Lube is highly recommended for reducing vaginal dryness or friction during sex, improving arousal and orgasms, and helping with the comfortable insertion of sex toys and pelvic health tools.
However, not all lubes are the same. We put together a short guide on the different types of lubes and explain why some are much better options from a feminine hygiene perspective.
What Is A Vaginal Yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called candida when the natural pH level of the vagina is thrown off balance and the vaginal microbiome is disrupted.
Approximately 75% of women get at least one yeast infection at some point in their life, and although not serious, symptoms like vulvar itching and a lumpy vaginal discharge can be unpleasant.
Several factors are known to increase the risk of yeast infections, including; stress, tight clothing, the use of birth control pills, taking antibiotics to treat another condition, and personal lubricants that contain harmful ingredients for the vagina.
Can Lubes Cause Yeast Infections?
Yes, certain lubricants can cause yeast infections, especially those with glycerin or other sugars. This is because they have the potential to disrupt the vaginal flora.
The vaginal microbiome, also known as the vaginal flora or vaginal microbiota, is a complex micro-ecosystem that works to maintain a perfect balance of “good” and “bad” microorganisms to keep infections at bay and the vagina healthy.
That said, there are many quality lubricants available. In fact, many lubes are made with safe ingredients that serve to protect the vaginal microbiome, it is just a matter of understanding what to look for on lube labels. More on that is below.
Why is the pH Level of Lube Important?
The pH level of lube is important because you do not want it to alter the natural pH level of your vagina. When healthy, your vagina has a pH level of between 3.8 and 4.5, meaning the vaginal microbiome is maintaining its mildly acidic environment.
In this environment, good bacteria known as lactobacilli can thrive and harmful microorganisms are prevented from developing into conditions like yeast infections or other vaginal infections.
When purchasing lube, ensure the pH level of the product is in line with the natural vaginal pH (anywhere between 3.8 and 4.5) to maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome and keep infections at bay.
What Are the 3 Types of Lubes?
Personal lubricants fall into three categories – water-based lube, oil-based lube, and silicone-based lube. While water-based lube is considered the universal all-rounder that can be safely used for all types of sexual activity, studies on oil-based lubes show that they attract bacteria and damage latex condoms leaving sexual partners open to vaginal infections & STIs.
Silicone-based lubes, although relatively safe from causing yeast infections are known to leave stubborn stains on bedsheets and damage the outer layer of silicone sex toys.
What is the Worst Lube for Causing Yeast Infections?
If you suffer from recurring yeast infections, it is best to avoid oil-based lubricants. Oils are known to attract and trap bacteria and because they are difficult to wash off, oil-based lubes can linger for days in the vagina collecting bacteria that can tip the vaginal microbiome off balance and result in a yeast infection.
A two-year study involving 141 sexually active women, for instance, concluded that those using various oils as personal lubricants showed a 32% increased risk of yeast infections.
What Lubes Don't Cause Yeast Infections?
These days, experts recommend water-based lubricants or silicone to decrease the chances of developing a yeast infection. This is because these lubes are less likely to disrupt the vaginal pH or the vaginal microbiome and are the most likely to prevent yeast infections.
Water-based lubes are also safe to use with latex condoms meaning both partners stay protected from STIs, and they will not corrode the outer layer of your favorite sex toys. When it comes to application, water-based lubes also feel the most similar to the vagina’s natural lubrication.
That said, it is important to ensure that the water-based lube you choose is made with the safest ingredients (more on that below) and has a pH level between 3.8 and 4.5, especially if you are prone to yeast infections.
Can Water-Based Lube Still Cause a Yeast Infection?
The short answer is yes they still can depending on which type of other ingredients they are made of. That's why it's important to choose a water based lube that is free from added sugars or glycerin, as these can potentially contribute to yeast overgrowth.
The key is to avoid lubricants with harmful components such as the following:
When it comes to water-based lubes, animal-fat glycerin is the biggest culprit of yeast infections.
Although it is widely touted that any type of glycerin used in lube will increase your risk of yeast infections, only animal-fat glycerin has been scientifically proven to contribute to vaginal infections.
Plant-based glycerin, on the other hand, is considered a safe ingredient in water-based lube and will not increase your risk of yeast infections. So if water-based lube is your preferred lube, choose one that is made from plant-based or vegan glycerin.
Fragrances & Flavors
Flavored and fragranced lubes contain glucose (sugar) and additives that can upset the vaginal microbiome and alter the vaginal pH balance, leaving the genitals more susceptible to yeast infections, STIs, and other types of vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis.
Acetate is alcohol and any ingredient ending in ”acetate” on a lube label is also a form of alcohol. The reason it’s best to avoid acetate in lube is due to its drying properties. When the vaginal skin becomes dry, it can lead to irritation and itching, which could result in minute skin tears, open sores and genital infections.
Propylene glycol is a paraben, which are harmful preservatives used in many cosmetics and lubes. Parabens are best avoided because they are known to irritate sensitive vaginal skin, upset the body’s natural hormonal balance, and adversely affect the reproductive system. When choosing lube that will help you to avoid yeast infections, look for one that is paraben-free.
Silicone Lubricants and Yeast Infections
Using silicone lube can potentially increase the risk of developing a yeast infection. Silicone-based lubricants do not absorb into the skin like water-based lubricants do, which can create a moist environment that promotes the growth of yeast. To prevent a yeast infection, it is recommended to use water-based lubricants instead.
Additional Ingredients to Avoid
Although they will not contribute to the occurrence of yeast infections, the following ingredients should also be avoided in water-based lubes to maintain a healthy vagina.
- Grapefruit Seed Extract
- Petroleum Jelly by-products
- Silicone oils
Velvet Rose Water-Based Lubricant, for instance, comes highly recommended by consumers for its silky-smooth texture and vaginal dryness relief. Most importantly, however, it incorporates only safe ingredients, is pH balanced (4.0 – 4.4) and it is one of the few FDA-approved lubes on the market.
How to know if You have a Yeast Infection?
Vaginal yeast infections can be mild or severe, depending on how long they are left untreated.
Initial symptoms typically include:
- Itchy vulva (outer vaginal lips),
- White & lumpy vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese
- Burning sensation when peeing or during sex
- Unpleasant vaginal odor that smells like fish or stale cheese
When left untreated, the white lumpy vaginal discharge can turn green and vulvar itching can become so intense that open sores can get infected.
Lubes are a pleasurable and safe way to enhance your sex life and avoid the discomfort of vaginal dryness during intercourse. That being said, not all lubricant ingredients are safe for the vagina and some can cause yeast infections.
If you are prone to yeast infections, or concerned about getting one from using lube, have a read above about the lubricant ingredients you’ll want to avoid.
Mayo Clinic – Yeast Infection - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999
The Journal of Sexual Medicine - Association of Lubricant Use with Women's Sexual Pleasure, Sexual Satisfaction, and Genital Symptoms - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1743609515332562
Prevention - Can Lubes Cause Yeast Infections? - https://www.prevention.com/sex/a20444347/some-lubricants-may-cause-yeast-infections/
National Library of Medicine - Intravaginal practices and risk of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis infection among a cohort of women in the United States - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23635677/
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.