Trusted for 23+ Years
The Ultimate Personal Lubricant Guide
Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert
Choosing A Healthy Personal Lubricant
When shopping for a healthy personal lubricant (lube), it may feel overwhelming as there are many options and variables to consider. It is especially vital for people to choose lubes with healthy ingredients who are sensitive to ingredients, have allergies, take specific prescriptions, have hormonal fluctuations, are pregnant, have had a hysterectomy, or are immunocompromised and going through medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
There is a lot to cover in this Lubricant Guide, so rather than go over every aspect of lubricants within it, feel free to explore the additional guides linked throughout it if you think you need more clarification about a specific area aspect of them.
Why Quality Lubricants Matter
The best sexual lubricants use high-quality ingredients and are toxin-free. At first glance, it may feel pretty easy to trust the marketing and labels of lubricant manufacturers who promise only the best. However, once you start to understand that many lubricants are unhealthy despite their claims to the contrary, it can feel worrisome.
In addition, when you explore all the different aspects of what makes a lube healthy such as proper osmolality levels, pH levels, and variables in ingredients, it can become an even more formidable task to find the right one for you. That is why we only carry lubricants that meet the highest of standards. When in doubt, if you decide you just want the fun of shopping over researching, rest assured you have found a sexual wellness company that will take excellent care of you. Feel free to contact us if you need help determining which of our high-quality lubricants is the best fit for you.
Most consumers would be shocked to learn that most popular personal lubes on the market are not healthy despite FDA approval. One very popular lubricant was measured as having an osmolality rating of 10,300, which is more than 30 times the body's normal levels. It was shown to increase the risk of herpes transmission more than seven times when tested on rodents. Another popular lubricant was shown to accelerate HIV transmission, while others were shown to cause significant tissue damage.
Beware Of Lubricant Myths & Hype
In addition, to unhealthy lubricants, there are a lot of bloggers and websites that provide inaccurate information and downright conspiracy theories when it comes to lubricants. Thus, if you spend time reading about lubes on the internet, make sure you listen to sources that value science and facts over cynical hype and edgy nonsense.
Examples of such lubricant myths are that oil lubricants break down silicone sex toys. Common sense alone would tell you that silicone is used in kitchen utensils and exposed to all kinds of oils and does not break down. Such claims are seriously nonsensical. This type of misinformation is often seen by alarmists who take their misguided opinions and present them as facts despite no validated evidence to prove their claims.
Another myth on a popular website was promoting the use of lubricants that contain parabens claiming that it was paranoia to be concerned about them while at the same time acknowledging that they could be unhealthy. Never mind that entire countries have banned them, and many studies show they cause harm. Even if one day we find out that all the studies were wrong, why would you take such risks when there are paraben-free lubricants that are of a higher quality and cost the same? This kind of reckless misinformation could actually cause harm to people, and it is troublesome.
Ensuring The Right Lubricant For You
This Lubricant Guide will take you through the most important things to know about personal lubricant ingredients and other factors so that you can make the best choices for your health. While you should always review any sexual health concerns with your physician, keep in mind that most physicians are not typically educated about personal lubricants. It is not uncommon for doctors to use surgical or medical lubricants that contain parabens and potent bacteriostatic agents for their medical exams. Thus, you may want to reference this article when discussing what is right for you to address specific health concerns.
Why Use Lubricants?
Lubricants prevent injury, provide comfort, and can aid in balancing pH levels and more. To explore more reasons why people use personal lubricants, check out our Why Use Lubricants Guide.
How To Use Lubricants
In addition to this article, we have put together a guide to review what lubricants you should use on specific sex toy materials and various parts of your body, how to apply them, and wash them off. We also cover common mistakes people make and how to use your lubricants in the healthiest way possible. Learn more through our How To Use Lubricants Guide.
When exploring lubricants, one of the most significant factors to consider is osmolality. This determines how it interacts with your body. If the osmolality level is not ideal, you can have a lubricant that can cause increased rectal or vaginal dryness and health concerns.
Osmolality is the measurement of how much lubricant interacts with your cells and body fluids. The greater the lubricant concentration that dissolves into your cells and bodily fluids, the higher the osmolality.
Based on osmolality, lubricants can be either iso-osmotic, hyper-osmotic, or hypo-osmotic. The best lubricants are iso-osmotic and will comfort your body during penetration by providing equal osmotic pressure when it rests against your vaginal or anal tissue.
If the osmolality level is too low (hypo-osmotic), then a lubricant will provide too much water to the cells, which may cause them to burst. This can cause damage to sperm and is particularly important to consider when trying to conceive.
