Have you ever shopped for a personal lubricant before? The choices can be confusing and overwhelming. There are so many different types and different advantages of each kind of lube. How are you supposed to choose? And what to avoid in a lube can feel confusing too.
I’ve decided to do a breakdown of personal lubricants to cut through all the noise out there and give you a perspective from a medical professional, rather than just some list of pros and cons from someone’s lifestyle blog. This article will walk through reasons why you may need to use lube, types of lube, and things to consider when you’re making a purchase.
Should I Use Lube?
First things first — there is absolutely, positively no shame in using a personal lubricant for sex.
You don’t need a reason to use lube, and you don’t need to justify it to anyone at any time.
However — please be careful if you’re using lube to cover up any vaginal health symptoms. Using lube to help alleviate painful sex due to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis could make matters worse. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor if you’re having any symptoms that are making sex uncomfortable. It’s entirely possible that you just need a little lubrication to make things feel better, but it’s safer to get checked out to rule out serious conditions, especially if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Vaginal itching
- Unusual discharge
- Strong vaginal odor
- Pain while urinating
- Bleeding in between menstrual cycles
Second, let’s not buy into the stereotype that only older women need to use lube. It’s true that as we age, estrogen levels tend to decrease — which leads to an increase in vaginal dryness.
But women of all ages may see a benefit from extra lubrication during sex or masturbation.
If you’ve noticed cyclically that just before or right after your period you need extra lubrication, that is totally normal. We experience a peak in cervical mucus with ovulation that creates more lubrication in the vagina. Outside of that window, you may need to use a personal lubricant to feel more comfortable or have more enjoyable sex.
Birth Control Vaginal Dryness
Women on oral contraceptive pills or the pill may also experience vaginal dryness. Both estrogen and testosterone play a crucial role in lubricating the vagina. Because the pill substantially reduces estrogen and testosterone production it can impact lubrication, libido, and sexual pleasure. Birth control pills with drospirenone appear to be the most problematic, although this can occur with any formulation.
While any birth control containing estrogen and progestin can lead to vaginal dryness in some women, the pill is generally cited as the worst offender among women. Be sure to talk to your prescribing provider if you’re experiencing this side effect.
And in case you’ve ever been told the myth that sex is suppposed to hurt, let me just bust that and let you know it shouldn’t—not ever. Not even your first time. If it hurts, it could be a lubrication issue or it could be something else. Don’t ignore it and definitely get help from a provider.
What Are The Types Of Personal Lubricant?
A quick google search for lube might leave you a little overwhelmed by the number of options out there. Who knew there were so many different kinds and brands and choices for lube?
Let’s break down a few of the most common types of lube first.
Silicone-based lube is a popular option for many reasons. It’s typically water-resistant and hypoallergenic for most people, so it’s good for those with sensitive skin or allergies. It’s considered the longest-lasting of your lube choices, so you don’t have to keep reapplying it as much as you may with other lubes.
Pros Of Using Silicone Based Lube:
- Water-resistant (works well for shower sex)
- Requires less product
- Safe to use with condoms
Cons Of Using Silicone-Based Lube:
- Some say silicone lube will break down silicone sex toys (which creates little crevices that bacteria hide in, making them unsanitary), but others say that’s a myth. Play it safe and only use with steel, glass, or hard plastic toys.
- Difficult to wash off after sex (you’ll likely need soap, but never use it internally)
- Can stain
Common Brands Of Silicone Based Lube:
- Astroglide X
- Wet Platinum
- K-Y Silicone
Water-based lube is a good, everyday choice for lubrication. It is easier to wash off than silicone lubricants. It won’t break down your sex toys, either. They are also compatible with most forms of physical barrier birth control, like condoms and diaphragms, but they aren’t waterproof and tend to evaporate quickly.
If you have sensitive skin or are prone to vaginal irritation, this is a better choice in terms of personal lubricant.
Water-based lubes are also the most likely to contain potentially harmful ingredients, like parabens. Parabens are chemicals that are used in many beauty products. They can be absorbed by the skin and have been found to exhibit estrogenic effects in the body. According to breastcancer.org, parabens are being studied for their potential links to breast cancer.
