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Does your lube leave you with pain, redness or discomfort?
Maybe you’re not using the best lube to keep your tissues healthy and safe.
Some of the ingredients commonplace in popular lubricants can cause:
- Vaginal irritation
Read on now for your complete guide to choosing the best lube for your body
- What are the benefits of using personal lubricant?
- Main problems caused by unsafe lube
- How to choose the best lube ingredients
- Water-based lube
- Silicone-based lube
- Oil-based Lube
- Petroleum-Based Lube
- How to avoid unsafe additives and preservatives in lube
- How to choose to best lube consistency – liquid or gel?
- What research says on lube safety
1. Benefits of using Personal Lubricant
Lube is usually a liquid or gel used to reduce friction between moving surfaces.
Using the right personal lubricant will help you protect your body from injury, infection and improve your personal comfort.
Personal lubricant is used for:
- Reducing vaginal dryness
- Protecting internal tissues from tearing, abrasion and associated infection
- Preventing condoms from tearing during intercourse
- Comfort and safety inserting Kegel exercisers (vaginal weights, Kegel balls, pelvic floor muscle stimulators)
- Comfort and protection inserting medical assessment and treatment devices (anal or vaginal medication pessaries, vaginal dilators, speculum, urinary catheter)
- Comfort, arousal and enjoyment of intimacy
2. Problems Caused Using the Wrong Lube
Using the wrong lube can cause:
- Abrasion, redness and itching of vaginal tissues
- Broken skin increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infection
- Bleeding of vaginal or anal tissues
- Increased likelihood of bladder infection from damaged tissues
- Increased susceptibility to fungal infections (Candida or thrush)
- Increased susceptibility to some sexually transmitted diseases
- Condom breakage or slip out of position
Choosing the best lube for your needs is determined by your:
- Reason for using lube
- Pelvic health issues (allergies, vaginal dryness, susceptibility to infection)
- Personal preference
Looking for the best lube for your safety? Check out our range of non-toxic body-safe personal lubricants
4. Safety of Lube Ingredients
Knowing your lube ingredients can help you avoid vaginal irritation or infection and better protect your personal comfort and safety.
Personal lubricants are made from a variety of base ingredients.
The most common bases in lubes are:
- Water-based lube
- Silicone-based lube
- Oil-based lube
- Petroleum-based lube
Let’s examine the ingredients used in each of these lubes and how they can affect your safety and choice of lube.
5. Water-Based Lubricant
Water-based lube is the most widely available and commonly used personal lubricant. Water-based lubes are generally considered to be the best lubes for vaginal health however the ingredients need to be checked thoroughly.
Advantages of Water-Based Lube
- Readily cleaned off the body and surfaces allowing for the removal of infection-causing bacteria near the urethra (urine tube)
- Readily washed off pelvic exercisers reducing the likelihood of bacteria being hosted
- Water-based lubes are available without some of the potentially harmful additives
- Often less likely to irritate internal tissues than silicone based lubes
- Suitable for use with condoms and pelvic exercisers
- No sticky residue
Disadvantages of Water-Based Lube
- Evaporate readily and may need reapplication to prevent tissue abrasion for long duration use
- Not as long lasting as silicone-based lube
- Not waterproof so unsuitable for use in water
- Some brands contain additives and/or preservatives (we do not stock these)
- Some brands contain glycerin reported to contribute to thrush (we do not stock these)
6. Silicone-Based Lube
Silicone-base lube is manufactured from synthetic (man made) chemical compounds.
Examples of silicone-based lubricants: Sliquid Silver (right), Pjur, WET, Astroglide silicone, Durex Real Feel Silicone
Advantages of Silicone-Based Lube
- Increased longevity of lubrication
- Not absorbed by the skin
- Don’t typically cause skin irritation or allergy (check before use if you are prone)
- Usually contain a small number of ingredients
- Don’t usually contain parabens (preservatives)
- More durable than water-based lubricants which may protect tissues from abrasion
- Usually compatible for use with condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps
- Can be used in water as they are waterproof
- Less likely to harbor bacteria than oil-based lubricants
Disadvantages of Silicone-Based Lube
- Difficult to remove from tissues (require soap which can irritate vaginal tissues)
- Can erode the surfaces of pelvic exercisers made from silicone
- More difficult to clean than water-based lubricants
- More expensive than water-based lubes
- Can stain fabric
Hybrid lubricants are water-based with silicone offering women the benefits of both water and silicone bases combined providing the added longevity of the silicone for tissue protection.
