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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kelly Sammis, PT, CLT

Not All Lubes Are Created Equal.

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

Practicing safe sex doesn’t just refer to limiting sexual partners or using protection in the form of a male or female condom…it also includes protecting our most sensitive body parts from chemicals and irritants that can be found in popular lubricants on the market. While personal lubricant can make sex easier, less painful and more pleasurable, we should educate ourselves on what ingredients are in each brand of lube. This is especially important for those who may already be experiencing pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, and/or are prone to pelvic infections and inflammation.

We assume that most lubricants on the market are safe, however lubricants can contain an array of harmful chemicals and irritants. Some of these irritants can serve as a food source for microbes and lead to things like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections. Further, while the specific chemicals themselves might be okay for use in brake fluid and paint, are they really okay for personal use? A good rule of thumb is that you should not put anything in your vagina, in your rectum or on your penis (as this can be transferred to the vagina or rectum of your partner) that you wouldn’t consider eating. While that is likely thought provoking (and maybe slightly gross) for some of my readers, let me explain why…

The vagina and anus, like the inside of your mouth, are composed of mucous membranes. These are semi-permeable tissues that don’t have a protective layer like your skin does and thus these membranes can secrete and absorb fluids much quicker. So what does that mean? It means that the vaginal and rectal tissues absorb chemicals and drugs as easily as those delivered by mouth…so if you wouldn’t eat a product that could contain chemicals that are found in antifreeze, I wouldn’t allow them anywhere near your genitalia.

What is in this stuff?

While it’s possible that the concentration of these chemicals is low enough to be safe to use by FDA standards, the safety of long term use and exposure is unknown. Better safe than sorry, right? Here are a few of the many ingredients that can be found in common lubricants that you should know about and should potentially avoid:

Glycerin: can contribute to an overgrowth of yeast which can cause yeast infections secondary to the fact that it’s a metabolic byproduct of sugar.

Parabens: a group of chemicals used as preservatives and fungicides to extend shelf-life that can mimic estrogen and disrupt hormone balance.

Petroleum or petroleum-based ingredients: can alter the pH of the vagina which can lead to a higher chance of infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Propylene Glycol: an ingredient in brake fluid and antifreeze that can contribute to vaginal and/or rectal irritation.

Chlorhexidine Gluconate: an antibacterial that can contribute to irritation or inflammation in the perineal tissues and may be toxic to mucous membranes.

Hydroxyethylcellulose: an antibacterial agent that is created by combining dimethyl sulfoxide and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde?! Often found in paint and jet fuel, this is a highly toxic cancer-causing agent that can damage the body’s neurological connectors.

This should be enough to encourage you to do your due diligence researching your lube and it’s ingredients before buying and using it. An easy way to learn about the ingredients is to take a look at the ingredients list on the tube or bottle and check that ingredient’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which will inform you of it’s potential hazards.

OK, how do I pick the right lubricant?

First, it’s important to know that lubricant comes in four basic categories: water-based, silicone-based, plant-based and oil-based. Water based lubricants are very common and can be reapplied as needed as they have a tendency to dry out. They are water-soluble and therefore incompatible with sexual activities that involve water. Oil based lubes can degrade latex, so they should not be used with latex condoms. They can also clog the pores of the skin and can contribute to infection. Silicone lubricants, while compatible with condoms and water-related sexual activities, are not compatible with silicone sex toys. Silicone lubricants can damage these toys and make them unsafe for use. Plant based lubricants are a great alternative as they typically include organic, vegan or natural ingredients.

For my clients who have difficulty with recurring infections, vulvodynia or sensitivities of the perineal skin, I typically recommend a water or plant based lubricant that is glycerin free, paraben free and free of petroleum products.

Have additional questions? Send me a message and we can discuss!

To health + wellness for your pelvis,


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