How to choose the right lubricant for vaginal dryness

Sep 03, 2014

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.

Damaging these cells can cause pelvic pain, inflammation, chronic infection and increase your risk of some diseases.

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)
  • 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 activity
  • 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.

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

How to choose the best lubricant for your pelvic floor

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:

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
  • Flavourings
  • Scents

Tips for avoiding unsafe additives and preservatives:

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.
2. Safety of lubricant based 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


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 activity

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


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)
  • 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 condoms


Oil-based lubricants include oils derived from natural materials (e.g. palm or coconut oil, olive oil) and synthesised materials (e.g. baby oil).

Problems associated with oil-based lubricants:

  • Increased risk of yeast infection (Candida or thrush)
  • Difficult to clean therefore more likely to host infection-causing bacteria than silicone or water-based lubricants
  • Cannot be used with latex condoms
  • 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 but women can benefit from using an appropriate personal lubricant with the tips provided above. 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 so find out what works best for you and your needs.

And remember:

  • 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


Do you suffer from vaginal dryness? What lubricant do you use and what works for you? Share your tips with the community bel0w.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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