Is Lube Safe: Ingredients To Avoid And Everything You Need To Know
For the most part, yes — lube is perfectly safe for most people and in many sexual situations, however, not all lubricants are created equal, and “safety” can be relative (or questionable).
- The ingredients in any personal lubricant will ultimately determine how safe it is to use, as some ingredients can disturb your body’s pH balance, irritate the skin, or even cause an allergic reaction (in some cases).
- Although personal lubricants (in general) are edible, lubricants that are not formulated to be ingested should not be swallowed, as they may cause digestive upset or other effects. Additionally, oil-based lubes are typically very thick and can pose a choking hazard if used during oral sex.
- Personal lubricants are generally safe during pregnancy, provided they’re made from safe ingredients, and some (although not all) may be beneficial during conception if they contain hydroxyethylcellulose.
- It’s important to understand exactly what’s in any lube you buy to ensure it is safe for your (and your partner’s) body and personal circumstances.
While the very best sex lubes are made from body-safe ingredients, not all personal lubricants are — which is why it’s important to understand what to look for when selecting one for yourself.
In this article, we’ll explain what lube types are meant to be used during specific sexual activites, what ingredients are safe or potentially dangerous, and what to look for in a personal lubricant.
Is Lube Safe?
In general and as a concept, personal lubricant is very safe for people to use as long as the ingredients are nontoxic and the lube’s formula matches the activity you plan to use it for.
That being said, not all lubes are right for everyone, equally.
As we’ll discuss later on, some personal lubricants aren’t made with the safest ingredients — even if they are widely available for purchase.
Additionally, lubricants can be made from generally safe ingredients that you (or your partners) may be allergic or sensitive to, which makes them an unsafe choice.
The final consideration is that a personal lubricant may not be the right formulation for the kind of sex you want to have.
All of these factors come into play when considering any lube’s safety — or lack thereof.
Is Water-Based Lube Safe?
For the most part, yes — water-based lubricants are safe for most people to use as long as they’re free from harmful ingredients (or potential allergens) and are pH-balanced for the body part(s) they’ll come in contact with.
They are also the “universal” choice to use with all types of condoms, barriers, and sex toys because they won’t degrade their materials.
The safest water-based lubes are free from:
- Fragrances, dyes, or flavorings (particularly sugar-based ingredients)
Safe lubes with water as a primary ingredient also mirror the pH of the environment they’ll be used in.
This means a water-based vaginal lube will have a pH of around 3.8 to 4.5 and a water-based anal lube will have a pH between 5.5 and 7.
Lube with the right pH balance helps reduce or prevent irritation (and subsequent infections) within the vagina or anus.
The safest water-based lubricants also consider osmolality, which measures how much of the lube isn’t water.
Ideally, it’s best to choose lube with an osmolality closest to your vagina (285-295 mOsm/kg) and anus (290 mOsm/kg).
Like pH balance, water-based lubes with a similar osmolality can help reduce or prevent irritation and other reactions.
Most water-based lubricants are safe to ingest during oral sex, which is why flavored lubes are water-based.
However, it’s possible to experience stomach pain or indigestion if too much is swallowed — especially if a lubricant isn’t formulated to be edible.
If you’re looking for the best and safest water-based lubricant without the hassle of finding one, explore our tested and personally vetted recommendation below:
Is Silicone-Based Lube Safe?
- Dimethicone crosspolymer
- Phenyl trimethicone
The safest silicone lubes also won’t contain added flavorings, fragrances, dyes, or numbing agents.
Silicones have a larger, cyclical molecular structure that isn’t absorbed into the skin, which can potentially reduce the risk associated with any unsafe ingredients found in a silicone-based product’s formula.
That particular characteristic is also the reason why this type of lube is so long-lasting and requires fewer reapplications during use — making them especially great for anal sex.
Additionally, silicone allergies are rare — making silicone lubes an especially good choice for those with allergies or sensitive skin.
Silicone lubricant is generally safe to swallow in small amounts, but you won’t typically find a flavored edible lubricant made with silicone because while the formula is safe for the skin, it’s not necessarily great for your stomach.
If silicone-based lube is ingested in large amounts, it is possible to experience stomach pain or indigestion afterward.
Finally, silicone lube is unsafe to use with sex toys made from silicone, as they’ll degrade their materials.
If you’re not sure where to begin finding the best and safest silicone lube, explore our tested and personally vetted top recommendation below:
Is Oil-Based Lube Safe?
Yes — in general, for most people, oil-based lubricants are safe as long as they’re made with nontoxic ingredients you are not allergic to or sensitive to and are compatible with any STI or pregnancy barriers and sex toys you intend to use.
Because so many oils come from plants such as nuts, seeds, or flowers, however, it’s also important to examine the product label for known allergens when choosing an oil-based lube.
