What exactly is lube? Technically, a lubricant is any substance that helps reduce friction. Lubricants are often used for things like bicycle chains and machines to help cut down on the friction caused by moving parts. Personal lubricants contain different ingredients, but the idea is the same — they’re used to reduce the friction on your own moving “parts” to make sex and masturbation irritation-free, by making these activities easier and more enjoyable. Sounds simple enough, right? But if that’s all there is to it, why are there so many different kinds of lubes out there? Because like condoms and vibrators, different types of lubricants offer different benefits.
Personal lubricants can come in liquid and gel forms, and each formula has a base ingredient that accounts for its unique texture. Let’s take a look at the three main lube bases and what they mean for you:
W A T E R B A S E D L U B E S
Water-based lubricants are by far the most common type of lube and for good reason. Because they’re water-based, they’re easy to clean up (and to wash out of clothing or sheets). And of course, since pure water is about the most natural ingredient out there, these lubes can also be very gentle and soothing to your skin. Most of water-based lubes can be used with condoms without compromising their integrity (meaning they won’t cause condoms to rip or tear more easily). They can also be used with toys like vibrators - even those made of silicone material.
S I L I C O N E B A S E D L U B R I C A N T S
Silicone is a material made from alternate chains of silicone (a natural element) and oxygen atoms.
It can come in many forms, including rubber, resin, and oil — those different forms make it great for everything from medical applications to insulation. Its liquid form is especially effective when used as the main ingredient in personal lubricants.
What makes silicone-based lubes so great? For one, they have a very unique, silky feel that is soothing to the skin and leaves it feeling soft and smooth. Silicone is also hypoallergenic, so it’s a great choice for lube users with sensitive skin or allergies. And since these lubes contain mostly silicone instead of water, they often last longer and need to be reapplied less often. Some silicone lubricants are also latex safe and generally toy safe, though you shouldn’t use them in conjunction with silicone toys as they can break down the rubber over time.
The best thing about silicone-based lubes? They’re great for water play. Unlike water-based lubes that would be quickly washed away in the shower or tub, silicone lubes (especially when in gel form) stay put and keep friction at bay while you enjoy some slippery, wet fun.
H Y B R I D L U B E S
With a hybrid lube, you get to enjoy the natural feeling of water-based lubes while also getting the benefits of a longer-lasting silicone formula. There’s no need to have one kind of lube for in the bedroom and another for water play - a hybrid lube formula can pull double duty. Just remember that, like any lube that contains silicone, a hybrid lube can put some serious wear and tear on your silicone toys, so avoid using them together.
O I L B A S E D
If you’re looking for a lube that is seriously long-lasting with a luxurious silky feel, oil-based lube can be a great go-to. Some people find that they prefer the sensation of an oil and oil-based lube is also great for giving massages. However, if you’re thinking about using an oil-based lube, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
The first is that oil-based lubricants aren’t safe to use with latex condoms. They can make the latex porous, or even cause it to rip and tear. This means that oil-based types of lubricants are better for those who do not need to use condoms. Another thing to consider is that oil-based lubes can also be hard to clean off of toys and skin, so be prepared to do some extra clean-up afterward.
. . . B U T W H I C H O N E I S T H E B E S T ?
Now that you have a “base understanding” of different lube formulas, you can begin to get an idea of the lube that’s best for you by deciding exactly what you’d like to use your lube for.
Lube for Solo Play
If you’re looking to use lube for solo masturbation, you have plenty of lube options. Water-based, silicone-based, or hybrid lubes can work well, as can liquids and gels. If you’re relying solely on stimulating yourself with your hands, you may opt for a water-based liquid lube. The lube is also safe to use with toys of any type. The best thing about using lube on your own is that you only have your preferences to consider, so you can take your time experimenting until you find the formula that’s perfect for you!
Lube for Use With Condoms, Diaphragms, and Dental Dams
If you’re playing with a friend (or friends!) both water and silicone-based lubes are good choices. Most water- and silicone-based lubricants are latex safe (always make sure to check the packaging for condom compatibility). Again, you’ll definitely want to steer clear of oil-based lubes, as these can erode latex and make your safe sex practices anything but.
Thinking of bringing toys into the bed with you, and need a toy-safe lube?
For toys coated in silicone gel or made with silicone resin, opt for a water-based lube that won’t cause the surface of your toys to break down. For toys made of other materials like glass or steel, both water-based, silicone-based, and hybrid lubes will all work wonders.
