What Is The Difference Between Silicone And Oil-Based Lube?

Discover the differences between silicone and oil-based personal lubricants – from ingredients and safety, to which is best suited for specific sexual activities.
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Silicone-based and oil-based personal lubricants provide many of the same benefits to your sex life but they’re quite different in terms of how they perform, which sexual activities they are best suited for — and their ingredients.

The primary difference between silicone and oil-based lubes is that:

  • Silicone-based lubes are made using silicone as their main ingredient, which makes them free from potential allergens. They are suitable for use with all condom types but can’t be used with silicone sex toys.
  • Oil-based lubricants are made from oils that are usually derived from plants and often contain nut-based ingredients. For this reason, they’re not always a safe choice for those with nut allergies. Oil-based lubes can only be used with polyurethane, nitrile, and lambskin condoms and are not safe for use with sex toys made from silicone or latex.

Both silicone and oil-based lubricants are safe for vaginal and anal penetration and they’re great choices for sex play in the bath or shower — but that’s where their similarities end.

It is important to understand how silicone and oil-based lubes differ from one another — especially if you intend to use condoms, diaphragms, or sex toys — because they are not equally compatible with all of those.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Everything Lube hub, an in-depth and evolving resource that comprehensively explores all aspects of personal lubricants from the different types and how to use them, to ingredients and safety — created to help you achieve the sexual pleasure you deserve.

What Are The Main Differences Between Silicone And Oil-Based Lube?

The main difference between silicone-based and oil-based lubes is found in their ingredients, which we’ll talk about in greater detail in just a bit.

What both lubricants are made from directly affects how they perform and the activities for which they are best suited.

Silicone-based lubricants:

  • Are best for vaginal and anal sex; although they may be used in small amounts during oral sex
  • Work with all condom types, dental dams, and non-silicone diaphragms
  • Have a silky-smooth texture that may range from lightweight to heavy
  • Can be safely used with any sex toy material except for silicone
  • Are not easy to clean up after sex
  • Will stain bedding or clothing
  • Can be used in the shower or bath

Oil-based lubricants:

  • Are best for vaginal and anal sex but should not be used during oral sex
  • Will break down condoms made from latex or polyisoprene
  • Have a thick texture that provides more cushion
  • Can degrade sex toys made from silicone or latex
  • Are not easy to clean up after sex
  • Will stain bedding and clothing
  • Are waterproof and can be used in the bath or shower
  • May contain oils derived from nuts and should be avoided by those with nut allergies

→ For other lube comparisons, see:

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What Sexual Activities Are Silicone-Based And Oil-Based Lubes Typically Used For?

As we touched on earlier, the ingredients used in silicone-based and oil-based lubricants affect the activities for which they’re best suited.

Silicone-based lubricants are used for:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Oral sex (when used in small amounts)
  • Sex using any type of condom, dental dam, or non-silicone diaphragm
  • Sexual activity that involves water, such as the bath or shower
  • Sex that involves toys made from any material except silicone

Oil-based lubricants are used for:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Sex using condoms made from polyurethane, nitrile, or lambskin
  • Sexual activity that involves water, such as in the bath or shower
  • Sex that involves toys not made from latex rubber or silicone

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What Are The Differences In Ingredients Between Silicone-Based And Oil-Based Lubricants?

While silicone and oil-based personal lubricants are used for the same purpose — to reduce friction during sex — the chemical makeup of each is extremely different.

  • Silicone-Based Personal Lubricant Ingredients 

A synthetic polymer made up of different elements that include silicon, lubricants that incorporate silicone ingredients are smooth and slippery to the touch. They are long-lasting and don’t require frequent reapplication.

Personal lubricants of this nature may contain a variety of silicones, such as ​polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS, also known as dimethicone and dimethylpolysiloxane) and Cyclopentasiloxane.

Some silicone lubricants also include added flavors or fragrances, which we’ll talk about more later on.

→ Learn about the best silicone-based lubes personally curated by Emily Deaton.
  • Oil-Based Personal Lubricant Ingredients

Oil-based personal lubricants rival those made from silicone in the endurance department: they tend to require even fewer reapplications, even during marathon sex sessions.

Oil-based lubes often use a variety of natural oils, with many being obtained from organically grown sources.

Coconut, sweet almond, jojoba, and vitamin E are just a few of the common, body-safe oils that are found in many oil-based personal lubricants.

It is important to note that people who have a sensitivity or allergy to nuts should research any product carefully before using it, as many oil-based lubricants contain oils derived from nuts.

Beyond the oils listed above, some oil-based lubricants use aloe vera in their formulas, as well.

→ Learn about the best oil-based lubes personally curated by Emily Deaton.

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Are Silicone-Based And Oil-Based Lubes Safe?

Silicone and oil-based lubes are safe to use, provided that you consider how you plan to use them — before you do.

Silicone lubricants are generally considered to be safe, as they aren’t absorbed into the body. However, they do not pair well with silicone sex toys, as they’ll degrade the toy’s material over time.

Although oil-based lubes can be used with silicone toys, they shouldn’t be used with those made from latex for the same reason — the material will break down.

Similarly, oil-based lube and condoms generally don’t mix well, either — oil will break down latex or polyisoprene condoms.

Such condoms will degrade quickly after coming in contact with oil, which can lead to an unplanned pregnancy and/or the transmission of STDs and STIs between partners.

Oil-based lubricants are compatible with lambskin, nitrile, and polyurethane condoms, however, the former does not offer protection against STDs and STIs.

Knowing the key differences between silicone and oil-based lube will help you to understand how to choose what type of personal lubricant to use.

  • What Ingredients Should You Avoid In Silicone-Based And Oil-Based Lubricants? 

