What Is Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) And Why Is It Used In Lube?

Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) is commonly used in personal lubricants marketed for those trying to conceive because it does not impact sperm function or motility.
Macro Photograph Of Green, Gel-Like Plant Cells Clustered Together

Hydroxyethylcellulose, sometimes known as HEC, is a cellulose-derived polymer used in many cosmetics, household products, and water-based personal lubricants.

It is often used in lubes and cosmetics to improve the feel and texture, serving as a gelling and thickening agent, and is considered to be completely safe in both applications.

It is also used as a sperm-friendly additive in lubes designed to aid in fertility, as studies have shown that it doesn’t hinder sperm function or motility.

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.

Things To Know
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What Is Hydroxyethylcellulose?

What Is Hydroxyethylcellulose?

Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) is a water-soluble polymer made from cellulose.

Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on Earth. Found in the cell walls of plants, it makes up roughly 33% of vegetable matter globally.

Hydroxyethylcellulose is a thickening agent used in cosmetics, cleaning solutions, household products, water-based lubes, and even the slime used during the Kid’s Choice Awards.

It’s also used to make hydrophobic drugs in capsule form because it helps your body dissolve the medication more easily.

Although it’s considered “safe to eat” in small quantities, such as in the form of coated pill capsules, it isn’t generally added to food products.

Hydroxyethylcellulose is safe for use and rated as having a low concern for cancer, allergies, and immunotoxicity, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Use In Lubes

How Is Hydroxyethylcellulose Used In Lube?

Hydroxyethylcellulose is a popular ingredient used in many water-based personal lubricants and it’s harmless to your health.

It thickens the product, creates a slippery consistency, and carries little risk of an allergic reaction, as well.

Lubes with hydroxyethylcellulose are also considered to be fertility-friendly because they don’t slow down the movement of sperm inside the vagina, according to Mayo Clinic.

Research is ongoing and rather inconclusive as far as how much a lube’s pH affects fertility overall, or whether lubricant ingredients have a notable impact on fertility in general.

That said, one study found that certain lubricants negatively affected sperm function and motility.

During that study, the product that had the least amount of effect on sperm (Preseed) was primarily made from purified water and hydroxyethylcellulose.

For this reason, the ingredient is generally listed (often predominantly) in personal lubricants being marketed to those who are actively trying to conceive.

We highly recommend a couple of hydroxyethylcellulose-based lubes, ourselves, including BioGenesis and BioNude from Good Clean Love.

Many such vaginal lubricants are applied using a special applicator that is included with the product.

Use In Beauty Products

How Is Hydroxyethylcellulose Used In Beauty Products?

Although hydroxyethylcellulose doesn’t offer any health benefits for your skin, it is used in cosmetics to improve the texture and feel of the product.

It can be used for all skin types except by those who have a specific allergy to hydroxyethylcellulose, of which there is a low risk.

Hydroxyethylcellulose is a popular ingredient in water-based cosmetics and helps to ensure the beauty product can be applied evenly with a smooth appearance and finish.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line:

Hydroxyethylcellulose is a cellulose-derived polymer that’s common in cosmetics, personal care products, and water-based personal lubricants, as well as household products and even capsulated medications.

It has been approved by the Environmental Working Group and is considered to be safe for consumer use.

Although research is ongoing, the ingredient is commonly used in personal lubes marketed to those who are actively trying to conceive (TTC), as studies have shown it won’t negatively impact sperm function or motility.

If you’re at all worried about lube affecting your fertility and are searching for a lubricant with hydroxyethylcellulose, BioGenesis and BioNude from Good Clean Love are among our top recommendations.