If the osmolality level is too high (hyper-osmotic), then your lubricant may try to pull water from your cells. The lubricant can feel extra slippery when this happens, but that is because it is taking extra moisture from you in an unhealthy manner. When it has taken all the moisture from your cells, the cells will slough off and leave the mucus membranes (epithelium) of the vagina or rectum more vulnerable. This can increase the risks of STI transmission and the dangers of immunocompromised people getting infections in general. It's particularly unhealthy for people with compromised immune systems, including diabetes, cancer, COVID, and other health conditions. It is why using a quality iso-osmotic lubricant can be so important.
Having a healthy pH level in a personal lubricant is essential for vaginal and anal health. It can impact your susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, bacterial infections and affect your ability to become pregnant. The standard pH scale is from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Personal lubricants range in pH levels anywhere from 2 – 7. Anything above 7.0 is alkaline; anything below 7.0 is considered acidic, which helps maintain healthy bacteria levels.
The normal vaginal pH range is typically 3.8 and 4.5 but can get as high as 7 depending on the time of a woman's menstrual cycle, with the highest pH level beginning during ovulation to be more sperm-friendly as sperm thrives at a 7.2 - 8 pH level. The pH of a trans women's neovagina (post-vaginoplasty) is on average about 5.8; and ranges from 5.0–7.0.
If lubricants are too acidic, they can contribute to discomfort, such as burning sensations. If the pH level is too alkaline, it may increase your chances of becoming irritated, itching, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis.
If you test a lubricant inside your vagina or rectum, you will get different results each time as they interact with your constantly fluctuating biological acid levels. However, getting a healthy lubricant close to your normal range will not make much difference with regard to health. The normal pH range for the rectum is 7 – 8.
The problem for consumers is that many lubricants are outside of the range of the normal vaginal and rectal pH levels, and thus, assuming that you will find a healthy lubricant in any one you choose would be erroneous.
Special Considerations For Vaginal pH Levels
Vaginal pH levels constantly fluctuate with hormonal changes and are influenced by factors such as menstrual cycles, perimenopause, and menopause. Other examples that can impact vaginal pH levels are medications, surgery, chemotherapy, and birth control. When vaginal pH levels rise to a pH of 6 or 7, it can create a higher susceptibility to infections. It can also mean that more acidic lubricants can cause a burning sensation. Using a lubricant that is more in line with the body's pH levels may be helpful should this occur.
The pH Levels Of Our Lubricants
We only carry lubricants that provide conducive pH levels for the vagina and rectum, so anything you purchase from us will be within range. This means that the vaginal lubricants we carry range from 4.1 – 7 pH levels to match the natural vaginal environment. The anal lubricants we have range in 7 – 8 pH to also mimic the natural pH of the rectum.
Not All Lubricants Are Healthy
There are many problem lube ingredients such as diazolidinyl urea (a formaldehyde-based skin-conditioner that increases viscosity in silicone-based lubes), which can cause allergic reactions such as dermatitis or preservatives such as parabens, which may alter estrogen levels, heighten allergic reactions, decrease sperm count, cause problems to fetal development for pregnant women, and spur the growth of skin cancer.
As lubricants are directly absorbed into the body through mucus membranes of the vagina and rectum without being filtered through your liver and kidneys, like food, you should be careful what you use. That is why we are so passionate about educating you on choosing the healthiest and safest lubricant ingredients.
Guide To Lubricant Incompatibility Symptoms
May indicate that the pH of the lubricant is too low for you.
May indicate that the pH of the lubricant you are using is too high.
Signs Of Vaginal Infection:
Unusual vaginal discharge, itching or irritation, painful urination, and pain during intercourse may indicate that the lubricant is hyper-osmotic.
Learn more about natural lubricants through our Organic Lubricants Guide.
Which Lubricants Are The Healthiest?
Most lubricant manufacturers do not provide ratings of their osmolality or pH levels, let alone all of their ingredients; thus, it can be challenging to know which ones are ideal to use. That is why we review the ingredients, osmolality, and pH ratings of all our lubricants to ensure that they are healthy and closely match your vaginal and rectal pH and osmolality levels. This way, you can relax knowing that we have taken the guesswork out of all the research for you and that you can safely shop all of our lubricants.
Types Of Lubricants
The four types of lubricants include water-based, silicone, oil, and hybrids. There are pros and cons of all lubricants, and there are situations where you should not use certain types. Our graph below quickly outlines what type of sex toy or safe sex product material you can use for every kind of lubricant.
Lubricant Slickness Levels
All four types of personal lubricants have different slickness levels. Water-based lubricants are the least slick, while silicone is the most. However, beyond how slippery a lubricant is and what makes it ideal for you, there are other factors to consider.
Water-based lubes are water-soluble and are the most commonly used personal lubricants. They also feel closest to the natural lubrication the body produces. They come in variable thicknesses and can provide safety as they are compatible with most condoms (with the exception of some polyurethane condoms), sex toys and are easy to wash off. They also typically do not stain sheets and clothing.
