills, and the release into the environment of toxins from the manufacturing process.

          I must admit, I don’t know enough about the manufacturing process of polymer clay, but I know enough about the loop holes and gaps in our countries environmental laws (and the history of companies using these holes) to be concerned about phthalates being released into the environment, and what the impact both on humans and the rest of life on this planet might be. (Btw, I’m not a scientist, but I have a BS in Environmental Studies – which included environmental chemistry and human toxicology.)

          I don’t have answers to these concerns, but they sit with me every time I go down to my studio. Yes, I work with polymer clay almost daily regardless of my concerns, but I think pretending that there might be no environmental impact from my actions would be irresponsible. But that’s just me.

          My name is Melanie, and I am a polymer clay addict. 😉

          • reply Judy Dunn ,


            I agree that the manufacturers have a responsibility to use any materials in the most responsible way possible. As we do in our work.
            But changing formulations without fully investigating the impact of the substitutes is not without hazards. Likewise, if we substitute glass for plastic in packaging, what are the environmental trade-offs in energy consumption in the production, and transportation, and the injury risk of broken glass. Go back in history and look at the statistics for the decline in injuries from shampoo bottles breaking in the shower….
            There are no simple answers. But changes made in a reactionary way are not likely to have good outcomes for anyone. It is the “wack a mole” phenomenon. You get rid of one problem and create one or more new ones that you did not anticipate.

            • reply Lea Hernandez ,

              • reply Lea Hernandez ,

                Drat it all, that was meant for Judy’s blog! But thanks for posting the link, it is a timely subject.

                • reply April Blue ,

                  I wasn’t aware of the toxic effect of uncured/cured polymer clay in our landfills. I was glad to read this PDC posting and I am glad I check on this website dail, I might add! Besides being inspiring,entertaining,and educational, your website provides a great service/purpose to us polymer clay lovers! Yep1 Yep! Yep1

                  • reply Amy Crawley ,

                    Judy’s posts and your post here Cynthia remind me of the commercial recently playing on tv.

                    A patient sits in the examining room waiting for his doctor. The voice-over talks about what would happen if we eliminated plastic from our lives. Slowly, anything that has plastic incorporated into it in the examining room starts to disappear right down to the lovely cushion covering the examining table.

                    People don’t realize (or perhaps I should say governments) what an impact such a drastic change would have on our every day lives. I, for one, believe we need to keep educating ourselves and to use safe handling procedures.

                    Thanks to you and Judy for these educating posts.

                    • reply X Rose ,

                      I have seen this commercial about what would happen if plastics were gotten rid of, and the problem is that it makes an argument that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

                      Since when have we ever gotten rid of something we NEED without a replacement? We don’t. It doesn’t happen. No one is going to make something go away that is NEEDED and just … not have anything else to use.

                      There are PLENTY of things that we use that are NOT needed. But I think a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between the things that they NEED and the things they just really want. Plastic shopping bags are a good example. Do you know how horrible those things are for the environment? Do you know how much they pile up in landfills and gather in the ocean (there is a swath of garbage collecting in the ocean that is over a mile long at least), not to mention all of the wildlife that suffers from their presence in the environment.

                      And we don’t need them. Paper is in fact better over all – it is more recyclable, uses less energy to recycle, and the base resource is renewable. BETTER YET we could all just learn to take a canvas bag with us when we go shopping and then there isn’t ANYTHING that needs to be recycled, because you are reusing.

                      And, since plastic bags are not in fact necessary, there is at least one whole country that has BANNED the use of them (they also have started a campaign to get their citizens to use canvas bags).

                      So it’s possible to start taking plastic OUT of our lives.

                      But no, it’s not a black and white issue. However, I DO think that people are generally unwilling to really make the sacrifices that are needed to help keep this planet really livable for most of its inhabitants.

                      I love polymer clay, it’s so neat and easy to use. But if I’m really honest with myself, I believe that I am being selfish if I continue to support the polymer clay companies just because it’s something I like to spend my time doing (or even something I make money at). Until they can assure me that they are not poisoning the world just to make something to amuse myself with, I think I’ll forego it, and find more environmentally friendly ways to make art.

                      No, I am not a martyr. I just like to be able to live with myself.

                      And, speaking of arguments that don’t make sense …

                      “donate organs – recycle yourself”

                      Ok, maybe that was meant to be tongue in cheek, but honestly? It does not compare to recycling. You, as a carbon based lifeform, are fully biodegradable. And I seriously doubt that you are helping the environment when you donate an organ – considering we humans are kind of the cause of the whole environmental problem to begin with.

                      • reply Cara ,

                        Hi! I write from Mexico and I just started to read about the hazards of polymer clay, which I love, but I’m really getting worried ’cause I recently found out I’m pregnant and I don’t know if there’s any actual risk for my baby for I’ve been handling and baking Sculpey III for several hours in the last few weeks, I would really appreciate if you could help me calm my concerns since this products are still not very popular in my country, therefore not very much information is posted around. THANKS!!

                        • reply New to working with polymer clay? | Caterpillar Arts ,

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