Unsafe oil-based lube ingredients include:
- Mineral oil
- Petroleum jelly
- Any crude oil-based ingredients
- Known allergens
- Fragrances, dyes, and flavorings
While oil-based lubes are generally safe for use on the genitals, especially during anal sex, they’re not safe for ingestion.
When swallowed, some oil-based lube ingredients may cause you to become nauseous, experience diarrhea, or vomit.
Oil is even less safe if you breathe it in, as it may cause respiratory distress such as choking and coughing.
Oils (of all types) will degrade STI and pregnancy barriers made from latex or polyisoprene, putting you and your partners at risk for STI transmission or unintended pregnancy.
Oil-based lubes are typically only safe with condoms made from polyurethane, nitrile, or lambskin, although the latter offers no protection against STIs.
Additionally, oil will degrade sex toys made from latex, rubber, or jelly rubber.
Finally, if you’re prone to vaginal infections, oil-based lubricants can increase your risk of recurring infection.
If you’re searching for a body-safe, oil-based lubricant you can trust, explore our tested and personally vetted top recommendation below:
Which Lube Ingredients Are Safest?
Many personal lubricant ingredients are perfectly safe — but not all of them are — so it’s important to understand which ones to look for on the label before selecting a product for yourself.
Safe personal lubricant ingredients may include:
- Aloe vera gel or juice
- Vitamin E oil
- Plant-based oils
- Propylene Glycol
- Body-safe silicones
Ingredient safety aside, some of the ingredients above may be potential allergens for some.
If you or your partners have allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients, always check the product label before using it.
You can’t have water-based lubricant without water.
As you’ve likely noticed, it’s a main ingredient in many things we use on a daily basis, especially products that touch your skin.
Not only is water necessary to sustain life, but it’s also a universal solvent that absorbs and extracts the compounds of other ingredients in your lube.
Basically, it needs to be there to make all the other ingredients work.
Ironically, however, water is not a safe lube alternative on its own because it doesn’t provide enough lubrication to reduce friction during penetration.
Aloe Vera Gel Or Juice
Aloe vera can be used as a lube on its own and that makes it a safe ingredient in the formulation of lubricants, as well.
Aloe is primarily made of water which is extremely safe for your skin.
It’s also an antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antifungal ingredient.
One word of caution, however.
If you have a latex allergy, you’ll generally need to avoid aloe vera gel as an ingredient because the aloe plant contains natural latex.
Aloe can be harvested to avoid the latex-like rind — Aloe Cadabra, for instance, ensures this — but those who are allergic may still find it irritating.
Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E oil is made up of fat-soluble compounds with antioxidant properties.
It can be used alone on the skin as a moisturizer and is gentle enough to be included in personal lubricant, since it’s non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores.
Some people even use vitamin E oil on its own as a lube.
It carries a low risk of irritation for most people.
However, low risk doesn’t mean no risk.
Some people may still experience irritation with vitamin E oil.
Plant-based oils, like coconut oil, shea butter, or avocado oil, are often found in formulated oil-based lubes — including those we recommend highly.
Safe plant-based oils may include:
- Coconut oil (virgin, unrefined)
- Olive oil (extra virgin)
- Avocado oil
- Cocoa butter
- Vitamin E oil
- Almond oil (or sweet almond oil)
- CBD oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Shea butter
Plant-based oils offer the thick consistency and luxurious slip you want in a lube, plus they’re also natural ingredients that carry less risk of harm to most people.
In fact, many plant-based oils are safe to use as a lube alternative on their own if they’re non-comedogenic and non-toxic.
That said, plant-based oils are derived from nuts, seeds, or flowers — which are potential allergens for some.
If you’re selecting an oil-based lubricant and you (or your partners) have known allergies or sensitivities, always check the label thoroughly.
Hydroxyethylcellulose is a thickening agent derived from plant cellulose and it’s a perfectly safe ingredient for lubricants.
You may see it listed in a variety of ways such as: 2-Hydroxyethyl Ether Cellulose, Cellulose Hydroxyethylate, Cellulose, 2-Hydroxyethyl Ether, Cellulose, 2hydroxyethyl Ether, H. E. Cellulose.
Hydroxyethylcellulose is a non-toxic ingredient that won’t cause cancer or disrupt reproduction and it also carries a low risk for irritation and allergic reactions.
Additionally, Mayo Clinic recommends lubricants with hydroxyethylcellulose when trying to conceive because they won’t hinder sperm motility or function.
Propylene glycol is a popular ingredient in many skin care products, not just lube.
It’s a type of skin-safe alcohol used in lubricants as a skin-conditioning ingredient that keeps your delicate skin soft and supple.
It’s a generally safe ingredient for most people, however, it can cause irritation and allergic reactions in some people.
Silicones can be used as a lubricant and as a conditioning agent, but some are much safer than others.
