Resources: Lubricants- Ingredients to Avoid

It is a sad truth that the sex toy community is largely unregulated when it comes to what goes into adult products.

With sex toys phthalates are still a big concern, and some people feel that they can’t even afford to purchase body safe toys. This lack of regulation, unfortunately, also carries on to lubricants. Some of the ingredients used in lubricants can cause minor things—such as slight irritation in some people—but  others can cause so much more damage—such as yeast infections, burning sensations, and potentially even decreased fertility and cancer.

With this in mind it is really important to make sure that the lubricant you’re using isn’t coming with unwanted health hazards. But how is this achieved? When it comes to lubricant you need to check the ingredients just a diligently as you might check those in your food; so there are certain ingredients that should be avoided when making a choice on which lubricant is right for you and which should be avoided at all costs.  This sounds simple, but can actually be rather difficult in practice, especially if you don’t know what ingredients to look out for.

So, to make this easier, I thought I’d give a little rundown of some of the key ingredients to avoid and why. This isn’t an extensive list by any means, but, hopefully, it will make you feel a bit more informed when it comes to picking which lubricant is right for you.

Knowing what's in your lubricant can make all the difference.
Knowing what’s in your lubricant can make all the difference.

Ingredients to Avoid:

Parabens (inc. methyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, and propyl-): Parabens are bad news. Placing themselves high up on the list of no-no ingredients, parabens are essentially a preservative meant to inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. When hearing this, parabens don’t sound like such a bad thing, but recent studies have shown that parabens might be linked to interruptions in hormonal balances. Some breast cancer sufferers have also been found to have a high level of parabens in their body. The recent tests aren’t rock solid but it’s good to be aware of these potential side effects so that you can decide for yourself whether to take the risk or not.

More can be seen about parabens on the sites of these lubricant producers:

DEA/Diethanolamine- This chemical is used as a wetting agent in things like shampoos, lotions, and creams to give them a favourable consistency. It’s not really harmful on its own, but It can react to other ingredients  to become a carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (but that’s a mouthful and a half, so it’s also known as NDEA). NDEA can be absorbed into the skin and has been linked to various forms of cancer. Again, it’s highly unlikely that this will happen with lubricants, but it’s important to be aware of these things so that you can make an active choice.

It has been suggested that Cocamide DEA is a safer alternative.

Nonoxynol-9- Nonoxynol-9 is intended as a spermicide and is used with some condoms, lubricants and sex toy cleaners. It was thought that Nonoxynol-9 is that it has been shown to help kill the AIDs virus in clinical tests. However, a recent study claims that Nonoxynol-9 does not protect women against HIV. In addition to this Nonoxynol-9 has been shown to cause abrasions, lesions, and micro tears in the vagina. It also strips away the rectal lining in the anus. Owch! As a result, in both cases, using Nonoxynol-9 can increase the chance of contracting an STD or getting an infection. Personally I’d avoid this ingredient like the plague (lest my vagina end up looking like a plague victim).

Petrochemicals- A 2012 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that some petrochemical-based lubricants could cause damage and tearing of the vaginal cells, which can result in yeast infections and a rising risk of contracting STDs. Not good news! Petrochemical0based lubricants also coat the skin in a fine layer, preventing the vagina from being able to effectively flush itself. Generally it takes anywhere from 3-5 days before the vagina can get rid of these oils. This can open you up to even more infections. Petrochemicals have also been linked to cancer. (It’s troubling how many ingredients in lubricant come with this side note).

Glycerine- Glycerine is a sugar derivative which is used in lubricant to make them more slippery. Because of its sweet taste it can also be found in a fair few flavoured lubricants. The problem with Glycerine is that it can cause thrush and yeast infections in some women. If you’re prone to yeast infection then avoid any lubricant with Glycerine in it. If you’re not prone to yeast infections, but want to err on the side of safety, then Glycerine should still be avoided. Glycerine can also cause general irritation for those with sensitive skin, so it’s not a bad idea to give it a miss.

Propylene Glycol- This is used as a preservative in a fair few lubricants, and has also been called a ‘penetration enhancer’, but comes with some nasty side-effects. Propylene Glycol has been known to strip the body of its natural moisture in some people. It can also cause irritation for those with sensitive skin. Some individuals with vulvodynia and interstitial cystitis might be particularly susceptible to the downsides of Propylene Glycol. Again, this ingredient might cause problems for those who suffer frequently from yeast infections.

Thankfully any rumours you’ve heard of the Propylene Glycol used in lubricant being the same kind that is used in antifreeze are false. Find out more about that here:

Sodium Hydroxide- Also known as caustic soda or lye. Yes, lye. As in that stuff that the kiddy ingested in The Woman in Black before collapsing into Daniel Radcliffe’s arms. Of course, the sodium hydroxide in lubricant is highly diluted (so, if you were hoping to bag a hug with Harry Potter, you’re out of luck) but it can still cause irritation in some people, so if you have sensitive skin you might want to avoid lubricants with this ingredient.

Menthol- Both synthetic menthol and Peppermint Oil can be an irritant, and can dry up the body’s natural moisture.

Methylisothiazolinone- Used as a preservative in some lubricants, this ingredient can result in allergic reactions. Lab studies on  the brain cells of mammals have suggested that this ingredient might also be a neurotoxin.

And that’s all for this very brief summary of ingredients you might want to avoid when picking your own personal lubricant. If you’d like some more information a simple Google search should be able to point you in the right direction.

The lubricant brand Yes also has a fantastic amount of information on their website. Here are just a few links from it that you might find useful (I know I did):

I hope this information has helped, and that you’ll now feel a little bit more confident when shopping for which lubricant suits you best.

  • thanks, great post :) parabens and glycerin are talked about the most, but there are other common ingredients that are important to know about too! I was starting to write a similar post.

    • emmelinepeaches

      Thanks for the feedback! I have super-sensitive skin, so I felt it was important to make sure that people were aware of some of the less mentioned ingredients.
      I look forward to reading your post on lubricant ingredients! =D

  • betsy

    oh my lord, thank you for this thread- my husband and i tried a ‘hypoallergenic’ lube a few weeks ago because i have interstitial cystitis. my vag has STILL not calmed down and i’ve been to three doctors who have of course tested my undercarriage negative for everything. this stuff has propelyne glycol in it, and it’s nice to know i’m not going crazy. thank you for posting this.

    • You’re welcome! I’m so glad I could help you figure out why that lube wasn’t working with your body.
      Here’s hoping that you can find a lube that works for you.