Lube for Playing in Water
Want to do more than frolic in the waves during your beach vacation?
Plan to christen your newly remodeled shower or make your hot tub even hotter? Believe it or not, using water alone for lubrication can actually increase friction and make things even less enjoyable for you and your partner. So if it’s water play you’re after, you’ll definitely want to invest in a silicone-based lube or a hybrid lube.
Lube for Those In Search of a New Adventure
You may enjoy using lubes with special benefits. Warming lubes, for example, produces a gentle warming sensation when it comes in contact with skin. This can increase blood flow and arousal, and can even help you and your partner relax and unwind. Flavored lubes can also be a fun addition to your routine, especially if oral stimulation plays a major part in your lovemaking.
Ultra Gentle Lube
Are you prone to allergic reactions like hives or rashes, and need lube for sensitive skin?
Or have you experienced discomfort or burning when using lubes in the past? If so, you may want to use a personal lubricant that’s specially formulated to be gentle. Look for lubes fragrance and coloring-free, but they’re also made from ingredients that have been tested and proven to provide comfort and enjoyment. If you’re worried about having a bad reaction, try applying your new lube to a small section of your forearm to see how your skin reacts before moving on to more delicate areas.
H O W T O S T O R E Y O U R L U B E
Most lubricants have extremely stable chemical structures.
So when storing them, you don’t need to treat them with the same care you’d give to, say, insulin medication. While there’s no need to stash your lube in the fridge, it’s definitely a good idea to keep it away from direct heat and out of the easy reach of children and pets.
While most lubes feature non-toxic formulas, they can all cause digestive issues if consumed in large quantities - plus cleaning massive amounts of lube from your carpet, sheets, and drapes is a task most of us would like to avoid.
T H E I N G R E D I E N D S
What is glycerin, and is glycerin lube safe? Glycerin is a naturally-occurring compound that’s extracted from plants.
It can come in many forms, including nitroglycerin, which is used in dynamite.
Glycerin is a humectant, which means it can seal in moisture and helps stop products like facial cleansers and skin lotions from drying out or irritating skin. That’s one of the reasons glycerin is such a common ingredient in lubricants - it allows lubes to stay wet. Glycerin also helps create the slippery feel of lube and acts as a sort of cushion to reduce friction during sex.
Does glycerin cause yeast infections?
We’ve received some concerned feedback from lube users who are afraid that glycerin will give them yeast infections. We understand why - glycerin is often sweet-tasting and is mistaken for a sugar. Yeast feeds on sugar, so it would follow that glycerin can cause an overgrowth of yeast, right?
The truth is, glycerin isn’t a sugar — it’s a sugar alcohol.
Yeast and bacteria don’t feed on sugar alcohols, including glycerin. Glycerin can be converted to sugar by the body, but only through digestion - not when it’s simply applied in lube form. In fact, when it comes to avoiding yeast infections, it’s better to apply a personal lubricant containing glycerin than it is to use saliva - some studies have linked saliva with an increase in yeast infections.
What is propylene glycol, and is it safe in lube?
Like glycerin, propylene glycol is a plant-based and a humectant, which allows it to draw in and seal in moisture.
These features help propylene glycol to keep lubricants wetter longer while also adding a slippery feel and cushion - think of it as a kind of buffer zone that reduces friction. Propylene glycol is also used in many food products, including coffee drinks, ice cream, and whipped cream and soda.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which means that it is acceptable for use in flavorings, drugs, and cosmetics, and as a direct food additive.”
Propylene glycol is also safe for skin - in fact, it is often prescribed by doctors to treat rashes and even skin irritation caused by radiation treatments.
However, a very small percentage of people may experience skin irritation when using products that contain propylene glycol. If you feel discomfort that you think may be linked to your lube or any other product you’ve applied to your skin, we recommend you discontinue use and consult your family doctor or dermatologist.
What are parabens, and are they safe lube ingredients?
Parabens are some of the most widely used preservatives found in food and cosmetics. They’re used to kill bacteria, yeast, and mold (and you can imagine why it’s important to keep those kinds of organisms out of your personal lubricant!).
Do parabens cause cancer? That’s a question people sometimes ask, based on a myth that became popularized in 2004 after a study found parabens in samples of cancerous breast tissue.
However, according to the American Cancer Society 'The researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in breast cancer samples. The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development in these cases – it only showed that they were there.. studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer.'
The FDA also released this statement. 'The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. Typically parabens are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%..at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.'