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Loom bands have high amounts of cancer-causing chemicals

What you may have heard

Loom bands were pulled from shelves due to concerns about cancer risk.

What science tells us

Rainbow Loom is a plastic device used to weave small, colored rubber bands (loom bands) into jewelry. Loom bands were pulled from the shelves after they were found to contain high levels of phthalates. This is concerning because phthalates can cause health problems if ingested over time.  Loom bands are mainly used by children, and there is a risk that the band will end up in a child’s mouth.

Epidemiological Evidence

Phthalates have been well-studied in animal models, and prenatal exposure to phthalates was found to have harmful effects on the reproductive tract of male offspring (Engel et al.). Over the past 10 years, studies have shown that human prenatal exposure to phthalates affects children’s brain development and increases their risk for learning, attention, and behavioral disorders (Engel et al.). There are still many questions about how phthalates may affect people’s health, and more research is needed to assess the health risks of phthalates.

There are many types of phthalates, and only one is classified as a possible cause of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program (NTP): diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). DEHP was found in loom bands at higher concentrations than the legal limit. However, there has not been enough data collected in humans to determine if cancer risk in humans is associated specifically with loom band exposures.

Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence

In animal models, DEHP was found to cause liver cancer, benign testicular tumors, and benign pancreatic tumors

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans: Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) and Group 3 (Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans: Butyl benzyl phthalate)

How to reduce your risk

As previously mentioned, loom bands were pulled from shelves due to concerns about cancer risk. Exposure is highest when eating or drinking foods that contain phthalates (CDC). Children crawling around, touching items that contain phthalates, and putting their hands in their mouths are of serious concern. To ensure phthalate exposure is low, don’t eat or drink (or in the case of loom bands, don’t allow children to place the bands in their mouths) products known to contain higher levels of phthalates. These products include certain toys, vinyl flooring, vinyl wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, etc. (FDA).

Bottom line

More research is needed to assess the relationship between phthalate exposure and cancer risk. However, phthalate exposure is linked to other health conditions, such as reproductive health defects and the brain development of children. If your child is using loom bands, ensure that they don’t put the bands in their mouths and that they wash their hands after touching them.

BBC: Loom bands and cancer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Phthalate
Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Phthalates
Canadian Cancer Society: BPA
Engel et al. Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates
National Toxicology Program (NTP): Report on Carcinogens
American Cancer Society (ACS): Known and probable human carcinogens


Published: June 29, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022