When you need a lubricant, you need it fast. But a new study out of UCLA warns against using just any slippery solution out of your medicine cabinet or kitchen—doing so could put you at risk for vaginal infections.
In a 2-year study of 141 sexually active women between the ages of 18 and 65, researchers found those who used petroleum jelly intravaginally increased their risk for bacterial vaginosis by 22%. Similarly, those who reported using oils inside the vagina had a 32% increased risk for yeast infection.
“It is possible that these products change the delicate balance of vaginal flora—organisms that live in the vagina—and acidity in a healthy vagina,” explains study author Joelle Brown, PhD. Any changes in that balance, whether it’s due to irritating lubricants or otherwise, can trigger an infection.
What’s more, Brown says there’s growing evidence that some products meant for delicate areas—including certain types of lubricants and unnecessary cleansing products—can damage vaginal tissues and increase your risk for more serious infections including HIV. Leaving one of these infections untreated can cause more infection and fertility issues, says Brown.
When choosing a lubricant, finding one that gets the job done but won’t tip the scale of good and bad bacteria is key, says Lauren Streicher, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. And there’s hardly a worse choice, according to Dr. Streicher, than petroleum jelly. “It stays there for days and days, attracting and collecting bacteria while making latex condoms less effective.” Your favorite kitchen oil is out, too: “If it’s supposed to go in your food, it shouldn’t go anywhere else,” she warns. Natural oils—including the new crop of body and hair oils—deteriorate latex, don’t rinse off easily, and trap bacteria.
Don’t swear off lubricants just yet—they still do wonders for your sex life, both solo and with your partner. The key? Read the ingredients. They could make the difference between mindblowing sex and an extra trip to the gyno. Check out Dr. Streicher’s recommendations:
Popularly added to water-based lubricants to make them more slippery, glycerin is similar to glucose—sugar—which creates a breeding ground for yeast. Also avoid sorbitol, another sugar that could create problems.
LOOK FOR: Silicone (Dimethicone)
If you’re not worried about using condoms (i.e., you’re monogamous), they last longer than water-based lubricants and don’t require extra sugar to stay slick.
Any ingredient that ends in acetate means it’s an alcohol. Alcohol is naturally drying and can be irritating to delicate skin. Too much scratching can tear the tissue, opening you up to other infections and STIs.
LOOK FOR: Aloe Vera
This natural soothing agent “doesn’t change the vaginal walls,” Dr. Streicher says, and can actually help soften the skin.
AVOID: Propylene Glycol
Used as a preservative in many popular lubes, propolene glycol can be very irritating.
LOOK FOR: Paraben-Free
We’ve already warned you about parabens in cosmetics, and the same applies to your lubricant. Unfortunately, many feminine hygiene products are regulated like your makeup, which means preservatives like parabens are totally allowed. If you can help it, try to stay paraben-free, even in bed.