Body-safe silicones in personal lubricants may include:
- Dimethicone crosspolymer
- Phenyl trimethicone
Silicones don’t penetrate the skin but rather sit on top of it — which is what makes them so long-lasting compared to other lubricants that “dry up” or absorb into the skin over time.
Silicones in general have a low risk of causing irritation (allergies to silicones are rare).
Additionally, the body-safe silicone ingredients we listed above are not known to have cancer-causing properties or disrupt development or reproduction.
Unsafe Lube Ingredients You Should Avoid
Lube ingredients that should be avoided include:
- Oils derived from crude oil (such as mineral oil or petroleum)
- Added fragrances, unsafe flavorings, or dyes
- Any specific ingredients that you are allergic to or sensitive to
It is best to avoid these ingredients in favor of a personal lubricant made from safe ingredients you can trust.
Glycerin is a naturally occurring alcohol compound and a common ingredient found in water-based lubricants.
While it may not be harmful to everyone, it is a common cause of yeast infections.
Glycerin comes from sugar, which Candida microbes use as a fuel source to grow.
Glycerin in the vagina or anus can become a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria as a result.
For this reason, it’s always a good rule to keep sugar and sugar byproducts like glycerin away from your genitals.
Parabens is a catch-all term for several chemical preservatives often found in products that come in contact with your skin — from lube to moisturizers.
Studies suggest that parabens may be an endocrine disruptor and cause reproductive harm.
Parabens may also cause harm to the environment — what we wash off our bodies enters water supplies.
Low levels of butylparaben may kill coral, according to lab testing, and parabens have also been found in surface waters, sediment, and even fish.
What makes chili peppers hot and spicy?
It’s the capsaicin they contain.
Imagine the familiar burning sensation from chili peppers on your tongue but move it to your genitals, instead.
Capsaicin can sometimes be found in warming lubes, meant to add sensation to your sexy fun.
In fact, it’s a common skin irritant that should be avoided.
Instead of “warming” your genitals, capsaicin might make you feel the burn instead, and the sensation may not stop immediately once you wash it off.
Warming lubes can be safe — our top picks are — but only when they are not heated by capsaicin.
Benzocaine has its place in helping reduce pain and itchiness.
But that place shouldn’t be in your lubricant.
Unfortunately, it’s a common ingredient in many desensitizing lubes — especially anal lubes.
Why is it a bad idea?
Pain is a signal to your brain that something is wrong.
When you turn off the ability to feel it during penetrative sex, especially anal, you may be injured and not be aware of it until it’s too late.
Penetrative sex shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, that’s a sign to stop or slow down, not to plow through after numbing the area.
Lidocaine is commonly used to dull pain sensations (or numb them completely) and when used on the genitals externally and in small amounts, is unlikely to be harmful.
That said, it is absorbed through the skin and can be toxic if used in large amounts.
Additionally, numbing agents such as Lidocaine can increase the risk of vaginal or anal injury during penetration because they dull your ability to sense pain — a signal that something is wrong.
For this reason, we do not recommend using lubricants that include lidocaine as an ingredient.
Oils Derived From Crude Oil
The two most common oils that are a byproduct of crude oil are mineral oil and petroleum jelly.
Both create a barrier against the skin and can be extremely difficult to remove later.
This means that bacteria and yeast have a place to grow and call home.
At the same time, while both are often used externally on the skin, that doesn’t make them safe for the delicate skin of your vagina or anus.
In fact, they can both cause irritation that could lead to infection later on.
Additionally, studies have shown that crude oil products like mineral oil will degrade a latex condom in less than a minute — putting you and your partners at risk for STI transmission or unintended pregnancy.
While some people use Vaseline as a lube, even the brand doesn’t recommend it for internal use. (Neither do we!)
Added Fragrances, Dyes, Or Unsafe Flavorings
As we discussed earlier, the best and safest lubricants mimic the conditions of the vagina or anus they’re used in.
Unless you have lavender-scented, strawberry-flavored, or bright green genitals, added fragrances, dyes, and unsafe flavorings aren’t helping you.
These ingredients are common irritants leading to burning, itching, red, and tender skin.
Flavorings tend to be sweetened with sugar, which can cause yeast infections, but not all flavored edible lubes are unsafe.
In fact, we tested and reviewed sweet personal lubricants that are entirely vagina-friendly and body-safe.
One person’s perfectly safe lubricant is another person’s, “Get this away from me before it sends me to the hospital!”
If you know you have an allergy to certain ingredients — especially nuts, seeds, or flowers — you’ll need to avoid lubricants that contain them.
As we mentioned earlier, anyone with a latex allergy will be safest avoiding lubes that are made with aloe, although some manufacturers like Aloe Cadabra ensure that their aloe is latex-free.