It is widely said on the internet that all waterbased lubricants are always compatible with polyurethane condoms. This is incorrect. It depends on the brand of the waterbased lubricant. For example, Aloe Cadabra, Good Clean Love lubricants are only compatible with natural rubber latex and polyisoprene condoms and are not compatible with polyurethane condoms. Make sure to check with each brand to determine if they are compatible before using.
Water-based lubes absorb into the skin and evaporate, so they tend not to be as slick as oil or silicone lubricants and dry out more easily. This can mean reapplying them more frequently; however, they may be the safer choice if using condoms, dental dams, and sex toys. Furthermore, they cannot be used during sex in water because they will wash off in the water of a hot tub, shower, bath, etc.
Water based lubricants typically have more ingredients than other types of lubes and require a preservative to make it safe for use. Some preservatives can irritate and even be harmful, while others are more gentle on the body. It is essential for those with sensitivities to inspect the ingredients to ensure that they will not cause irritation or compromise a weakened immune system.
We highly recommend water-based lubes because of their versatility and because we carry only those that are ideal osmolality, pH balanced, and have high-quality ingredients with your health in mind.
Silicone lubes are popular because they are very slick, long-lasting, and do not have osmolality issues as the body does not absorb them like water-based lubricants. They also do not require preservatives, and most silicone lubricants contain similar ingredients and are identical in thickness.
Silicone lubricants may damage silicone, rubber, and TPE/TPR sex toys. As a sex toy degrades, it can easily harbor bacteria and may lead to an infection. Silicone lubes are safe to use on sex toys made of hard materials such as hard plastic, glass, aluminum, ceramic, steel, etc.
Whether or not silicone lubricants will damage silicone sex toys depends on the quality of the silicone material used in the toy and that of the lubricant. Most silicone lubricant manufacturers use pharmaceutical-grade, hypoallergenic ingredients, so it typically comes down to the silicone's quality used in the sex toy. High-grade silicone sex toys cured with platinum or peroxide and post-baked may be alright to use with silicone lubricants. However, if a manufacturer indicates that you should not use a silicone lubricant on their product, you should always defer to their instructions.
If there is going to be a chemical interaction from a silicone lubricant on a silicone sex toy, it will happen very fast. The surface will begin feeling sticky or tacky. If you decide you want to try it, do a small patch test first. We recommend using a water-based or oil-based lubricant on any silicone sex toy without causing harm to it. Silicone is prone to swelling if in contact with oil for an extended period, so once you are finished using your oil lubricant on it, you should be sure to clean it.
Silicone lubes are challenging to wash off and don't come off your sheets easily. Silicone lubricants are also more expensive than water-based lubricants; however, you use less of them as they are slicker. They do not taste very good, so using them for oral sex may not be desired. They are typically safe to use on condoms, and most condoms come pre-lubricated with silicone lube already on them. They may not be compatible with polyurethane as some are dependent on brand, not type. Learn more through our guide The Myth About Polyurethane Condoms & Lubricants.
Silicone is also not ideal for use on silicone sex toys because solid silicone sex toys (made from polydimethylsiloxane) can absorb silicone lubricant (dimethicone, dimethylsiloxane) through osmosis. This is why when you insert a silicone sex toy, especially anally, and you use silicone lubricant, it may be quite challenging to remove because the sex toy may grow slightly larger from being exposed to the silicone lubricant.
Silicone Lubricant Health Concerns
Silicone is well known for being hypoallergenic, which means it is highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, there may be some concerns regarding silicone lubricants in relationship to autoimmune responses in the body (i.e., silicone-reactive disorder) much in the same way silicone breast implants are linked to in such medical issues.
In 1992, the FDA banned silicone breast implants over possible health risks of autoimmune disorders and other health concerns. Silicone breast implants have long since returned to the marketplace as they have been deemed safe.
However, silicone breast implants have since been connected with autoimmune responses referred to as Autoimmune inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA), also known as Breast Implant Illness (BII). While these are not official medical diagnoses, hundreds of thousands of women have come forward indicating that they developed autoimmune issues once they had their silicone breast implants put in. Once they were removed, many of their autoimmune issues went away.
A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding autoimmune issues related to silicone breast implants found that silicones can migrate through the body and induce a chronic inflammatory process. Another study by NIH demonstrated a higher likelihood of autoimmune/rheumatic disorders.
After multiple studies have shown health concerns for silicone breast implants causing autoimmune issues, perhaps a similar reaction could occur with personal silicone lubricants? After all, these silicone lubricants are used in the sensitive mucus membranes of the vagina and rectum. While they may not be absorbed by the body, like breast implants, they are coming into contact with the body internally. We are not aware of any data that silicone lubricants may induce an autoimmune response. According to scientific research and the FDA, they are deemed safe.
Because autoimmune responses from silicone breast implants are more likely to occur in people who have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, then if you have related health issues, you may wish to use caution when using silicone lubricants or be aware of a potential connection on the side of caution.