Examples of hybrid Lubricants: Sliquid Silk (right), Sliquid Organics Silk
7. Oil-Based Lube
Oil-based lubricants may be derived from either synthetic or natural oils.
Examples of natural oil-based lube: coconut oil, almond oil, olive oil
Examples of synthetic oil-based lube: baby oil
Advantages of Oil-Based Lube
- Natural oils often contain no preservatives or additives making them less likely to irritate than lubricants containing additives
- Some of the natural oils can be soothing and healing for their skin e.g. vitamin E oil
Disadvantages of Oil-Based Lube
- Difficulty removing oil-based lubricants from skin and pelvic exercisers may increase the likelihood of infection-causing bacteria residing on surfaces
- Potential to clog pores of skin
- Increased risk of yeast infection (thrush)
- Cleaning off skin surfaces requires soap for removal and soap is a known irritant for vaginal tissues
- Cannot be used with latex condoms or diaphragms (e.g. coconut oil, baby oil, cooking oil, suntan oil)
- Can stain fabric
Note: Massage oils and scented oils should not be used as personal lubricants as they can cause tissue irritation
8. Petroleum-Based Lube
Petroleum-based lubes are not generally considered suitable for women prone to vaginal irritation or infection.
Examples of petroleum-based lube: Vaseline (petroleum jelly)
Advantages of Petroleum-Base Lube
- Long lasting
- Very thick
Disadvantages of Petroleum-Based Lube
- Increased risk of bacterial vaginosis
- Can cause vaginal irritation or inflammation
- Difficult to clean off surfaces therefore more likely to harbor infection causing bacteria
- Cannot be used with latex condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms or rubber sex toys
- Stain fabric
9. How to Avoid Unsafe Additives and Preservative in Lubes
If you are prone to vaginal irritation or infection, it’s important to check the additives and preservatives in your lube.
Additives in Lubes
Lubricant additives usually provide a specialised function for the lubricant. If you are susceptible to allergies it’s important to check the additives in your lube. Some additives can cause allergy, associated tissue damage and contribute to tissue infection.
Both plant-derived and synthetic additives have the potential to cause vaginal irritation.
Additives in lubricants that can cause irritation include:
- Stimulants e.g. menthol
- Plant-derived e.g. citric acid
- Spermicide e.g. Nonoxynol-9
- Antibacterial agents e.g. chlorohexidine (unbalance the natural flora potentially increasing the likelihood of vaginal infection)
- Antiviral agents
Preservatives in Lubes
Preservatives are used to prevent bacterial growth in lube to prolong shelf-life. Preservatives can cause tissue irritation and sensitization in some women.
Preservatives used in lubes include parabens, sorbic acid and sorbates, benzoic acid and phenoxyethanol.
One commonly used form of preservatives used in lubes is a group of chemical compounds known as parabens. There is dispute over the safety of parabens despite their widespread use.
To date there is no scientific evidence linking parabens to cancer and they are considered safe in low levels by the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organisation. There is however some concern since parabens mimic oestrogen and may be stored in the human body and therefore may accumulate over time.
Parabens may cause allergic reaction in some individuals.
Tip for identifying Parabens
To know whether your lube contains parabens, check the lube ingredients for the word “paraben” in the ending of the chemical name.
Commonly used parabens include:
10. How to Choose the Best Lube Consistency – Liquid or Gel?
The consistency or thickness of the lube can affect lube safety. The best lube consistency for you to choose depends on how you intend to use the lube and your personal preference.
Thick gel lube tends to stay in place longer than liquid lube. If the gel is too thick it will create more resistance however thick lube can assist you protect very delicate internal tissues. Gel lube is often used for anal intercourse (rectal tissues are delicate).
Liquid lube creates more glide. If the lube is too thin it won’t provide long lasting lubrication and may need to be reapplied for longer duration use. Liquid gel is usually appropriate for inserting pelvic exercisers and for vaginal intercourse.
What Current Research Says on Lube Safety
Unfortunately there is a lack of good research into lube safety. Some studies have shown some lubes cause damage to the tiny cells the vagina and rectum, increasing the risk of some sexually transmitted diseases.1
Regulations seem to be quite relaxed regarding lubes. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not require personal lubricant testing on humans – the limited research to date has been mostly performed on animals which doesn’t necessarily apply to the human body.