And if something has caused irritation in the past, even in another product, assume it will do the same in your lube.
Always read the ingredient list before purchasing any lube and be leery of products that don’t share their ingredients.
If you’re not sure about a product, do a patch test on a small area of the skin, such as your inner elbow, by applying a dab of lube to it.
Leave the lubricant on your skin for a while and monitor for signs of irritation before applying it to your genitals.
Is Lube Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
While it makes sense that you might feel a little nervous using lubricant while pregnant — because everything tends to make you nervous when you’re pregnant — lube is extremely safe, as long as you follow all safety precautions for each type of lube we’ve already discussed.
During pregnancy, your body produces a mucus plug — which is essentially a thick barrier that acts as an impenetrable seal between your vagina and uterus.
While the mucus plug is designed to protect the uterus from bacteria, viruses, or infection, it also ensures that lubricant (or anything else) won’t make its way in from the vagina, either.
With this in mind, you can safely use a personal lubricant during sex — if you need one.
That includes warming lubricants, as long as they’re made from safe ingredients.
Thanks to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and the increase in discharge that commonly occurs, you may not need to reach for lubricant at all.
If you do, check the label for unsafe ingredients, avoid known allergens, and when selecting a water-based product, look for a lube with a pH and osmolality that will most closely mirror the genitals where it’s being used.
Is Lube Safe When Trying To Conceive?
Yes, in general, lubes are mostly safe while trying to conceive as long as you choose something with nontoxic ingredients.
What matters most while you’re trying to get pregnant is that you use a sperm-friendly lube, as some lubricant ingredients have been shown to hinder sperm motility.
Hydroxyethylcellulose is an ingredient that is commonly found in sperm-friendly lubes because studies have shown that it doesn’t negatively affect sperm movement or function.
Additionally, for sperm motility and conception, it’s best to look for a lube with a pH balance that’s closest to semen or cervical fluid — around 7.
This will be different from the best lube options in general, which tend to have a pH closest to the vagina or anus, as we’ve already discussed.
While you’re conceiving, however, that’s okay.
As long as the vaginal lubricant is generally safe in all other ways, you should be fine.
Once you’re pregnant or no longer trying to conceive, you can return to using lubricants with a pH balance closer to your vagina.
Is Lube Safe To Go Inside?
Yes, lube is safe to go inside the vagina and anus if it is made from nontoxic ingredients and formulated for that use.
As we talked about regarding water-based lubricants, a lubricant should have a pH and osmolality that matches the part of the body it will come into contact with.
Is Lube Safe To Consume?
For the most part, yes — personal lubricant is safe to consume at least in small amounts.
Some lubes (particularly those that are oil-based) are not particularly edible as they may be too thick to be swallowed safely and may contain ingredients that can lead to nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Water-based and silicone-based lubricants are typically safe to consume in small amounts, while some water-based lubricants are designed to be edible and swallowed during oral sex.
Is Flavored Lube Safe?
When crafted from non-toxic ingredients (including safe flavorings and sweeteners that are not sugar-based), flavored lubricant is safe for oral sex.
Additionally, as long as the flavored lube is not sweetened with sugar-based ingredients, it can be used safely during vaginal and anal sex, provided the pH and osmolality of the lube is suitable for either activity.
What Lube Is Safe On Vibes?
As we mentioned earlier, water-based lubricants are the safest option for vibrators of all types, as they will not harm any toy’s material.
Silicone lubricants can be used on sex toys, including vibrators, provided they are not made from silicone, as the lube will degrade their material.
Similarly, oil-based lubricants cannot be used on vibrators or sex toys made from latex, rubber, or jelly rubber.
Is Silicone Lube Safe For Anal?
Yes, and silicone is one of the best types of lubricants for anal sex because of its long-lasting lubrication and typically thicker texture.
Additionally, silicone lubes are compatible with all condom types so they’ll protect you and your partners from STI transmission during anal penetration.
What Lube Is Safe With Latex Condoms?
Oil-based lubes should never be used with condoms made from latex or polyisoprene, as they’ll degrade their materials (in under a minute!) and put you and your partners at risk for STI transmission or unintended pregnancy.
What Lube Is Safe To Use With Non-Latex Condoms?
Ideally, the safest lubricants for non-latex condoms are those that are water-based or silicone-based, although oil-based lubricants can be used with those made from polyurethane, nitrile, or lambskin.
However, lambskin condoms will not protect you from STIs.
Personal lubricants, as a general concept, are perfectly safe to use during whatever kind of sex you have.
We wish people would use lube more often — you’d be surprised at how much better sex can feel.
That being said, not all lubes are made with safe ingredients.
The wrong ingredients can lead to irritation, burning, itching, redness, infections, and even potentially worse things over the long term.
For this reason, it’s important to understand what’s in your lubricant before it’s on your genitals.