Pros Of Using Water Based Lube:
- Compatible with condoms
- Easy to wash off after sex
- Won’t break down silicone sex toys
- Better for sensitive skin
- Easy to clean out of sheets
Cons Of Using Water Based Lube:
- Evaporate quickly so you have to keep reapplying them
- Aren’t waterproof — so using them in the shower won’t work
- May contain glycerin which irritates the skin
- May contain paraben which may disrupt hormones
- Can get sticky with reapplication
Common Brands Of Water Based Lube:
- KY Jelly
- Astroglide Liquid and Gel
- Coconu Water Based
- Vagisil Prohydrate
Oil-based lubes can be a great option for women looking to avoid harsh ingredients in their lube. Since oil-based lubricants tend to be made from natural oils, they are moisturizing and soothing for the skin. Some formulations will contain problematic ingredients, so check the label before you decide to use any lube. More on that soon.
If you’re in a pinch, you can go straight from the kitchen to the bedroom with certain kinds of oil. The main problem with using an oil-based lube? It’s not safe for use with latex condoms. This one is best for non-barrier method sex.
Pros Of Using Oil Based Lube:
- Free of irritants and hormone-disrupting chemicals
- Generally gentle on the skin
- Generally edible, so ideal for oral sex (But not always! Check ingredients and warnings before ingesting anything.)
- May be compatible with polyurethane condoms (check the package)
- Can be used in the water
Cons Of Using Oil Based Lube:
- Can’t be used with latex condoms
- Shouldn’t be used with latex toys
- Might leave stains on your sheets
Common Brands Of Oil Based Lube:
- Coconu Oil Based
- Natural oils like coconut, olive, or avocado oil
What To Avoid In A Lube
So now that we’ve gone through all of the specifics about the different types of lube, let’s talk about some other considerations.
Personal care products in general can contain some questionable ingredients, and ingredients with a low molecular weight can absorb into the bloodstream. A lot of the components of commercially available skincare products are things that you probably don’t want to be slathering on your skin, let alone your vulva.
Some of these ingredients to stay away from include:
Ingredients In Novelty Lubes
Generally, any lube that’s warming, tingling, or flavored is best avoided on the vulva and in the vagina. These types of lubes can cause irritation and infection. They’re best reserved for use on a very occasional basis, but I’d caution you from even using them then—especially if you’re prone to sensitive skin.
Also known as petroleum jelly or Vaseline™, petrolatum is not a great choice for lube. It is an oil, which can weaken condoms and it can also invite growth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. Furthermore, as the name implies, it’s a byproduct of the oil refining process and can be full of chemicals that are considered potential carcinogens. Overall, there are much better options for lube. If the brand you’re considering contains petrolatum, look elsewhere.
Sometimes, manufacturers add spermicides like nonoxynol-9 to lube formulations. While it may seem like a good idea to include a sperm killer in lube, this particular chemical can harm the vagina. Studies show that it can disrupt vaginal flora, and can even increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Animal studies show it is easily absorbed by the skin. It’s best to leave this one out of your lube.
Chlorhexidine gluconate is considered “slightly toxic” although it is approved for use in cosmetics in low concentrations. When there are other safer options to choose from, it’s probably best to avoid slathering ingredients with any amount of toxicity on your skin.
This chemical is one that is commonly used in cosmetics — but also in antifreeze. It is considered an eye, respiratory tract, and skin irritant and is therefore probably best to avoid administering to your mucus membranes down there.
Studies show that glycerin when used in a personal lubricant can result in tissue damage. While your first reaction may be ‘ouch’ (and rightly so), it is also important to note that this could also increase your susceptibility to STIs. We need more research on this one, as we have studies that show it can make you prone to overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many women experience yeast infections when they use lube that contains glycerin ,probably because glycerin is a sugar alcohol that could disrupt the delicate balance of your vaginal microflora. In addition, if you’re yeast infection prone it can feed those organisms. Best to keep this one out of your vagina.
As I mentioned earlier, parabens are widely used in cosmetics and lubes. They are not ideal chemicals to be placed on the skin, especially for women, since they can exhibit estrogenic properties and have been related to cancer. If you can choose a lube without this chemical, it’s best to do so.
Also known as caustic soda, this chemical’s material safety data sheet (MSDS) warns that it causes skin and eye burns. Probably not the best option for a lube ingredient, but manufacturers include it anyway. If you can find one without it, it’s probably a good idea.