Hybrid lubricants are made with silicone and water-based blends. They do not require as many preservatives as water based lubricants, but they still need them. They last longer than water-based lubricants but not as long as silicone lubes. The purity of hybrid lubricant ingredients can vary significantly across brands, and the consistency can also vary.
It is widely said on the internet that all hybrid lubricants are always compatible with polyurethane condoms. This is incorrect. It depends on the brand of the hybrid lubricant. Make sure to check with each brand to determine if they are compatible before using.
Because these lubricants contain silicone, they may interact with some silicone sex toys, but they most are considered safe to use with latex and polyisoprene condoms and dental dams.
See more information in our Types Of Lubricants Guide.
Plant-based oil lubricants are the only ones we recommend for use as personal lubricants. Such oils are long-lasting and can comfort skin and improve the elasticity of the mucous membranes of the vagina and rectum. Anything that is petroleum-based such as Vaseline, is not recommended for internal use.
Oil can retain body odors and harbor bacteria if you do not handle it properly and can take longer than water based lubricants to clear out of the vagina or rectum. Because it can more easily harbor bacteria, it is not recommended for people prone to infections such as chronic yeast infections, urinary tract infections, or bacterial vaginosis.
It is important not to use oil lubricant when using sex barriers such as condoms and dental dams made of polyisoprene or latex. They may also not be compatible with polyurethane as some are dependent on brand, not type so make sure to check before using an oil lubricant. Another thing to keep in mind about oil lubricants is that some manufacturers use plastic handles on their sex toys that may be sensitive to oil. Make sure to always check a manufacturer's directions when using their toys, as using specific lubricants on them, such as oil-based ones, may void the manufacturer's warranty.
Coconut oil is a popular personal lubricant because it is a natural oil consisting mainly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). When sold in lubricants, it is typically fractionated coconut oil, which is when the LCTs have been removed so that it does not harden at room temperature, keeping it a pourable oil. Fractionated coconut oil is often used in many cosmetics and personal care products.
When using coconut oil, it is important to note that some people may be allergic to it. Thus, doing a patch test before applying it to the genitals is always a good idea. It is also essential to note that coconut oil is not compatible with latex and some sex toy materials, and like any oil, it can stain sheets and clothing.
Using oil lubricants like coconut oil may increase the risk of STD transmission and are more challenging to wash off. This can also increase the chance of getting a yeast infection or changing the pH of the vagina or rectum to an undesirable level.
Polyurethane Condom Lubricant Compatibility
There is misinformation on the internet about the compatibility of polyurethane condoms which is that they are always compatible with water-based, oil, silicone and hybrid (silicone and water) lubricants. This is not always true and depends on the brand of lubricant that you use.
It is difficult to tell which specific ingredient causes this incompatibility, as sometimes it is not one ingredient but the concurrence of two or more components that create a specific effect of a particular material; hence, for a lubricant to be cleared by the FDA, a lubricant compatibility testing must be performed. For example, tests on various brands of water-based and hybrid lubricants showed that it was not a specific ingredient but a combination that caused a weakening of the condom's chemical structure.
The purpose of the lubricant compatibility testing is to ensure that its interaction with the lubricant will not weaken the condom's chemical structure; therefore, several tests are executed to ensure the condom will not break or burst during its use.
Another reason for this is because polyurethane condoms are thinner and made with a more brittle material. When it comes to examining them for break force, elongation, burst pressure, and volume as a requirement by the FDA, they do not hold up as well as a result of friction. Because it is less forgiving than latex or polyisoprene, it is a condom that does not do as well with thinner lubricants because there is often more friction with them. In addition, aloe-based lubricants tend not to perform as well with polyurethane condoms and should be avoided with them.
This would also apply to female condoms or dental dams made of polyurethane. Lubricants can determine how effective a safe sex barrier will be. That is why it is imperative that should you use lubricants and condoms or other safe sex barriers together, that you always refer to both the lubricant and condoms information for specific directions regarding their brand.
The Healthiest Lubricant Ingredients
Lubricants that use natural ingredients like purified water, plant cellulose, and guar gum are some of the best ingredients. Choosing more natural lubricants also reduces the need for animal testing as these types of ingredients have long been proven.
Lubricant Allergies & Sensitivities
Especially if you have sensitivities, it is always a good idea to read more about lubricant ingredients no matter how healthy they are in general. Also, be aware that some websites will make something sound toxic when it is not, and others glaze over important information you need to know to make an informed decision.
The holistic field is well known for being quick to overreact to anything that states that it contains chemicals, but the truth is that all things we put into our bodies are chemicals. Some are natural; others are synthetic; both can be unhealthy, healthy, or neutral.
