Are you troubled by vaginal irritation, discomfort or repeat infection?
Maybe you’re not using the best lubricant for your pelvic floor health!
You may be surprised to learn that some ingredients commonly used in personal lubricants damage the cells lining the vagina and the rectum.1
Damaging these cells can cause pelvic pain, inflammation, chronic infection and increase your risk of some diseases.
Read on now to learn how to choose the best lubricant ingredients for your pelvic floor health:
- Benefits of using a personal lubricant
- Problems caused by unsafe lubricant ingredients
- How to choose the best lubricant for your pelvic floor
Benefits of using a Personal Lubricant
Personal lubricant is used to reduce friction between moving surfaces. This includes your own tissues rubbing together as you move.
Using the best lubricant for your needs can help:
- Manage vaginal dryness and improve comfort
- Post-operative return to intimacy after prolapse surgery or hysterectomy
- Decrease pelvic pain – including painful intercourse (dyspareunia)2
- Prevent abrasion or tearing of vaginal and anal tissues
- Improve comfort inserting intra-vaginal or rectal medications e.g. pessary medications (anal or vaginal)
- Improve ease of insertion of medical devices e.g. vaginal dilators, catheter, pelvic exercisers
- Prevent condoms tearing or slipping out of position
- Improve comfort and enjoyment of sexual activity4
Problems Caused by Unsafe Lubricant Ingredients
Unfortunately you can’t assume that your lubricant is safe for your pelvic floor. Regulating bodies such as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) don’t currently require lubricant testing on humans. The research into lubricant safety is currently lacking despite its widespread use.3
Some of the pelvic floor problems caused by some commonly used lubricant ingredients and additives include:
- Cell damage where the cells lining the vagina or rectum become damaged, shrivel up and fall off the surfaces leaving exposed tissue
- Allergic reaction including vulval redness, itching, discharge and pain
- Bladder infection where bacteria are hosted by the lubricant near the urine tube
- Vaginal infection (bacterial vaginosis) where bacteria flourish when the vaginal acidity is altered
- Yeast infection (Candida or thrush) involving fungal infection when the natural vaginal flora is changed
- Chronic vaginal infections can cause fertility problems if left untreated
- Pelvic pain and increased pelvic floor muscle tension can be caused by underlying skin/tissue problems
With so many different lubricants on the market, how do you choose the best lubricant to avoid tissue damage, infection and allergy?
It’s important to read the label to know the ingredients, additives and preservatives, especially if you are prone to vaginal irritation and if you regularly use lubricant.
There is definitely no one ideal lubricant for everyone – women have different needs and different pelvic floor health issues.
Lubricant ingredients to consider when choosing the best lubricant for your needs are:
- Lubricant additives and preservatives
- Lubricant base ingredients – water, silicone, oil or petroleum are the most common lubricant bases.
1. Lubricant Additives and Preservatives Requiring Caution
There are numerous additives and preservatives used in formulating lubricants. Some are harmless, others require caution.
Additives are used in lubricants for many reasons; often to heighten sensation and add a special ‘benefit’ to the product.
If you are prone to vaginal irritation or infection these are some of the additives used in lubricants to be aware of:
- Alcohols e.g. acetate
- Stimulants e.g. menthol
- Warming agents e.g. Propylene Glycol
- Spermicides e.g. Nonoxynol-9
Tips for Avoiding Unsafe Additives:
Read your labels and choose plain natural lubricants without the added bells and whistles (i.e. scents, flavouring, antiseptics)
Plant-based additives can have the potential to cause vaginal irritation.
Preservatives are antibacterial agents often used in water-based lubricants to prevent bacterial growth.
Preservatives have the potential to sensitize tissues which become more sensitive with repeated use and cause tissue irritation1
- Parabens (identified by their names ending in “paraben” e.g. Butylparaben, Methylparaben)
- Sorbic acid
- Benzoic acid
Tips for Avoiding Preservatives in Lubricants:
- Silicone-based lubricants are often preservative-free
- Choose water-based personal lubricants labelled paraben free
2. Safety of Lubricant Base Ingredients
A. Water-Based Lubricant Ingredients
Water-based lubricants have generally been considered one of the safer choices of lubricant. They usually consist of water with the addition of glycerin, polymer and antibacterial agents.