What Kind Of Lube Is Best For Latex Condoms?
The best kind of lube to use if you’re also using latex condoms is water or silicone-based lube. Oil-based lubes can break down latex, so they are not compatible with latex condoms and should not be used with them. If you use an oil or oil-based lube for sexual contact in conjunction with a latex condom, you risk infection and/or pregnancy.
What Kind Of Lubricant Is Best When Trying To Conceive?
When you’re trying to get pregnant, you want an environment in which sperm can easily travel…which is something most lubes aren’t really designed to do. If you’re trying to conceive, it’s critical to avoid any of the questionable ingredients listed above, since they could limit sperm motility.
Again, those ingredients to avoid are:
- Petrolatum (petroleum jelly or Vaseline)
- Chlorhexidine gluconate
- Propylene glycol
- Sodium hydroxide
Although most lubricants are generally considered less than ideal for conception, natural oils like virgin coconut oil can be better options than more traditional personal lubricants. Plus, they can leave you feeling moisturized and they outlast water-based choices.
Want To Find Out More?
You see, I’m just a little obsessed with female reproductive health and hormones.
And I love researching and sharing my knowledge with you!
If you’re interested in learning more and keeping up to date with the things I share only with my email list, I’d encourage you to sign up HERE. I’ll send you emails once in a while and you’ll be the first to hear about what’s going on in my life and be notified when I’ve got juicy content to share.
I hope you’re able to use the information in this article to make empowered decisions.
- Engeli RT, Rohrer SR, Vuorinen A, et al. Interference of Paraben Compounds with Estrogen Metabolism by Inhibition of 17β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases. Int J Mol Sci. 2017. 18.
- Golden R, Gandy J, Vollmer G. A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2005. 35. 435-458.
- Sun, L., Yu, T., Guo, J. et al. The estrogenicity of methylparaben and ethylparaben at doses close to the acceptable daily intake in immature Sprague-Dawley rats.. Sci Rep. 2016. 6.
- Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics. Breastcancer.org.
- Bos JD, Meinardi MM. The 500 Dalton rule for the skin penetration of chemical compounds and drugs. Exp Dermatol. 2009. 9. 165-169.
- Brown, J., Hess, K.L., Brown, S.. Intravaginal Practices and Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis and Candidiasis Infection Among a Cohort of Women in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2013. 121. 773-780.
- Schreiber CA, Meyn LA, Creinin MD, Barnhart KT, Hillier SL. Effects of long-term use of nonoxynol-9 on vaginal flora. Obstet Gynecol. 2006. 107. 136-143.
- Chvapil M, Eskelson CD, Stiffel V, et al. Studies on Nonoxynol-9. II. Intravaginal absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion in rats and rabbits. Contraception. 1980. 22. 325-339.
- Liebert MA. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Chlorhexidine/Chlorhexidine Diacetate Chlorhexidine Di hydrochloride/Chlorhexidine Digluconate. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. 1993. 12.
- Material Safety Data Sheet Propylene glycol. Fischer Scientific.
- Brown JM, Hess KL, Brown S, et al. Intravaginal practices and risk of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis infection among a cohort of women in the United States. Obstet Gynecol. 2013. 121. 773-780.
- Nonoxynol-9 ineffective in preventing HIV infection. World Health Organization.
- Public Health Statement: Propylene Glycol. ATSDR.
- Warshaw T, Herrmann F. Studies of Skin Reactions to Propylene Glycol. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 1952. 19.
- Lim TY, Poole RL, Pageler NM. Propylene glycol toxicity in children. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2014. 19. 255-282.
- Ayehunie S, Wang YY, Landry T, Bogojevic S, Cone RA. Hyperosmolal vaginal lubricants markedly reduce epithelial barrier properties in a three-dimensional vaginal epithelium model. Toxicol Rep. 2017. 5. 134-140.
- Material Safety Data Sheet Sodium hydroxide. Fischer Scientific.
- Brotman RM, Ravel J, Cone RA, Zenilman JM. Rapid fluctuation of the vaginal microbiota measured by Gram stain analysis. Sex Transm Infect. 2010. 86. 297-302.