There are several different kind of lubes you can use when amping up your personal pleasure or partner play. Everyone has different needs and different lubricants have different applications, so it's important to know what you're getting into when you shop for a new lubricant.
TYPES OF LUBRICANT
Water Based Lube is made from a thickener, water, and sometimes additional additives such as botanicals and extracts. It washes away with water easily, and reactivates its lubricant properties when it comes into contact with water. Oftentimes reapplication is required at some point during play.
Silicone Based Lube is made from silicone liquid - an emulsion of microscopic silicone particles. It’s extra extra slippery, and comes in a variety of thicknesses and textures. It requires soap and scrubbing to wash off. Some silicones, such as uberlube, have other advertised properties such as anti-frizz agents for hair. Silicone lubricants should not be used with silicone toys, as it compromises the integrity of the toy.
Hybrid Lubes are made from both water and silicone, and are often described as “silky” or “creamy”. They don’t have as “wet” a feel as a pure silicone lube, and are easier to wash off. They can be used with silicone toys, but with extra caution - customers should always examine their silicone toy after using it with hybrid lubricant. If the surface of the toy changes, they should not use hybrid lube with it.
Oil Based Lubes are made from - you guessed it - oils! This covers common natural oils like coconut oil, as well as massage oils. Oil-based lubes are not safe for use with condoms, but can be used with most kinds of toys. Use with caution if your toy contains elastomer or latex!
Reference the infographic at the end of this article for a quick comparison among different lubricants.
The Science of Lubricants
In order to understand how lubricants work, you have to know some of the science behind osmosis - the process of transferring molecules back and forth across a membrane. Basically, your skin has the ability to transfer water molecules back and forth across its membranes. Your body is constantly working double-time to achieve the perfect balance of hydration on either side of your skin’s tissue cells. This ongoing effort to achieve balance is called homeostasis.
To understand how lube is involved in this process, let’s talk about osmolality. Osmolality is the amount of dissolved particles in a solution per unit of water. Another way to describe it is the “concentration of water” in a solution.
If a lubricant has an osmolality higher than your body, meaning it’s hyper-osmotic, it has less water than your skin cells. To achieve homeostasis, your body will respond to the lubricant by releasing its own moisture to dilute the lubricant to a more acceptable concentration. This can damage your skin cells and mucous membranes through dehydration, making them more susceptible to damage and infection.
Basically: Hyper-osmotic = Less water in lube than the skin wants for moisture balance → skin secretes its own water to compensate → dehydration → skin cell death / damage
If a lubricant has an osmolality lower than your body, meaning it’s hypo-osmotic, it has more water than your skin cells. To achieve homeostasis, your body will respond to the lubricant by absorbing its moisture. This is how most lotions moisturize your skin.
Basically: Hypo-osmotic = More water in the lube than the skin wants for moisture balance → skin absorbs moisture to compensate → lubricant or lotion absorbed into skin
Ideally, your lubricant would be iso-osmotic, meaning it has the same water concentration as your skin cells and mucous membranes. This prevents cell dehydration as well as prevents your lubricant from being absorbed quickly into the body.
^ Lube osmolality chart by The Smitten Kitten.
pH and Lubricant
pH is a measure of acidity in a liquid on a scale of 0-14. 0 means the liquid is very acidic, and 14 means the liquid is basic (the scientific term for “not acidic at all”). Why is this important?
Your internal membranes in the vagina and anus have a specific pH level that the body achieves in order to maintain healthy function. The body achieves this balance with the careful secretion of membrane and hosting healthy fungi, flora, bacteria, and yeast cultures. If one of these microscopic entities is out of balance, it can affect your internal pH negatively, which can lead to infections and irritation.
For example: Lubricants with glycerin can increase the amount of yeast in the vagina, which affects its overall pH balance and can lead to irritation and yeast infections.
Potentially Harmful Lube Ingredients
Many commercially produced lubricants are low cost and sold in volume - unfortunately, many of these lubricants use cheap additives that can be harmful to customers. If you’ve ever used a cheap lube that you bought at the drugstore and experienced burning, itching, or skin infections - this is likely the cause. Here are a few of the big lubricant ingredients that we avoid when picking which lube to carry in the shop:
Parabens: Parabens are synthetic additives that are often used as preservatives in beauty products. Parabens are known to disrupt hormonal function, and are linked to breast cancer and reproductive problems. Parabens found in moisturizers and other cosmetics have also been shown to absorb directly into your body’s tissues. These chemicals are often found in cheap personal lubricants, which as you know, are placed directly on your membranous tissues, making them even riskier than when used in cosmetics.
Petrochemicals: These are chemicals derived from petroleum. These are most often found in hyper-osmotic lubricants, which can ultimately lead to cell dehydration and damage. When used on a mucous membrane, these materials can make you more susceptible to pH imbalance and sexually transmittable infections.
Glycerin: Glycerin is used as a low-cost lubricating agent in several commercially available lubricants. It’s a naturally occurring plant substance, but it’s also an energy source for microbes - particularly yeast. Exposure to glycerin in the vagina can cause yeast infections if you’re prone to them. Additionally, some people can experience burning sensations when reacting to glycerin in lubricant.
Benzocaine: Benzocaine is often used to ease pain when applied topically - in fact, many tattooers use benzocaine emulsions to help their clients sit through a tattoo session. When used sexually, however, you could be suppressing important signals from your body! Pain signals are important - they tell us when something is happening that shouldn’t be happening, and when our body tissue is damaged. When used vaginally or anally, numbing agents prevent your body from telling you that you may be experiencing damage.
Microbicides: These are materials that kill and/or reduce virus and bacterial activity in a lubricant or spermicide, such as alcohols and nonoxynol-9. These substances can kill the healthy flora and fauna in your body, which leads to overall pH imbalance, and therefore, infection susceptibility. They’re also known to be potential irritants to skin and mucous membranes.