Benefits of Water-Based Lubricant:
- Readily cleaned making them less likely to host infection-causing bacteria compared with other lubricants
- Less likely to cause painful symptoms with sexual activity than silicone lubricant4
- Suitable for use with latex condoms
Tips for Using Water-Based Lubricants
- Reapply water-based lubricant for long duration use since it evaporates and is not long lasting
- Hybrid lubricants consisting of a water-base with a small amount of silicone can improve longevity of use thereby protecting tissues from abrasion
- If you are prone to yeast infections, choose glycerol-free water-based lubricant since glycerol may promote yeast infection (thrush)
- If you are prone to allergy or vaginal infection avoid water-based lubricants with known irritant additives and preservatives
B. Silicone-Based Lubricant Ingredients
Silicone-based lubricants are formulated from a small number of ingredients and don’t contain water. They usually contain Dimethicone (silicone oil).
Benefits of Silicone-Based Lubricant
- They don’t usually contain preservatives (parabens)
- More durable than water-based lubricants so protect for longer duration use than water-based lubricants
- Safe for use with latex condoms
- Don’t typically cause skin irritation or allergy
- Don’t usually cause adverse symptoms when used for sexual activity4
Tips for Using Silicone-Based Lubricants
- Silicone lubricants are more difficult to clean than water-based lubricants – wash off using warm water and avoid washing off the vulva with soap
- Avoid silicone lubricants containing known irritant additives
- Avoid using silicone lubricants with silicone coated pelvic exercisers as they cause surface erosion
C. Petroleum-Based Lubricant Ingredients
Petroleum-based lubricants are thick man made substances derived from petroleum e.g. Vaseline (petroleum jelly), KY Jelly. Petroleum-based lubricants can increase the risk of vaginal irritation or infection.
Problems Associated with Petroleum-Based Lubricants:
- Increased risk of bacterial vaginosis (bacterial infection in vagina)5
- Potential to cause tissue vaginal irritation and allergy
- Difficult to clean and therefore host infection causing bacteria on the skin
- Cannot be used with latex condoms1
D. Oil-Based Lubricant Ingredients
Oil-based lubricants include oils derived from natural materials (e.g. palm or coconut oil, olive oil) and synthesized materials (e.g. baby oil).
While the natural oils may not contain additives or preservatives there are some potential problems associated with oil-based lubricants:
- Increased risk of yeast infection (Candida or thrush)5
- Difficult to clean therefore more likely to host infection-causing bacteria than silicone or water-based lubricants
- Cannot be used with latex condoms1
- Synthetic oil-based lubricants may contain additives that increase the likelihood of irritation or allergy.
Main Points for Choosing the Best Lubricant Ingredients
- Research into personal lubricant safety is lacking
- Women can often benefit from using an appropriate personal lubricant
- Some ingredients in personal lubricants can cause damage and erosion of surface cells lining the vagina and anus
- There is no one best lubricant for all women
- Read the label of your lubricant
- Avoid lubricants containing known irritant additives and preservatives
- Choose paraben and glycerol-free water based lubricants
- Choose additive-free silicone-based lubricants
- Avoid oil or petroleum-based lubricants
1 World Health Organization (2012) Advisory note: Use and procurement of additional lubricants for male and female condoms: WHO/UNFPA/FHI360
2 Sutton K, Boyer S, Goldfinger C, Ezer P, and Pukall C (2012) To Lube or Not to Lube: Experiences and Perceptions of Lubricant Use in Women With and Without Dyspareunia. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9:pp 240–250.
3 Geibel S. (2013) Condoms and condiments: compatibility and safety of personal lubricants and their use in Africa. Journal of the International AIDS Society,16:18531.
4 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. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 202–212.
5 Brown J, Hess K, Brown S, Murphy C, Waldman A, Hezareh M (2013) Intravaginal Practices and Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis and Candidiasis Infection Among a Cohort of Women in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology: Volume 121, Issue 4, pp773-780.