Trusted for 23+ Years
Types Of Personal Lubricants
Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert
Types Of Lubricants
There are four main categories of personal lubricants: water-based, silicone, hybrid (silicone and water), and oil. Each has pros and cons, and there are sex toys and situations where you should not use specific lubricants. 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
Different types of lubricants have different levels of slickness, and different brands can vary as to what those are as well. The least slick are water-based lubricants, then hybrid, oil, and silicone. There are, of course, important factors to consider beyond slickness, such as compatibility to sex toys, sexual health, and more.
Water-based lubricants are the most popular sex lubricants and are safe to use with latex and polyisoprene barriers used in diaphragms, condoms, and dental dams. Some water-based lubricant brands are not compatible with polyurethane condoms, so check before using them. See our polyurethane condom and lubricant compatibility guide for more information.
We highly recommend water-based lubricants as they are safe to use with ALL sex toys. They vary in thickness and are easy to clean off. They typically do not stain sheets or clothing, and they feel closest to the body's natural lubrication. They are not ideal for use during sex in water, such as baths, showers, and hot tubs, as they wash off easily in water.
Water-based lubricants have the most ingredients of all the lubricants and require a preservative to make them safe to use. Not having one would mean bacteria, fungi, or viruses could grow inside them. Some preservatives are safe to use, and we review these ingredients in great detail in our main Lubricant Guide should you want to learn more.
Water-based lubes are great because of their versatility, and we carry only those that are ideal osmolality, pH balanced, and have the purest ingredients with your sexual health in mind.
Hybrid lubricants typically refer to silicone and water-based lubricants that are combined. They can occasionally refer to silicone and oil-based lubricants, but this is much rarer. When we speak about hybrid lubricants, we are typically referring to those made of silicone and water blends. Because hybrid lubricants contain silicone and silicone lubricants do not require a preservative, they do not require as much as a water-based lubricant, but they may still need them. They are slicker than water-based lubricants but are not as slick as silicone lubricants. How pure a hybrid lubricant's ingredients are will vary from brand to brand, and the thickness (viscosity) consistency also varies.
Many sex toy retailers say that it is safe to use hybrid lubricants on silicone sex toys. The problem with this is that these lubricants contain silicone which may interact with some silicone sex toys, so we recommend following the silicone recommendations (see below).
Hybrid lubricants are considered safe to use with polyisoprene and latex safe sex barriers such as condoms and dental dams. However, they may not be compatible with polyurethane as some are dependent on brand, not type.
Silicone lubricants are long-lasting, slick, and do not have osmolality issues like water-based lubricants. (To learn more about osmolality, see our Lubricant Guide). Silicone lubes do not require preservatives, and most contain similar ingredients and viscosity.
A common rule promoted by many sex toy bloggers and retailers is that silicone sex toys should never be used with silicone-based lubricants and that silicone sex toys should not come into contact with other silicone sex toys. However, we have found neither of these points to be completely accurate. It may depend on the quality of the silicone and the quality of the silicone lubricant. Most silicone lubricants use pharmaceutical-grade ingredients that are hypoallergenic, so it typically will come down to the quality of the silicone used in the sex toy. If a manufacturer indicates that you should not use a silicone lubricant on their product, you should always defer to their instructions.
As for high-grade 100% silicone sex toys such as platinum, and peroxide cured silicone, it may be safe to use a silicone lubricant. If there is a chemical interaction that will occur by using a silicone sex toy and silicone lubricant together, it will happen very quickly, and the sex toy's surface will become tacky feeling and sticky. If you decide to try using a silicone lubricant on a silicone sex toy, do a patch test before applying the lube completely. If you have reservations about trying a patch test, you can always use a water-based or oil-based lubricant on any silicone sex toy without causing harm to it.
Silicone lubes may degrade (damage the material) sex toys made out of some silicone, rubber, and TPE/TPR (elastomer, jelly, Cyberskin, and other skin-like materials). If a sex toy degrades, it will be more likely to harbor bacteria, leading to an increased risk of infections. Silicone lubricants are safe to be used on sex toys made of hard, non-porous materials such as ABS plastic, glass, aluminum, ceramic, steel, etc.