Just be aware that as a consumer, many websites try to build up hype to get you to buy something they are selling or create clickbait so they can scare or entice you to their site for ad revenue. Either way, you need to approach things with healthy skepticism and understand the motivation to influence you. Make sure you choose trustworthy sites and professionals.
Lubricant Ingredients You Should Avoid
Ingredients that can make a lubricant unhealthy for vaginal and rectal environments include Nonoxynol 9, Chlorhexidine Gluconate, Petroleum Oils, Polyquaternium-15, Sugars & Sugar Alcohols, Ureas, and Benzocaine.
Considerations For Gluten & Soy Allergies
Celiacs or those with extreme gluten sensitivity may want to avoid the ingredient Oat Beta Glucan as it may trigger an autoimmune response. In addition, you may also want to avoid some lubricants that contain Vitamin E (tocopherols) that are derived from a gluten-containing grain. Some manufacturers derive it from refined wheat germ oil, while other companies do not use this form of Vitamin E or refine the oil to remove gluten. Typically, it is a meager amount, but it should be considered if there is a severe sensitivity. In addition, Vitamin E can also be derived from soy, so if you have soy allergies, it may be something you consider when choosing a lubricant.
There is a lot of concern about preservatives because they can make a product potentially unhealthy, such as those found in the paraben family (e.g., methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben).
Any product that is going to be stored on store shelves needs a preservative to help it last and not go rancid or develop harmful bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. The trick is getting one that is not going to cause health issues for you.
Lubricant Preservatives To Avoid
Diazolidinyl Urea (Synthetic)
Diazolidinyl Urea is an antibacterial compound that creates formaldehyde, which effectively kills bacteria but is a severe irritant to the skin. We do not recommend it nor carry products with it.
This is a known human skin toxicant and allergen that is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative. It is commonly used in water-based lubricants, and it may raise one's risk of HIV transmission.
Typically most people think of phthalates in plastic. Still, they can also be used in personal lubricants in the form of these chemicals: Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and Diethyl phthalate (DEP). These are known endocrine disruptors that are linked to many health concerns, including breast cancer. We do not carry anything that contains phthalates. Learn more about phthalates through our Phthalate Guide.
Chlorhexidine Digluconate (Synthetic)
This preservative is a powerful antiseptic, and while it is not toxic, it is too strong for the vagina or rectum.
Speaking of sweeteners, make sure that you never use something that has sugar in it, in or around the vagina, as it can contribute to a yeast infection. This includes things like whipped cream, chocolate, and honey. This can also include having just had them in your mouth and having the remnants of them in your mouth when you perform oral sex. Also, gum, candy, or mints that have sugar in them that your partner may have recently had in their mouths may also be an increased risk for yeast infections.
These are sugar-free sweeteners and are generally considered harmless. If you have heard that these are not safe, it may be that you heard about the study done on rats in the 1970s that it caused bladder cancer. See our Flavored Lubricant Guide for more education about these.
Rebaudioside A: Refined Stevia Leaf (Plant-based)
Stevia, also called Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant-based sweetener part of the ragweed family). It is considered nontoxic and safe to ingest in small amounts. It may drop blood pressure too low or interact with medications that lower blood sugar, so something to note should that apply.
Other Common Ingredients In Lubes
Sodium Hydroxide (Synthetic)
Sodium Hydroxide is used as a pH adjuster. When mixed with water, it turns from caustic lye to a perfectly safe ingredient. One of the significant factors in formulating healthy lubricants is understanding chemical interactions that change chemical compounds. Just because something through a Google search sounds scary does not mean it is.
This is a weak acid that is used in anti-aging products to reduce wrinkles and really should not be used in lubricants, but apparently, some manufacturers do. We do not recommend it.
It is a mild chemical detergent that kills sperm and has also been found to kill some STD-causing organisms. Nonoxynol 9 is a common ingredient in spermicides and lubricants, previously thought to help reduce the risk of HIV infection. Not only have recent studies proven this untrue, but they've also discovered that Nonoxynol 9 leads to infections, which can help transmit the disease. However, some men and women have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to nonoxynol-9 that may irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina or the male urethra. If irritation occurs, you should discontinue use.
Tocopheryl Acetate (Plant or Animal-based)
Tocopherols are chemical compounds that formulate Vitamin E and are typically quite healthy for you. They are found in sexual lubricants because they are antioxidants and soothing to the skin. They are often derived from corn, soy, seeds, olives, or whole grains. The source from which the Vitamin E is derived is not typically divulged on the product labels, which may prove problematic for some who have allergies to wheat, soy, etc. If you are unable to find out the source of Vitamin E in a personal lubricant and you have allergies or sensitivities to some of its sources, you may want to avoid lubes that contain it.
Sodium Hyaluronate (Synthetic)
The natural version of this is the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid found inside your joints and internal tissues. The synthetic version is sometimes used to address joint pain, but there are many side effects as it is an allergen. It should also not be used in lubricants, but apparently, some manufacturers do. We do not recommend it.
