Samantha Jones would be so proud of the progress women’s sexual and reproductive health has made in recent years: Non-toxic tampons have gone mainstream, sex toys are getting a fem-positive makeover, and women aren’t just talking about their orgasms, they’re figuring out how to biohack them. But there’s one goodie drawer item that’s still kept pretty hush-hush: lube.
According to Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, it’s time to pay more attention to the ingredients in your lube, which can impact your endocrine system, your fertility, and even your susceptibility to STDs. Don’t recall learning that in sex ed? Yeah, same.
Keep reading for expert-backed tips on how to shop clean lube.
Packaging matters more than you might think
You may already know to look for BPA-free water bottles and food containers, but have you ever considered how plastic packaging can affect your lube? “When it comes to plastics, there is so much data out there about BPA and those types of toxins, so you should absolutely care about the plastic containers that water- or silicone-based lubes are sitting in,” says Dr. Eyvazzadeh.
The first reason for concern: BPA is one of many potential hormone-disrupting chemicals that can migrate from packaging into the product it carries. And “the vagina is like a sponge,” says Dr. Eyvazzadeh. “Whatever you put in, it can get absorbed.” So do the math: If it’s in the packaging, it’s likely also in the product—and yes, it’s likely in your body, too.
Considering that the way BPA accumulates in the body can impact your reproductive health and your fertility, maybe save toxic plastics for your next screening of Mean Girls—and definitely leave them off your bedside table. Instead, look for products that come in BPA-free plastic (like those by Good Clean Love, which uses plastic made from recycled sugar cane), or opt for lubricants you find in your pantry (more on that later).
Hold the parabens and phthalates, please!
Dr. Eyvazzadeh points to parabens and pthalates as preservatives to avoid when scanning your lube’s ingredients label. “They’re cheap and effective preservatives and allow for a longer product shelf life,” she says. “But with paraben exposure, the issue is that these ingredients are hormone disruptors and can mimic natural estrogen, which could potentially promote cancer, and phthalates are similar to parabens in their effects.”
That being said, preservatives are necessary in products like lube because they inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Luckily, better-for-you options do exist! Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are two non-sensitizing preservatives that have been deemed food-grade by the FDA and they make the cut on Whole Foods’ strict quality standards. Wendy Strgar, the founder and CEO of non-toxic lubricant company Good Clean Love, relies on both to keep her products, you know, clean.
Certain chemicals can make sex less safe
Two things that Strgar doesn’t allow into her products: fillers like glycols and petrochemicals like petrolatum. In developing her water-based lubes, Strgar discovered that petrochemicals and glycols strip the vagina of good bacteria it needs to fight off infections.
“When you use a lube that combines those ingredients, it’s likely it will slough off the protective top layer of cells in the vaginal cavity because it’s basically drowning the lactobacilli, which is there to defend against bad bacteria,” says Strgar. “What happens next is your vagina’s pH goes up, creating an ideal situation for bad bacteria to grow.”
Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition resulting from an upset in the balance of good and bad bacteria down there. According to Strgar, when your bacterial balance is out of whack, you’re 60 percent more susceptible to STDs because your immune system may already be strained by fighting off BV. (And be aware that oil-based lubricants can degrade condoms.)
Head to your kitchen for DIY alternatives
Raiding the kitchen isn’t just reserved for your post-romp munchies. According to Dr. Eyvazzadeh, you probably have a full stock of the best natural lubes right in your cabinets.
“Natural products really are the best,” she says. “For my fertility patients, I recommend using either egg whites, olive oil, or coconut oil,” she says. “You likely have many of these at home and know they’re not toxic.” And if your cupboards are bare? Opt for your—or your partner’s—saliva, she adds.
Did you know that you can turn to your diffuser and these essential oils to set the mood tonight? First, make sure you know how lube can affect the condom you’re using—and what that means for safe sex.