Silicone lubricants, like oil, can be difficult to clean off and may be especially challenging to remove from sheets. (See our Sheet Protectors). To wash silicone lubricants, you can just use soap and water.
Silicone lubricants are typically more expensive than water-based lubricants; however, you will also use less as they are slicker. Silicone lubes don't taste great, so using them for oral sex situations may not be ideal. They are typically acceptable to use with safe sex barriers such as dental dams and condoms, but you should check if you are using polyurethane condoms as those can be based on the brand of lubricant. Most condoms come pre-lubricated with silicone lubricants already on them.
To learn more about the quality of silicone in sex toys, see our guide: Silicone Sex Toys: Is Yours Real?
Possible 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 related to autoimmune responses in the body in the same way that there have been in silicone breast implants. We go into more detail about this possible connection in our Lubricant Guide in the Silicone Lubricant section.
Oil lubricants that are plant-based are the only ones recommended for personal lubricants. These oils can comfort skin, are long-lasting, and may help to improve the elasticity of the vaginal and rectum mucous membranes. Petroleum-based lubricants are not recommended for internal use (e.g., Vaseline), nor are lubricants that contain other oils, fat, or greases such as baby oils or lotion, hand or body lotions, cooking oils, or oily cosmetics like cold cream.
Do not use oil lubricants when using safe sex barriers such as condoms and dental dams made of polyisoprene or latex, as they will break the material down and make them unsafe to use. They may not also be compatible with polyurethane as some are dependent on lubricant brand, not type. It is also not safe to mix the sex toy materials TPR or TPE elastomers or PVC with oil lubricants as it can cause the material to break down. However, using silicone, metal, glass, ceramic, and ABS plastic is typically acceptable.
Also, be aware that some sex toy manufacturers use plastic handles on their sex toys that may be sensitive to oil, causing damage to them if used. Make sure to check the manufacturer's directions when you use their adult toys to avoid voiding the manufacturer's warranty.
Oils for massage are different than oils for lubricants as they may contain fragrances such as essential oils, which should not be used in your mouth, vagina, or rectum. If you are going to use an oil lubricant, make sure it is strictly plant-based oil designed to be used as a lubricant or is a single ingredient such as coconut oil that is unrefined and organic.
Coconut oil, in particular, is a well-promoted oil to use vaginally, particularly when it is extra virgin and unrefined. While refined coconut oil still contains valuable medium-chain fatty acids, the damage done to many nutritional factors such as the polyphenols during the processing and refining process means that the unrefined oil stands out as a healthier choice. There are also liquid coconut oils that have the solidified fat removed so that it is non-comedogenic (does not cause blocked pores), but keep in mind that liquid coconut oil is the most refined version, and it will no longer have the polyphenols intact.
When sold in lubricants, it is typically fractionated coconut oil, which is when the long-chain triglycerides (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.
Removing the LCTs from coconut oil means that it is then primarily medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are metabolized differently and are considered to have health benefits, such as improving healthy gut bacteria. However, many of the healthy fat and antioxidants are removed because the LCTs are removed.
Oil lubricants can easily retain body odors and harbor bacteria, so it is not recommended for sensitive people prone to urinary tract infections, chronic yeast infections, or bacterial vaginosis. They can also increase the risk of spreading STDs so if that is of concern, you may wish to avoid them.
Many websites will erroneously tell you that all polyurethane condoms are always compatible with water-based, oil, silicone and hybrid (silicone and water) lubricants. However, it actually depends on the brand of lubricant that you use.
It is not necessarily one ingredient that makes it incompatible. Tests on various brands of hybrid and water-based lubricants show that it is often combinations of ingredients that weaken a condom's chemical structure.
This also applies to female condoms or dental dams made of polyurethane. Lubricants can determine how a safe sex barrier functions. That is why it is crucial to always refer to the lubricant and condoms you use for specific directions regarding their brand.