1. Water Versus Silicone-Based Lubes and Safety
Water based lubricant has been associated with fewer symptoms that silicone-based lube.
A comparison study into water versus silicone based lube2 showed that that the water based lubricant was associated with less pain symptoms after sexual activity. This study found that both water and silicone-based lubricants used were rarely associated with adverse symptoms when used for sexual activity.
2. Avoid Spermicide Lubes with Nonoxynol – 9
Nonoxynol – 9 is a detergent used in spermicides. Evidence strongly suggests women should avoid lubricants containing Nanoxynol -9 bacause it causes damage to cells lining the vagina or rectum.
More specifically, Nanoxynol – 9 has been found to be associated with vaginal irritation (vaginal itching and burning).3
Multiple uses of Nanoxynol – 9 may increase the likelihood of HIV infection since damaged tissues may provide a route for HIV infection.4
3. Avoid Lubricants with High pH (Acidity)
The World Health Organization recommends that women avoid personal lubricants with high pH.6
The vagina is normally slightly acidic with a pH of 3.8- 4.5. High vaginal pH increases the risk of an imbalance in the naturally occurring bacteria within the vagina and causes bacterial vaginosis.
Lubes with high pH increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis – the best lube for maintaining healthy levels of vaginal bacteria has pH of close to 4.5.
4. Avoid Lubricants with High Osmolarity (Ingredient Concentration)
The osmolarity or overall concentration of ingredients in a personal lubricant can cause vaginal irritation by damaging the cells lining the vagina.
A hyperosmolar lubricant is one that has highly concentrated ingredients. Highly concentrated lubricants cause more tissue irritation and damage because they cause the tiny cells that line the vagina or rectum to shrivel up and fall off.
Glycerol and propylene glycol are substances commonly used in personal lubricants that can be found in high concentrations. One study showed that lubricants applied to the rectum containing high concentrations of glycerin and propylene glycol significantly damaged cells lining the human rectum.5 The researchers state that cell damage caused by lubricants having high concentrations of these substances may increase susceptibility to HIV transmission.
Lubricants containing polyquaternium should also be avoided in personal lubricants for personal safety until further research is on HIV infection and lubricants containing this compound.6
Examples of hyperosmolar lubricants: K-Y Warming gel, Astroglide Liquid, warming lubricants often have high concentrations of propylene glycol6
Main Points for Choosing the Best Lube for your Pelvic Health
- No one lube fits everyone’s needs
- If you are prone to allergy or vaginal irritation know your lube ingredients
- If you are prone to vaginal irritation and infection ideally choose a glycerin and paraben free water-based lube
- Avoid petroleum-based lubes, lube additives and preservatives to avoid irritation
- Avoid lubes with spermicides, high acidity and highly concentrated ingredients
- There is currently a lack of research into lube safety despite their widespread use.
1 Wolf L (2012) Studies Raise Questions About Safety Of Personal Lubricants Chemical & Engineering News Volume 90 Issue 50 pp. 46-47.
2 Herbenick D, Reece M, Hensel D, Sanders S, Jozkowski K, Fortenberry J (2011) Association of Lubricant Use with Women’s Sexual Pleasure, Sexual Satisfaction, and Genital Symptoms: A Prospective Daily Diary Study Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 202–212.
3 Roddy R, Cordero M, Cordero C, Fortney J (1993) A Dosing Study of Nonoxynol-9 and Genital Irritation Int J STD AIDS May-June 1993 4: pp 165-170.
4 Moench T, Mumper R, Hoen T, Sun M, Cone R (2002) Effectiveness of COL-1492, a nonoxynol-9 vaginal gel, on HIV-1 transmission in female sex workers: a randomised controlled trial Original Research Article Lancet. Sep 28;360(9338):pp 971-7.
5 Fuchs E, Lee L, Torbenson M, Parsons T, Bakshi R, Guidos A, Wahl R, Hendrix C Major Articles and Brief Reports – HIV/AIDS – Major Articles: Hyperosmolar Sexual Lubricant Causes Epithelial Damage in the Distal Colon: Potential Implication for HIV Transmission J Infect Dis. (2007) 195 (5): pp 703-710.
6 World Health Organization (2012) Advisory note: Use and procurement of additional lubricants for male and female condoms: WHO/UNFPA/FHI360
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