Everything You Need To Know About Vaginal Lubricants and Moisturizers

Everything You Need To Know About Vaginal Lubricants and Moisturizers

By: Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D. • Posted on February 29, 2024

Vaginal Lubricants and Moisturizers

The over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer and lubricant products can be confusing to sort through, especially since there are no FDA requirements for how they can be marketed or labeled.

Please note: Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers do not protect you against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

How do vaginal lubricants work?

Vaginal lubricants work by reducing the friction associated with thin, dry genital tissue. Lubricants come in liquid or gel form and are applied to the vagina and vulva right before intercourse or sexual activity. It can also help to apply it to the penis or any toy/vibrator/dilator that may be inserted in the vagina. 

What are vaginal moisturizers?

Vaginal moisturizers are products that are intended to ease vaginal dryness. They need to be used regularly to maintain moisture. They are absorbed in the skin, increasing moisture in the affected area. Moisturizers may not provide enough comfort during intercourse. Vaginal moisturizers can be messy, and you may want to wear a panty liner to catch any discharge.

Long-acting vaginal moisturizers should be used at least twice weekly. Many women find they need to use a moisturizer 3-5 times/week. In addition, it is important to not only apply the moisturizer inside the vagina, but also to apply to the vestibule (the external area surrounding the opening of the vagina). Women who are not sexually active often find that the regular use of a long-acting vaginal moisturizer makes them feel more comfortable. Buyer beware! Many lubricants are labeled as moisturizers to make them more appealing to consumers.

Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers

  • Replens Moisture Restore Comfort Gel is to be used externally for dry vulvar skin. 
  • Aquaphor can also be applied externally for comfort. 
  • Desert Harvest Aloe Glide: Many people are allergic to aloe, so keep this in mind with products like this that have aloe in it.
  • Medicine Mama’s V magic: Not much medical studies on this, but many patients swear by it, has oil, beeswax and honey in it- best used externally. 

Other suggestions for vaginal moisturizers

There are other natural and over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer options that you can try. IF you are prone to urinary tract infections, yeast infections, or have diabetes, you may not be able to use natural oils.

Natural vaginal moisturizers
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (natural)Can be used as a moisturizer by placing on finger and rubbing into the vaginal canal. Do not use other food oils as they can trap bacteria.
DO NOT use with latex condoms as they weaken the condom, cause tears, and can cause disintegration of the condom. 
Vitamin E Oil (natural)Can be used as a suppository. Pure vitamin E oil is available in bottle form or capsule form. If you use the capsules, break them open and apply to the vaginal canal. You can apply vitamin E oil one or more times a day. 
DO NOT use with latex condoms as they weaken the condom, cause tears, and can cause disintegration of the condom. 
Coconut Oil (natural)Coconut oil can be used on the outside of the vaginal entrance and just inside the edge. Coconut oil is good for rejuvenating dry, irritated tissues and for keeping vaginal dryness at bay. Coconut oil should be pure, without other oils or additives. 
DO NOT use with latex condoms as they weaken the condom, cause tears, and can cause disintegration of the condom.
Vaginal moisturizers
Luvena®A vaginal moisturizer that can be found at your local drug store. It is hormone, glycerin and paraben free.
Replens®Estrogen free. Good for post-menopause or after medical treatments (such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy) that dry the vagina. This moisturizer is inserted into the vagina with an applicator 1-3 times per week. 
Women who choose not to use or cannot use localized estrogen replacement to the vagina often use Replens.
Revaree®Hormone-free. This is a vaginal insert that is placed with fingers into the vagina every 2-3 days at bedtime. This is a good option post-menopause.
Vajuvenate®This is a topical vulvar cream intended to reduce itching and irritation on the vulva. It is hormone free and has coconut oil, vitamin E, and shea butter listed as ingredients.

What is Osmolality?

Osmolality is a measure of how concentrated a substance is. Studies have shown that exposure to lubricants with high osmolality dries out and damages the moist tissue lining of the vaginal and rectum. In addition to irritation and inflammation, the damage may increase the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). In a study that looked at the safety of different lubricants, the safest ones were the silicone-based products and the water-based products with osmolality close to normal.

To prevent tissue damage, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the osmolality of water-based lubricants should be less than or equal to 380 mOsm/kg.  

Normal osmolality

  • Vagina: 260-290 mOsm/kg
  • Colon: 290 mOsm/kg
  • Semen: 250-380 mOsm/kg

What about pH balance?

pH is a measure of how acidic or how basic water-based the solution is made up. The pH scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. Low pH is below 7, which is acidic. High pH is above 7. 

