There are several major differences between silicone and water-based personal lubricants — the biggest one being the specific ingredients included in each.
That said, silicone and water-based lubricants are better suited to specific sexual activities based on their inherent characteristics.
Whether you’re looking for the best type of lube for condoms, anal sex, or sex toys, I’ll explain the differences between silicone and water-based personal lubricants so you can make the right choice for your sexual needs.
What Ingredients Are Used In Silicone And Water-Based Lubricants?
While all personal lubricants reduce friction during sexual activity — alone or with a partner — both types have specific ingredients that are commonly associated with them.
- Silicone-Based Personal Lubricant Ingredients
The slick, slippery texture of silicone makes it an ideal ingredient that is used in many personal lubricants.
Silicone itself is considered a synthetic polymer, made up of different elements that include silicon, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.
Personal lubricants can be crafted from a variety of silicones, such as dimethicone and cyclopentasiloxane.
Silicone personal lubricants may also include added fragrances or dyes.
Read more below for detailed information about the safety of specific ingredients commonly used in silicone lubes.
- Water-Based Personal Lubricant Ingredients
Water-based lubricants are water-soluble, meaning they will dissolve in water.
They’re slippery like silicone lubes, but they’re generally more lightweight in comparison.
There are glycerin-free water-based lubricants, however, some of which may use glycerin alternatives like aloe vera extract.
Other ingredients that are often found in water-based lubes include petroleum jelly, additional fragrances, flavors, dyes, and parabens.
For information on the safety of ingredients commonly used in water-based lubes, read more below.
Are Silicone And Water-Based Personal Lubricants Safe?
Overall, water-based lubricants are considered to be safe when used as directed, as they contain various water-soluble ingredients.
Silicone lubricants are also generally considered safe because they aren’t absorbed into the body.
However, before trying any personal lubricant, you should always review the full list of ingredients and patch test the product to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction before applying it to your most delicate parts.
In short, this means testing the product on a small patch of skin (hence the name), before using the product elsewhere as intended.
To do this, apply the product to a small area of your skin — like your inner elbow. If you have no visible reaction like redness, itching, or hives after some time has passed, it is likely safe to use.
That said, there are certain ingredients sometimes used in silicone and water-based lubricants that should be approached with caution.
- What Ingredients Should You Avoid In Silicone And Water-Based Lubricants?
The ingredients in silicone and water-based lubricants will ultimately impact the way each feels and acts, however, there are certain ones that should be avoided.
Cyclomethicone is thought to be an endocrine disruptor, while PERC is thought to contribute to certain types of cancers.
As we mentioned earlier, glycerin is a questionable ingredient found in water-based personal lubricants, because it can disrupt vaginal flora and promote yeast infections.
In both water-based and silicone personal lubes, it’s often best to avoid products with parabens, petroleum jelly, and any added fragrances or dyes, as these ingredients can be irritating to sensitive tissue.
It’s also important to be aware of any potential allergens that might be found in personal lubricants — even those products that place an emphasis on using “natural” ingredients.
- Can You Swallow Silicone Or Water-Based Lubricants?
Poison Control notes that silicone lubricants are generally safe to swallow in small amounts.
Water-based lubricants are also generally safe to swallow in minimal amounts, but in both cases, you should look at the ingredients before using them and try not to ingest large amounts.
How To Choose Between Silicone Or Water-Based Lubricants
When it comes to selecting one over the other, there are several notable differences between silicone and water-based lubricants.
One major factor to consider is the way each one performs during certain types of sexual activity and in specific settings.
When To Use Silicone-Based Personal Lubricant
Unlike water-based lubricants, silicone lubricants are incredibly long-lasting and are best known for their slick, slippery feeling.
They typically have a slightly thicker consistency compared to water-based lubricants, although that can vary from product to product.
You may want to select a silicone-based personal lubricant if you:
- Want something long-lasting and incredibly slick
- Prefer your lubricant to have a thicker consistency
- Intend to have anal sex
- Don’t mind possibly staining your clothing or sheets
- Need a waterproof lubricant that will perform well in the bath or shower
Silicone lubes are a bit trickier to clean up compared to water-based lubricants, and they can stain fabric.
Because of their thicker consistency and lasting slip, however, silicone lubes are a good choice for anal sex, provided you won’t be using silicone or porous sex toys.
Like water-based lubricants, silicone lubes can be used with latex condoms.
Certain silicone and water-based lubes are sensitizing, meaning they create warming, cooling, or tingling sensations.
While water-based lubes dissolve in water, silicone lubricants do not. They remain slippery and slick in water, making them the best choice for shower sex or solo play in the bathtub.
If you’re interested in finding some amazing silicone lubricants, you can take a look at our review of the top 5 silicone personal lubricants.
- How To Tell If A Personal Lubricant Is Silicone-Based
A silicone-based personal lubricant is available in liquid form and will have silicone oils in its ingredient list.
You should be able to spot these easily when looking at a product’s ingredient list: silicones will end in -cone or -siloxane.
When To Use Water-Based Personal Lubricant
Water-based lubricants are a popular option because of their lightweight consistency, which mimics the body’s natural lubrication.
You may want to select a water-based personal lubricant if you:
- Intend to use porous or silicone toys
- Are in the mood for quick sex or a solo session that will require little to no cleanup afterward
- Don’t plan to use it in the bath or shower
- Are concerned about staining your sheets or bedding
- Prefer the feeling of a lightweight lubricant over a thicker product
Because water-based lubricants are water-soluble, they’re incredibly easy to remove; you just need a little soap and water to clean up afterward.
Unlike silicone lubricants, water-based lubricants won’t stain your sheets or clothing, which is another benefit to consider.
Ultimately, water-based lubes are the ideal choice when you want to leave nothing behind.
Silicone lubricants can degrade the structure of silicone sex toys, so water-based lubes are advised. Speaking of toys, if you’re looking for a new vibe but don’t know where to start, click here to read our comprehensive guide on vibrators.
Another reason to love water-based lubes? They can be used with latex condoms and dental dams, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to use protection.
For all of these reasons, water-based personal lubes are often the first type of lubricant that people experiment with.
That said, water-based lubricants tend to dry up faster than silicone lubricants, possibly requiring reapplication, and they can’t be used in the bath or shower.
Some water-based personal lubricants are made with natural or organic ingredients, which are a great option for those who prefer using lubes that are chemical-free.
- How To Tell If A Personal Lubricant Is Water-Based
A water-based personal lubricant uses water-soluble ingredients that may include glycerol/glycerin, sorbitol, cellulose, or propylene glycol. They can come in gel, jelly, or liquid form.
Ultimately, your personal preferences will determine whether you should choose a silicone or water-based personal lubricant.
If you love to have sex in the shower, for example, you’ll probably want to go for a silicone lube. If you use sex toys regularly, including vibrators of any kind or clit stimulators, a water-based lubricant may be a better fit for your needs.
Knowing the differences between water-based and silicone lubes can help you to discover the perfect personal lubricant — no matter what kind of sex you’re into.