Other Natural Lubricants
We promote the use of natural lubricants for the most healthy options, but things that are healthy to eat may not be beneficial to put in the vagina or rectum. Eating healthy fruits and vegetables, which are processed through your body's natural filters like your gallbladder, kidneys, and liver, is excellent for your health. However, putting them into your vagina or rectum, where they are directly absorbed into your bloodstream, may cause adverse health issues depending on what is being used.
Just because something is natural does not mean it cannot cause harm if used inappropriately. Furthermore, just because something sounds like it is holistic does not mean it is healthy. There is a lot of hype and misinformation on the internet. We always encourage you to trust only sites that value scientific research over scare tactics, dishonest health claims, or even greenwashing. We value your health and the environment too much to waste your time with things that are not true, let alone something that could cause harm to you.
A perfect example of a lubricant that sounded healthy and was promoted on Netflix's show "Grace and Frankie" is yam lube. Make sure to check out our helpful guide on Yam Lube to better understand if it is actually good for you.
When using electrostimulation products, using a suitable gel will increase the strength of the electrostimulation by as much as 40%, as the electrostim gels are designed to lower skin resistance and are conductive. We carry only paraben-free electrostimulation gels (estim gels). If you opt not to use a gel, you can use water-based lubricants (without glycerin) as an alternative; however, keep in mind that it will not conduct the stimulation like an electrode gel. Please make sure that you NEVER use any lubricant with silicone, glycerin, or mineral oil with an electrostimulation product as its conductivity will be affected, and it may eventually lose all conductive properties.
Vaginal Tightening Creams
Vaginal tightening creams or gels are often marketed as a quick way to tone the vaginal walls to promote vaginal tightness. However, tissue shrinkage is so minimal or non-existent that it is not worth your time or money. In most cases, it is a placebo effect or too subtle to notice. Furthermore, they can be hazardous to your vaginal health.
Some of the vaginal tightening gels and lubricants use high-quality, natural ingredients. However, just because they are using healthier ingredients does not mean that they can not dry out the mucus membrane of the vaginal lining. This drying out can cause increased sensitivity and microtears of the vaginal wall. For all of the reasons above, we do not carry vaginal tightening products nor recommend them.
Instead, we recommend using pelvic floor exercises which you can do yourself or with a Kegel Exerciser. Read more through our helpful guides: How To Do Kegel Exercises, How To Use Kegel Weights, and Does Vagina Size Matter?
Warming, Cooling & Stimulating Lubricants
There are three main times of lubricants that provide added sensation when used; warming, cooling, and stimulating. Keep in mind that lubricants are different than clitoral gels and should be applied differently. Warming, cooling, and stimulating lubricants are designed to be used as would any other lubricant. However, clitoral gels are designed to be used in tiny amounts just on the clitoral area. For more information about lubricant application, please see our How To Properly Use Lubricants Guide.
The best quality warming, cooling, and stimulating lubricants use ingredients such as peppermint, cinnamon, capsaicin, and menthol to give them their stimulating sensations. Keep in mind that these ingredients can irritate the skin of sensitive people if used often or in large amounts. That is why consumers should always do small patch tests on their skin before applying them to their genitals because no matter how high quality or natural the ingredients are, they can cause those with sensitivities or allergies to have an unwanted reaction from them. If you decide to use them, do so sparingly, don't use them often, and should you experience any irritation, discontinue use immediately.
Flavored lubricants can make oral sex play more enjoyable. They typically are water-based, although some are oil-based. Flavored lubricants cannot contain sugar or other sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, etc., or else they can contribute to yeast infections. This means that all flavored lubricants must contain sugar-free sweeteners to be healthy for the vaginal environment.
The sweeteners contained in sugar-free lubricants are typically stevia, sucralose, or saccharine. Of these, stevia is the only natural sweetener; however, synthetic sweeteners have gotten a bad rap unnecessarily due to bad press and misinformation and are not unhealthy. While we are a holistic company and love promoting natural products, we feel strongly that we have an ethical responsibility to get the science right and not spread false information. There are far too many people who tear apart perfectly healthy options, all based on not fully understanding things, bothering to get the facts, or understanding the context of studies.
