Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants are separate products and should be used for separate purposes. It's important to know the difference. Although vaginal moisturizers and lubricants are both used to treat vaginal dryness, when you use them varies.
Lubrication: Lubrication is only meant to be used with sexual intercourse. Lubrication can be applied to the vulva or vagina - even on a male partner's penis - prior to intercourse. The function of lubrication is to decrease friction due to vaginal dryness, which can be a source of pain or discomfort with intercourse. Lubrication is not absorbed into the skin but rather sits on the skin's surface. Not all lubricants are created equally. They tend to be either water, silicone, or oil-based. Additionally, some water-based products contain glycerin, a preservative that is processed as sugar in the body, which can increase bacterial growth and is not recommended for women who are prone to yeast infections.
1. Water-based lubricants are best for people with sensitive skin and are non-staining to bedding. They also have the lowest breakage rate when used with condoms. However, water-based lubrication can dry up quicker, requiring more frequent application. This product cannot be used in water. Many lubricant companies produce water, silicone, or oil-based options, so make sure to check the label. Examples of water-based lubricants: Slippery Stuff, Good Clean Love, KY Ultra Gel, Liquid Silk, YES, Astroglide, FemGlide.
2. Silicone-based lubricant is typically longer-lasting than water-based and can be used in water. Do not use a silicone lubricant with silicone toys, as it will ruin the toy's surface. Since silicone doesn't dry out, it can be necessary to remove the silicone residue from the vulva with warm water and soap. It can also take some time for the vagina to eliminate the silicone, which can pose a higher risk of infection. Silicone can stain also bedding. Examples of silicone-based lubricants: Pjur, Uberlube, Astroglide, Pink, Platinum.
3. Oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms or diaphragms. Due to the thicker consistency of oil, bacteria can more easily stick around in the vagina, encouraging bacterial growth and irritation. This is more common with synthetic oil products (petroleum, baby and mineral oil). versus the natural oil options (plant-based). Polyurethane condoms, however, can be used with oil-based lubricants. Examples of oil-based lubricants: Petroleum Jelly, baby oil, and mineral oil, YES OB, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, vitamin E oil.
Warning: Warming lubricants, that are marketed to enhance sexual stimulation or pleasure, often contain ingredients such as capsaicin (a component of chili peppers) and glycerin, which can increase the chance of yeast infections. Although some women do experience a warming sensation, some report symptoms of burning and stinging.
Vaginal Moisturizer: Unlike lubrication, vaginal moisturizers absorb into the skin and cling to the vaginal lining to mimic natural vaginal secretions. Moisturizers can be applied regularly, as they help to enhance vaginal moisture throughout the day and can last for several days once applied. They can be used together with lubrication during intercourse. Moisturizers may also be applied into the vagina using an applicator. A down-side to vaginal moisturizers is that they can be messy, as the vaginal tissue absorbs what is needed and excretes the rest. Hand and body lotions should not be used to alleviate vaginal dryness, as they can cause irritation to vaginal tissues.
The hormone, estrogen, helps to maintain a moist environment in the vagina. Moist tissues help to maintain a balanced pH in the vagina and keep the vaginal tissues elastic and strong. The reduction of estrogen can lead to thinning and drying of vaginal tissues. Estrogen levels can drop due to: menopause, childbirth and breastfeeding, radiation or chemotherapy treatment, surgical removal of the ovaries, anti-estrogen medication used to treat uterine fibroids or endometriosis. As a result, itching, burning, and soreness of these tissues can be present throughout the day, not just during intercourse. Vaginal moisturizers can be used up to 3 times a week to treat these symptoms. Ingredients in vaginal moisturizers can vary, primarily between oil and water-based ingredients. It is important to also be aware of glycerin present in many vaginal moisturizers. Example of vaginal moisturizers include: YES VM, V Magic, Membrasin Vitality Pearls, Replens, Good Clean Love, Luvena, Vagisil Prohydrate, KY liquibeads.
Due to the varying ingredients in every product, it is difficult to recommend a vaginal lubricant or moisturizer that will work for everyone. Often trial and error is needed to find what products work for your body. It can be helpful to discuss the pros and cons of different ingredients with your doctor who can make a recommendation based on your vulvovaginal health.