Penetrative sex is one of the few situations in life where, typically, the raunchier it is, the better. While a vagina can generate a copious dose of moisture on its own, adding a personal lube can level things up instantly — and keep it that way for however long you’d like. But the very lubricant you choose is important not only for its effectiveness and lubricity, but for its close contact with the vagina and its health effects. And according to gynecologists, the kind that’s most likely to maintain the vagina’s healthy bacterial balance is also one that might surprise you: a silicone-based lubricant.
A quick refresher on lubes, silicone-based lube is one of the three common lube categories, along with water-based and oil-based formulas. But while certain people might prefer one of the last two options — for example, opting for water-based options because they’re compatible with silicone sex toys, or oil-based to take advantage of the soothing properties of sunflower oil or even CBD — silicone-based lubes are safer bets for maintaining vaginal health, according to medical professionals, since they don’t require preservatives.
How different lubes can affect vaginal health
Since silicone-based lubricants do not contain water, bacteria have no chance to multiply in them. Therefore, they don’t need a preservative, says OB/GYN Gunvor Ekman Ordeberg, MD, PhD, co-founder of DeoDoc Intimate Skincare. While this is generally good from a skin sensitivity standpoint — no preservative means one less thing to cause a potential reaction — it’s also beneficial for the vaginal microbiome.
First, keep in mind that a happy, pH-balanced vagina is slightly acidic, somewhere between a pH of 3.8 to 4.1. (As a reminder, the pH scale goes from super-acidic 0 to strongly alkaline 14.) If your vaginal pH is imbalanced in both directions, as Lo Bosworth, founder of Love Wellness, previously told Well+Good, “you have it Problem with your vaginal microbiome,” which in turn can allow for unhealthy bacterial growth and infection. And the same goes for the opposite: messing around with this microbiome can lead to a pH imbalance — which is entirely possible Also lead to an infection.
And this is where preservatives in lubes come in: “Preservatives used in water-based formulations can interfere with performance lactobacilli or good bacteria that thrive in the vagina,” says Dr. Ordeberg. “Similarly, oil-based products, be it petroleum, coconut oil or otherwise, can kill these good bacteria.”
“Because silicone-based lubes contain no water, they are pH neutral and do not upset vaginal pH.” – OB/GYN Gunvor Ekman Ordeberg, MD, PhD
Not to mention the pH of a water-based lube self can upset the pH of a balanced vagina (regardless of the bactericidal effects of its preservatives). And with a silicone-based lube, you just don’t take that risk. “Again, since silicone-based lubricants contain no water, they are pH-neutral and do not upset vaginal pH,” says Dr. Ordeberg.
Another benefit: because silicone-based lubes can’t evaporate or dry out over time, they’re also typically free of the additives used in their water-based counterparts to improve lubricity — like glycerin, glycerin, and propylene glycol. “These substances, along with sweeteners and flavors, can increase something called osmolality, which is a measure of how much solvent is dissolved in a formula,” says Dr. Christie Cobb, gynecologist and sexual wellbeing expert. And when a lubricant’s osmolality is higher than that of the vaginal lining – anywhere above 380 mOsm/kg according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – you risk endangering vaginal cells.
As? If you remember learning about osmosis in science class, you might remember that water molecules tend to move from the less concentrated solution to the more concentrated solution across permeable membranes (like the vaginal lining in this case). and to dilute them. So, a lube with high osmolality (aka very concentrated) could suck some of the moisture out of your vaginal cells, causing epithelial tissue damage. “That can cause irritation and make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections,” says Dr. cobb
while not Everyone Water-based lubes have high osmolality (this number isn’t often listed on the bottle, but you can find a list of common ones in the WHO report above), silicone-based lubes bypass this problem entirely. Again, they do not contain water, so there is no risk of water molecules passing through the vaginal membrane.
All that said, you definitely not want to use a silicone based lube if you or a partner are allergic to silicone or combine the lube with a silicone sex toy as it can degrade the toy over time. In these cases, it is better to use a water-based lubricant that has a pH value adjusted to the vagina (look for the number or the word “pH balancing” on the packaging) and only natural preservatives with the seal of approval from organic certification company Ecocert , such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (neither of which are known to increase lube osmolality), says Dr. cobb
And if you already have an oil or water-based lube that you total Love? If you don’t have vaginal dryness, repeated infections (yeast or bacterial vaginosis), or any type of irritation, you can stick with it. However, it is best not to leave any lube in the vagina or on the vulva after sex just to minimize the chance of a possible pH upset. according to dr Cobb, different lubes can certainly work differently on different people, so it’s not a bad idea to try a few until you find your reliable winner.
Ingredients to avoid in any type of lube to maintain vaginal health
Regardless of the base of lube you choose (water, oil, or silicone), it’s wise to stay away from fragrances of any kind. “Perfume in the vagina is like vaginal suicide,” says Dr. Ordeberg. “Many perfumes contain known allergens and alcohol, all of which cause irritation and can potentially dry out the skin.”
It’s also a good call to avoid any products that contain a spermicide like the microbicide Nonoxynol-9, which has been shown to destroy vaginal flora and increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis, as well as parabens, which can cause contact dermatitis in people with sensitive skin.
Both doctors also strongly recommend using only a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved lubricant. “Personal lubricants actually have to be approved by the FDA as medical devices, which is a different matter [and more stringent] process than cosmetics,” says Dr. cobb So when you buy an FDA-approved lubricant, you can rest assured that its benefits outweigh any known risks.
The 5 Best Silicone-Based OB/GYN Lubricants
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