The ingredients used in a silicone and oil-based lube will affect the way a product feels and performs, but there are some that you’ll want to avoid.

Silicone lubricants may include endocrine-disrupting Cyclomethicone and cancer-causing PERC.

In both silicone and oil-based personal lubes, it’s usually best to avoid any products that include parabens, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, fragrances, or dyes, as they can irritate delicate genital tissue.

Additionally, mineral oil — which is a common ingredient used in baby oil and Vaseline — contains petrochemicals that are not genital-safe.

When considering an oil sex lube, those with nut allergies must be cautious and research a lubricant’s ingredients before using it — even those that use natural and organic ingredients.

As we mentioned earlier, many oil-based lubes use oils derived from nuts so it’s important to read the ingredient list very carefully.

If in doubt, it’s wise to patch test the lube on your inner elbow to watch for potential reactions before you apply it to your genitals.

  • Can You Swallow Silicone-Based Or Oil-Based Lube?

Silicone lubricant can be safely swallowed in small amounts, however, oil-based products can induce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if swallowed.

Additionally, their thick consistency can block your airway, potentially resulting in coughing, choking, or respiratory problems.

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How To Choose Between Silicone-Based Or Oil-Based Lubricants

When it comes to choosing between a silicone-based or oil-based lube, you’ll need to consider exactly how you intend to use it.

Do you plan to use your lube for anal sex? Certain types of sex toys? During oral sex? What type of condoms do you intend to use, if any?

When choosing between silicone vs. oil lube, it’s best to think about what you’re planning to use your lube with, since they aren’t compatible with all toys or condoms.

Is silicone-based or oil-based lube better? It completely depends on the way you intend to use your lube and your needs.

Understanding their differences and knowing what you need will help you to know how to choose what type of personal lubricant to use.

→ For other lube comparisons, see:

When To Use A Silicone-Based Lubricant

Silicone-based lubricant is long-lasting and generally doesn’t become sticky or tacky during use. It stays smooth and glides with a silky, not-too-runny texture.

You may want to select a silicone sex lube if you:

  • Plan to have vaginal or anal sex
  • Might have oral sex at some point, as well
  • Need something long-lasting and incredibly slick with a silk-like consistency
  • Intend to have sex using condoms, dental dams, or non-silicone diaphragms
  • Do not intend to use silicone sex toys
  • Do not mind putting more effort into cleaning up after using it
  • Are not worried about staining your bedding or clothing
  • Plan to use it in the shower or bath
  • Prefer not to apply lube more than once during sex

Silicone lubes can be difficult to wash off after use and they can stain fabric very easily.

That said, they don’t dissolve in water so they’re a great choice for sex in the bathtub, shower, hot tub, or pool.

Because of their thicker consistency and cushiony texture, silicone lubricants are a good choice for anal sex as long as you won’t be using silicone or porous sex toys.

Silicone personal lube is compatible with all condom types and can be safely used with diaphragms and dental dams.

  • How To Tell If A Personal Lubricant Is Silicone-Based

If the front of the product label doesn’t clearly state “silicone,” your best bet is to check the ingredient list for words that end in -cone or -siloxane.

If you see words such as dimethicone, dimethiconol, or Cyclopentasiloxane, you can be assured that the product is silicone-based.

Silicone lubes are available in liquid form and are generally clear in color unless additional coloring has been added.

→ Learn about the best silicone-based lubes personally curated by Emily Deaton.

When To Use An Oil-Based Personal lubricant

Oil-based lubes have a sensual, decadent, and rich texture, with many serving double duty as quality massage oils.

You may want to select an oil-based personal lubricant if you:

  • Plan to have vaginal or anal sex
  • Don’t intend on using it to have oral sex
  • Prefer a thicker product that offers more cushion
  • Do not plan on using latex or polyisoprene condoms
  • Plan to use sex toys that are not made from latex or silicone
  • Do not mind putting more effort into cleaning up after using it
  • Are not worried about your bedding or clothing being stained
  • Plan to use it in the shower or bath
  • Want a product that can be used for sensual massage
  • Are careful about reading ingredient labels if you have a nut allergy

Oil-based lubricants can last even longer than those made from silicone, so they require fewer — if any — reapplications during marathon sex sessions.

As with silicone lubricants, oil-based lubes are ideal for sex in water, whether you’re getting busy in the shower, bathtub, pool, or hot tub.

Similarly, they also have a thick texture that provides a lot of cushion during anal sex.

However, oil-based personal lubricants are not compatible with latex or polyisoprene condoms, nor should they be used with diaphragms or sex toys made from latex because the oil will degrade their base materials.

Condoms that are made from polyurethane, nitrile, or lambskin are safe to use with oil-based lubes, however, the latter only prevents pregnancy and does not offer protection from STDs or STIs.

Like silicone, oil-based lubes will stain fabric. If staining is a concern, the best type of lubricant is a water-based one.

As a last word of caution, many oil-based personal lubes use ingredients that are derived from nuts.

If you have a sensitivity or allergy to these, always make sure to read through the ingredient list very carefully before you use an oil-based lubricant.

  • How To Tell If A Personal Lubricant Is Oil-Based

The ingredient list on a bottle of oil-based personal lubricant might include various oils like coconut, sweet almond, jojoba, or Vitamin E, although many others might be used.

Oil-based lubricants generally have a thick, liquid consistency and may have a slightly golden hue, depending on their ingredients.

→ Learn about the best oil-based lubes personally curated by Emily Deaton.

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Bottom Line

Both silicone and oil-based lubricants are great in their own way.

Although they share some similarities in their texture, consistency, and best uses, each type has its limitations, particularly where sex toys are concerned.

It’s important to understand the differences between silicone and oil-based lubricants so you can choose the best — and safest — product for your intended use.