For example, saccharine got a bad reputation based on one study done in the 1970s where rats were given insane amounts of it and developed bladder cancer. It turns out that it does not affect humans that way, nor would we ever consume that amount. Yet the bad reputation persists, and we will not be part of a smear campaign against something that is not harmful just because it would fit our image. Our agenda is to be truthful and educate to empower people, not create hysteria around inaccurate information. Thus, while we carry flavored lubricants with natural sweeteners like stevia, we also offer those with safe synthetic ones.
On that note, this is an excellent time to talk about natural ingredients not always being the best option. Just because something is natural does not mean it cannot cause harm, and just because something is synthetic does not mean it will. Natural ingredients can cause harm to people just as synthetic ones can. Furthermore, some natural things can be healthy in small amounts but can cause adverse health problems if taken in large quantities or in specific ways.
While we will always promote the most natural, healthy products available, we also want to make sure you are educated on how to best use them or when to avoid them because nothing is perfect. For example, essential oils are natural and can be great for health when used correctly; however, they should not be used vaginally or rectally. Some people are spreading holistic approaches that are actually causing harm to people—promoting things like using the essential oil tea tree to treat thrush and vaginal odors. The problem is that tea tree oil can also kill good bacteria that the vagina needs as well as cause scarring, burning, and pain.
As for natural sweeteners in lubricants, stevia is an excellent sweeter and is considered nontoxic and safe to ingest in small amounts. However, it may drop blood pressure too low in some people or interact with medications that lower blood sugar, so if you have related health concerns, it may be a sweetener you use in small amounts or avoid.
Moisturizing lubricants are typically used for vaginal dryness, as they are absorbed into the skin to help moisturize the area. One of the best ingredients for vaginal dryness is aloe, which all of our vaginal moisturizers contain.
Vaginal moisturizers are meant to be used daily, whereas lubricants are designed for sexual activity. Moisturizers are less thick and may not provide enough comfort during penetration. The vagina absorbs them and discards what it does not need, so it may be a good idea to wear a panty liner or menstrual cup to catch any excess that comes out when using them.
Anal lubricants have a different pH level than vagina lubricants and provide a thick and long-lasting coating. The normal pH range for the rectum is 7 – 8, whereas the normal vaginal pH range is 3.5 – 7, depending on the time of a woman's menstrual cycle. Thus, if you use a lubricant for anal play, it should specifically be an anal lubricant to have optimal rectal pH levels and health.
Thicker lubricants are more ideal for anal penetration, as the rectal walls are thinner than the walls of the vagina. Using an anal lubricant properly can reduce the chances of tears or abrasions inside the rectum. Because abrasions increase your risk of contracting an STI, it is encouraged for safer sex.
Fertility Lubricants For Pregnancy
Lubricants can adversely affect sperm, so choosing a fertility-friendly lubricant is vital if you are trying to conceive. Lubrication can reduce the ability of sperm to move easily, and most lubrication, including saliva, can slow sperm movement. A sperm-friendly lubricant will be hydroxyethylcellulose-based as these do not inhibit sperm mobility and are similar to vaginal mucus. The fertility lubricant that we most recommend is Good Clean Love BioGenesis Fertility Lubricant.
Sex Toy Cleaners
While they are not lubricants, sex toy cleaners are important to mention because if they are not properly cleaned off your sex toys, they can mix with your lubricant and cause irritation. Thus, we encourage you to learn how to clean your sex toys properly so that no residue of sex toy cleaner remains on your sex toy.
See our guide on How To Clean Sex Toys.
Choosing the best lubricant for your health, sexual activity, and comfort is easy when you shop with us, as all of our lubricants are heavily researched and evaluated for the best quality ingredients with your health in mind. However, we understand that it can still feel overwhelming to choose the right one for you so, please feel free to contact us should you have any questions or concerns, as we are happy to assist you.