Castor Oil (Plant-based)
This castor bean vegetable oil is hydrating and anti-inflammatory. While it may not be safe to use with some condoms and dental dams, it is a good oil for a personal lubricant.
Benzocaine, Lidocaine, Tetracaine, and Prilocaine (Synthetics)
These local anesthetics have a lot of adverse side effects, so we do not recommend them. The FDA has said consumers should be cautious about using them without medical supervision and that leaving the creams on the skin for long periods or large portions of their bodies can increase health risks. People with heart or severe liver disease are also at higher risk.
Common Lubricant Ingredient Categories
Microbicides are preservatives or spermicides used in lubricants to reduce bacteria and viruses. Examples of microbicides in lubricants are carrageenan, cellulose sulfate, chlorhexidine gluconate, nonoxynol-9, and sodium dodecyl sulfate. Other types of microbicides are surfactants, alcohols, phenols, and acids that can also act as microbicides in lubricants.
Microbicides have been promoted in lubricants to help prevent HIV, HPV, and other STI transmission. Microbicides can kill the good bacteria in the vagina and rectum and lead to infections and yeast overgrowth. One of the more vaginal and rectal-friendly microbicides is carrageenan. However, they have proven to be impractical because of their skin-irritating properties.
Chelating agents (EDTA and Citric Acid) are additives that soften water and bind mineral ions in lubricants.
Petrochemicals In Lubricants
Petrochemicals can be found in many personal lubricant formulations in benzoic acid, benzene, and some surfactants. These can make a personal lubricant hyper-osmotic, which may irritate and increase vulnerability to infections and STIs.
These humectants are used in lubricants to keep the water in the lubes from evaporating (like a water magnet) and increase viscosity. They are also used as preservatives in both lubes and cosmetics. Common humectants are glycerol/glycerin(e), propylene glycol, and lactic acid. More natural humectants are jojoba oil, shea butter, sugar, salt, honey, and aloe vera. Of course, not all natural humectants are ideal for lubricants, especially sugar and honey.
Surfactants In Personal Lubricants
Surfactants (surface active agent) are chemical compounds that decrease the surface tension of the lubricant and can keep it from separating or evaporating. There are natural surfactants that are derived from plants and are typically safe for use. Examples of natural surfactants are sucrose cocoate (from sugar beets), potassium cocoate (from coconut oil), corn glucose, decyl glucoside (from corn or coconuts), etc.
FDA Approval Does Not Mean Healthiest
Personal lubricants have not always been seen as medical devices but are now seen as such and must be cleared by the FDA to sell them commercially. As lubricants enter the bloodstream, their ingredients must now be tested by FDA laboratories to ensure no adverse effects on humans and are classified as either a Class I or a Class II Medical Device.
Keep in mind, just because a lubricant is FDA-approved does not mean it is the healthiest option. That is not to say that there is no value in having lubricants certified through the FDA; however, it is not the last word in what is healthy and what is not.
For example, some FDA-approved lubricants increase the transmission of STIs and are not tested on humans at all before release. In addition, many lubricants that contain harmful parabens are FDA approved yet banned in places such as the UK.
Different Version Lubricants From The Same Brand In Different Countries
One manufacturer with a popular lubricant brand sells a lubricant line that many people were asking us to carry. We chose not to carry it because it contained parabens and have a strict policy about that. However, that same manufacturer sold a paraben-free version in Europe while they sold a paraben version in the USA. When we asked the CEO why they did this, he said it was FDA-approved here. We said that should not matter because parabens are unhealthy enough to be banned in the country where their headquarters is based. We asked why they would give Americans a different, potentially less healthy lubricant formula. There was no answer beyond the FDA approval remark. We politely let him know that we would not carry the paraben lubricant line, but we would consider it if they came out with a healthier paraben-free version like the one they were selling in the UK.
So, unfortunately, there are lubes that have FDA approval as medical devices that have been proven to kill skin cells, dehydrate mucus, and a few that even increase viral activity. Furthermore, if a lubricant is FDA approved, manufacturers do not have to list all of the ingredients on their lubricants which may put you at risk if you have allergies to certain ingredients.
Consumers Are Often In The Dark
It is amazing what consumers do not know about the lubricants and sex toys they buy and how much risk to their health they may take when they purchase low-quality products. It is why we are passionate about making sure that people are educated about sexual products and sell only the healthiest products available. After all, there is nothing more important than your health.
Are All Lubricants FDA Approved?
Beyond natural lubricants such as organic coconut oil, some of the manufacturers of personal lubricants skirt FDA 510(k) clearance by calling them moisturizers which puts them into a different category. This does not necessarily mean they are not healthy lubricants; rather, it may help a good manufacturer avoid a lot of red tape and costly fees.
