Lube can be a lifesaver in the bedroom. But if you pick the wrong one, it can be seriously harmful to your health. Many of the best-selling varieties contain some of the same ingredients that are also used in antifreeze, brake fluid, and even oven cleaner, says Wendy Strgar, founder of Good Clean Love, a sexual health company that also makes lube.
And those chemicals might throw off the natural salt balance and pH in the vagina, putting you at a higher risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis.
Luckily, not all lubes are created equal, and there are plenty of natural—and effective—alternatives. Here are the four scariest ingredients to steer clear of.
Glycerin, a sugar alcohol, increases the osmolality of the lube (a technical way to describe the measure of how much of one substance has been dissolved in another substance). A high level of glycerin isn’t good, says Strgar. Too much of this sugar alcohol can lead to bacterial growth and unpleasant side effects like yeast infections and UTIs.
Try: Sinclair Select Organic Intimate Arousal Balm. It contains organic peppermint oil to enhance sensitivity and increase blood flow, and organic avocado oil and shea butter to keep things slippery. Fun fact: Each year the Sinclair Institute donates over a third of their profits to DKT International, an organization that has provided millions of men and women with family health and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
PETROCHEMICALS LIKE PROPYLENE GLYCOL, POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL, AND PETROLEUM
“Most flavoured or warming sensation lubricants are made with petrochemicals,” which are chemical substances derived from petroleum, and may be found in products like antifreeze, says Strgar. “There is a common misperception about warming lubes, which is that it is sexy to feel burning, but good sex should never burn,” she says. “True arousal causes engorgement and a natural warming of sexual organs, so you don’t need to pour chemicals on there to make it burn.”
Try: Good Clean Love Almost Naked Organic Personal Lubricant. This water-based lubricant is is glycerin and paraben-free and made from 95 percent organic ingredients, like aloe vera. It also has a similar consistency to saliva and natural vaginal secretions.
PRESERVATIVES LIKE PARABENS, BENZYL ALCOHOL, AND CITRIC ACID
“Many people have had bad experiences with lubes that burn, itch, or feel really sticky during or after use. Oftentimes those side effects are caused by preservative ingredients like these,” says Strgar. Natural products don’t have cause those issues, she says.
Try: Wet Organics. This aloe-based lubricant is 100 percent natural thanks to organic ingredients like quinoa, hemp, flax, green tea, and oat extracts. It’s long-lasting, nonsticky, and easy to clean up.
“Benzocaine is an irritant that numbs you and can be found in lubes targeted for painful sex or for making anal play less scary,” Lilly, a sex toy critic for DangerousLilly.com, writes on her blog. “This is just a bad idea, because pain is your body’s way of saying HEY STOP. If you keep going you can end up with injuries, microtears to the delicate tissue, and major problems.”
Try: Coconut Organic Personal Lubricant, which is made with organic ingredients like sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter. This hypoallergenic lube is also gluten- and fragrance-free.