Examples of pH

  • Vinegar 2.5=acidic
  • Vagina 3.8-4.5=mild acidic
  • Rectum 7.0=neutral
Product nameOsmolality in mOsm/kgpH
Slippery Stuff®13-26¹6.8-6.9¹
System Jo® Personal615.9
Sliquid® Organics Natural1064.1 - 4.4
Aloe Cadabra118not tested
Ah!® Yes Water-Based Intimate1544.1
Good Clean Love194-269¹4.7 - 4.8¹
Preseed™295not tested
Yes™ But Anal3307.8
Restore340not tested
Probe® Persona3417.7

¹ Range is from more than 1 published study of the lubricant.

Fertility and lubricants

Many studies have shown that some lubricant decrease sperm movement in lab conditions. However, one study followed women over time and did not find any difference in fertility between women using lubricants or not. This may be because lubricants remain near the vaginal opening or because sperm rapidly moves into the uterus before the toxic effect of the lubricant take place. Because it may be important for family planning, information about lubricant effect on sperm movement is below.

Normal movement
  • Pre-Seed™ Fertility-Friendly Lubricant
  • Conceive Plus®
  • BabyDance®
  • BioGenesis by Good Clean Love®
  • JO-Actively Trying®  
Normal to mildly decreased movement
  • Canola Oil
Decreased movement
  • Astroglide®
  • FemGlide®
  • Glycerin
  • KY® Jelly
  • KY® Sensitive
  • KY® Tingling (especially severe)
  • KY® Warming
  • Olive Oil
  • Replens Silky Smooth®
  • Saliva

What kind of lubricant should I use? 

There are generally three types of lubricants available:

  1. Water based lubricants
  2. Silicone lubricants
  3. Oil based lubricants

First, think about what you plan to do with them. Are you having a solo experience and don’t need to worry about condoms? Are you using a silicone toy or is it made of something else? Are you with a partner who may be using a condom or dental dam made of latex? Then find one that feels comfortable to you…everyone is different. 

It may take some trial and error, but let’s find the one that feels, tastes and smells good to you.

1. Water based lubricants

Water based lubricants are water-soluble and are the most widely used personal lubricants. They are good to use with silicone toys and condoms, but they get tacky over a short period of time. Examples include:

  • Good Clean Love (made of organic ingredients)
  • Pulse H2Oh!
  • Sylk Natural
  • System Jo
2. Silicone lubricants

Silicone lubricants are thicker and more slippery than water-based lubricants. So they last longer during sexual activity. They do not dry out quickly, unlike water-based lubricants. They are good to use with non-silicone toys (plastic, glass) and are good to use with condoms. Do not use silicone lubricant with other products made with silicone, like sexual toys and vibrators. The lubricant may damage the toy. Check the manufacturer for what type of sexual aid/toy you may have. Examples include:

  • Uber lube
  • Replens Silky Smooth
  • Pulse Aloe-ahh
  • Wet Platinum
  • JO Premium Personal Lubricant
  • PINK Silicone Lubricant
  • SLIQUID Organics silk
3. Oil based lubricants

Oil based lubricants such as virgin olive oil, canola oil, baby, oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil and Vaseline are more readily available in the home, but are not good to use with condoms. In many women, these can cause infections.

However, if you have sore spots on the vulva (outer lips), then petroleum jelly (Vaseline) can sometimes be helpful.

If you like the sensation of a warm lubricant, you may want to try Pulse. Pulse is a hands-free personal lubricant warming dispenser and is sold with water or silicone based lubricant pods that some women prefer for travel. 

In Summary

  • Vaginal lubricants should be used at the time of intercourse to decrease friction.
  • Long-acting vaginal moisturizers are used at least twice weekly to increase vaginal (internal) lubrication and elasticity.
  • Vulvar moisturizers are for external use for vulvar comfort and do not impact vaginal lubrication or elasticity.
  • Lubricants should be applied to the outside and opening of the vagina at the time of sexual activity. The lubricant can also be applied to the penis or internal toy. Silicone based lubricants should not be used on silicone vibrators or toys.
  • Both silicone and water-based lubricants are condom compatible.
  • If you use a water-based lubricant, it is also important to choose a lubricant with low osmolality since lubricants with high osmolality increase the chance of irritation and infection.
  • Vaseline petroleum products and oils (baby oil, coconut, olive oil,) can make condoms break, so should not be used with condoms.
  • All of the products listed here are over the counter. Many can be bought in any drugstore or online.  You do not need a prescription.  Also, many adult stores do carry high-quality lubricant products.
  • Remember, use a vaginal moisturizer for dry tissue, use lubricants for sexual activity.

This information is not meant to recommend or endorse any specific product. If you have any questions about what lubricant or moisturizer is best for you, please ask your doctor or sex therapist for more information.

Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
By: Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D., Sexual Health Specialist
Appointments: 216-444-6601

Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D. is a Sexual Health Specialist in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Callard-Moore received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida and her Masters and Ph.D. in Sexology from Modern Sex Therapy Institutes in Florida. To make an appointment with Dr. Callard-Moore, please call 216-444-6601.

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