Lubricants that have been marketed with aphrodisiac-like qualities may have to register it as a drug which has made that type of branding quite rare as the amount of money and testing for that is quite cumbersome for any manufacturer, especially small ones.
Fertility-friendly or Sperm-friendly Lubricants
Currently, there are no lubricants that will increase your chances of getting pregnant, but some lubricants provide a more conducive environment for sperm to thrive. The key to an excellent pregnancy and fertility-friendly lubricant is the pH and osmolality levels, which is why we take great care in providing information about these and only carry lubricants that have optimal levels. Furthermore, lubricants should not have parabens in them as they do not help provide optimal reproductive health.
The most common types of lubricant preservatives are listed below. Learn about them so that you know which ones will be the most healthy for you when you see them in lubricants. Remember that just because something is synthetic does not mean it is unhealthy for you.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes, when natural or synthetic chemicals are tested, they can be perfectly healthy if taken in small doses, but they may be unsafe in high doses. For example, this is true of even the most beneficial of things, such as water. It is possible to drink too much water and cause damage to your body.
Ethylhexylglycerin is a naturally derived preservative and is commonly used in cosmetics. It is generally considered harmless. It may cause minor irritation to the skin and eyes in high concentrations.
Potassium Sorbate (Synthetic) and Citric Acid (Plant-based)
Potassium Sorbate is widely used as a preservative in personal care products as well as food and drinks. It is a tasteless and odorless salt that is synthetically produced from sorbic acid and potassium hydroxide. These are common preservatives generally considered harmless in small quantities and have been well researched for over 50 years. Citric acid is usually regarded as safe, except for those with known allergies or very sensitive skin.
Sodium Benzoate (Synthetic)
Sodium benzoate does not occur naturally, but benzoic acid is found in many plants, including cranberries, plums, apples, cinnamon, and cloves. Sodium Benzoate is an organic sodium salt, a common preservative and antimicrobial agent found in foods and drinks. It is most widely used in acidic foods such as salad dressings, jams, and fruit juices. Low levels have been deemed safe, whereas high levels may cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and allergies.
Used as both a disinfectant and an antiseptic used as a preservative in lubricants but more commonly for skin disinfection before surgery and to sterilize surgical instruments. However, it has been proven to kill three naturally occurring vaginal Lactobacillus types (good bacteria in the vagina). It could, as a result, create an environment where infections are more likely to occur.
Phenoxyethanol is a common preservative in pharmaceuticals, perfumes, insect repellents, dyes, inks, cosmetics, and lubricants. This artificial preservative and stabilizer are considered safe in quantities of less than 1%; however, using several products that contain this glycol ether at the same time might result in over-exposure, and it has been linked to allergies.
Pentylene Glycol (Synthetic)
Pentylene glycol is clear with no odor and a slightly sweet taste. It binds well to water and is often used as a preservative, especially for brands wishing to remain "preservative-free," It has both humectant and antimicrobial effects. Pentylene glycol might cause toxicity in high amounts or lead to skin irritation in people with sensitive skin.
Methylparaben / Propylparaben / Butylparaben (Synthetic)
These are commonly known as parabens and are used as artificial preservatives. They have been linked to a slew of health concerns, as mentioned above.
Paraben Paranoia Or A Legitimate Health Concern?
We have seen some articles online saying that parabens are not that bad for you, claiming that it is nothing more than a marketing gimmick and even going so far as to call it "Paraben Paranoia." So if it is not unhealthy, why are parabens banned in other countries and so many products market themselves as paraben-free?
Examples Of Why Parabens Are Banned In Many Countries
- Studies show that parabens and especially methylparaben, can lead to UV-induced damage of skin cells and disrupt cell growth rates.
- Propyl and butyl parabens have been linked to the reduction of sperm production and testosterone levels.
- Evidence suggests that maternal exposure to isobutylparaben during pregnancy can lead to anxiety and behavioral changes in children.
- Parabens weakly bind to estrogen receptors which can mean that they are endocrine disruptors. Isopropyl- and isobutyl parabens have the most potent of rapid growth potency. Studies also demonstrate that parabens can increase cell proliferation in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells.
Are All Paraben Studies Equal?
Some studies done on the health concerns regarding parabens are well done, while others are weaker, less impressive studies. Some use rats; others are tested on humans. Some studies have small amounts of participants, while others have many. However, the health concerns are high enough that the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety banned them in Europe. In addition, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Cosmetics Committee has also banned them in cosmetics. Thus, if you do not have to use products with parabens, especially in sensitive mucus membrane areas of your body like the vagina, rectum, and mouth, why would you take the chance with your health?
To learn more, read our Paraben-Free Lubricants Guide.
Lubricant Thickeners & Solvents
This is used as a thickener in lubricants and is found in many gluten-free food products. It is viscose, non-toxic, and highly viscose. Most often, it is made from cotton linter or softwood pulp.
This is a thickening agent which is made from wood pulp and is considered safe and nontoxic.
Propylene Glycol (Synthetic) / Propanediol (Plant-based)
Propylene Glycol and Propanediol are the same except that Propylene Glycol is synthetic and Propanediol is plant-based. It is used to both keep the lubricants from separating and helps a lubricant be slicker and more slippery. There have been concerns among lubricant purists that propylene glycol is the same as antifreeze used in automobiles. The truth is that it is not the same thing; a propylene glycol is a form of mineral oil which is an alcohol produced by fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates, whereas antifreeze is ethylene glycol and is toxic to both animals and humans. The World Health Organization, CFTA (Cosmetic, Fragrance, and Toiletry Association), and the FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) list propylene glycol as suitable for cosmetics and lubricants. When used correctly, it is considered safe for human use. Other names for propylene glycol are 1,2-dihydroxy propane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, and trimethyl glycol.
So How Did This Propylene Glycol Rumor Spread?
Propylene glycol used to be added to or even replaced ethylene glycol to reduce costs as a processing aid. It is aliphatic alcohol that, when used with ethylene glycol, lowers the freezing temperature of the water. However, it is essential to note that none of the lubricants we carry contain ethylene glycol; instead, some may contain propylene glycol, which is considered "generally recognized as safe" for use in food and other products.
It should also be noted that propylene glycol comes in different grades for different uses. When in the form of the industrial-grade, propylene glycol is an active ingredient in antifreeze, engine coolants, airplane de-icers, paint, enamel, varnishes, polyurethane materials, and solvents, and it is when it is in the form of this grade that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) cites skin, liver and kidney damage that can result from contact. However, the pharmaceutical grade of propylene glycol is a much less concentrated form and is commonly used as solvents in oral, topical, and injectable drugs and food.
There have been extensive studies on propylene glycol, and it has been shown that it does not cause cancer, nor does it present a carcinogenic risk with low levels of ingestion. However, it should be noted that some people did find that they had allergic reactions to propylene glycol, primarily in the form of skin irritation.
When used in small amounts or used infrequently, it most likely will not cause any adverse health effects. There are, of course, alternatives, so again, should you want to avoid it, you can undoubtedly use personal lubricants that do not contain it.
Optifio H370VF (Synthetic)
This industrial ingredient is not designed for use on your skin yet was found in personal lubricants sold in many stores before FDA regulations changing. Optifio H370VF was created to thicken paints, lacquers and work on latex and vinyl machinery. If you see this ingredient on a lubricant, DO NOT use it!
PEG / PEG 90M / Polyethylene glycol (Synthetic) / Polyoxyethylene (Synthetic)
PEG (polyethylene glycols) compounds are used heavily in the cosmetics industry to soften and thicken. Though generally considered nontoxic, they have a high osmolality level which can dry skin and cause irritation. Some in the medical community have expressed concerns that it may allow toxic impurities into the body if applied to broken skin. We do not carry products with this ingredient, nor do we recommend them.
Glycerin & Yeast Infections
If the glycerin is vegan, ultra-pure, pharmaceutical or medical-grade glycerin, it may be fine to use in a personal lubricant if it has not raised the osmolality to a level that is unhealthy. If it is food-grade glycerin containing fatty acids, then it may more likely contribute to an increase in osmolality and a yeast infection.
However, everywhere you look on sexual websites, you will see bloggers erroneously telling you that glycerin is sugar and should not be in lubricant. It is actually a naturally occurring sugar alcohol compound and the real problem is cheap, substandard glycerin which can create an unhealthy vaginal or rectal environment because it raises osmolality.
What are the different grades of glycerin?
USP glycerine is commercially available and measured through anhydrous glycerol content levels of 96%. 99.0% and 99.5% and above. Pure vegetable glycerin is considered better than animal-based or synthetic alternatives for lubricants.
Medical & Pharmaceutical Grade Glycerin
Medical glycerin is typically used for treating glaucoma and reducing pressure in the eyes. Pharmaceutical glycerin is used as a sweetener in cough syrups, throat lozenges, gel capsules, vaginal and anal suppositories, eardrops, skin creams, and eyewash solutions.
Yeast infections can be caused by many things such as hormones, antibiotics, lack of sexual hygiene, the wrong kind of vaginal hygiene, and using something with sugar in your vagina. However, pharmaceutical and medical grade glycerin is not a sugar, nor is it toxic.
Unless you have verification from a manufacturer, there really is no way to know if your product's glycerin is medical or pharmaceutical grade. In some cases, manufacturers may not have looked into this when they private label. Therefore, unless a manufacturer can verify that it is, you may wish to avoid it.
Now You Are Ready To Explore Lubricants
Now that you have learned about lube ingredients and essential factors in choosing a healthy lubricant, check out all the high-quality and healthy lubricants we can have discreetly delivered to your home.