Come Clean: What's In Your Lube?

Clean living is on everyone’s minds. Clean eating, clean beauty, even clean household products – more and more people are avoiding the potential health and environmental hazards of the additives and chemicals in the foods we eat and the products we use daily.

However, even the most informed consumer may not be aware of one crucial factor: what’s in your sex products?

Lubricants and other bedroom accessories haven’t been subject to the same scrutiny as beauty and wellness products — possibly because sex itself is still taboo in some corners. People might be feeling a little shy, rushing to click the “check out now” button – but we owe it to our bodies to be just as careful when we choose a lube.

At Foria, we’re proud to say that we never add anything to our products that didn’t grow directly out of the earth – and all our ingredients are responsibly grown to organic standards, so you can be assured that there’s no pesticide residue in anything we make.

Unfortunately, many companies producing intimacy products aren’t so honest, and there can be some pretty nasty stuff hiding behind that “natural” label.

If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your genitals.

That’s a catchy slogan with real physiological weight behind it. The mucosal membranes that line your vulva, vagina and rectum are very similar to the lining of your mouth. They’re incredibly permeable and absorptive. Any chemical that comes in contact with those tissues is likely to head directly to your bloodstream, bypassing any digestive “buffer”. 

In some cases this is a good thing! Certain useful substances – like CBD – benefit tremendously from that quick absorption process. In the case of other chemicals… well, the picture isn’t so pretty.

The following is a brief but not exhaustive list of common ingredients to avoid, and why.

Phthalates

Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are usually used to make plastics more flexible and less brittle. They’re also used as solvents, which allow some substances to dissolve into others. And they’re everywhere. According to the CDC:

They are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes).

Although exposure to low levels hasn’t been conclusively proven harmful, researchers have linked phthalates to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, type II diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, altered reproductive development and male fertility problems. 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Bill banned the use of some phthalates in children’s products and recommended further study. 

Why were phthalates banned in children’s toys? Because little kids put everything in their mouths. You can see where this is going.

Phthalates don’t usually turn up in lube, but they’re extremely common in sex toys – especially cheap sex toys – because of that plastic-softening factor. Good sex toys aren’t cheap, and cheap sex toys aren’t good. 

When shopping for a dildo, vibrator or anything meant to go in your orifices, steer clear of plastic, jelly-like rubber, vinyl or PVC. Instead select silicone, glass or stainless steel. And if you’re not certain what a toy is made of, give it a sniff – if it smells rubbery or like “new car”, send it back or don’t buy it.

Parabens

Parabens are a class of preservatives that have been used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other personal-care products – including lube – since the 1950s. Since these products contain substances that can biodegrade, mold, or foster harmful bacteria, parabens are added to keep them shelf-stable. 

Parabens are so widely-used that they’ve been found in urine samples of adults across every possible demographic. And they end up dispersed throughout our environment – they’ve even turned up in the tissues of some marine mammals. 

So that’s creepy. Creepier still is parabens’ association with a wide range of serious health problems. According to the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

“Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells.” 

Although no causal link between paraben exposure and cancer or reproductive harm has yet been demonstrated, these substances are so ubiquitous that our bodies – and animals’ bodies – may be becoming overloaded. 

It probably isn’t possible to avoid parabens altogether, but to reduce exposure, it’s best to read labels carefully – and absolutely don’t buy personal lubricants with parabens in them.

Fragrances

Who doesn’t like to smell nice? Human noses might not be as sensitive as our animal friends’, but we can still tell a lot by smell – including whether we’d like to get close to another person. 

Manufacturers of products targeted towards women and  people with vulvas know this, and they also know that we’re subject to a lot of cultural messages about the natural aroma of our genitals. So there’s a whole world of scented products that capitalize on that messaging, like douches, wipes, sprays, sanitary pads, tampons, and lubes — all made with cheap synthetic chemicals that simulate the fresh smell of flowers or fruits with a one-note fragrance that can actually be toxic or irritating.

Did you know that Lysol was originally marketed as a feminine hygiene product? Predictably, it caused terrible reactions – so it was repackaged as an air freshener.

Even if they’re not as harsh and aggressive as Lysol, these synthetic fragrances can still irritate your vulva, causing inflammation, itching, pain, and even infections like bacterial vaginosis. They can also disrupt your natural pH, leading to an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. (We’ve discussed the effect of synthetic fragrances and oils in our blog on the myths about using coconut oil as a lube.)

We all have our own individual scent, and it will fluctuate with our health, activity, and diet. Unfortunately, most of us have been programmed to have shame or insecurities around this subject. Vaginas aren't supposed to smell like fake flowers, they are supposed to smell like vaginas. Keep clean by rinsing with plain water, and get to know and love your own scent, so you can tell when something may be out of balance.

Glycerin

A pretty benign substance as a rule, glycerin is found in all kinds of personal-care products from soap to toothpaste. Some people are allergic to it, but it’s widely considered safe. You don’t need to panic if you see it on a label – unless the label is on a bottle of lube. Why?

Glycerin is a sugar alcohol — it even tastes sweet — and sugar’s biggest fan is yeast.

If you’ve baked bread, you know how this works – you mix yeast with warm water and sugar, let it sit, and within an hour or so the yeast is fed, happy and growing all over the place. Great news for a tasty loaf – not so great for vulvas.

If you’re prone to yeast infections – or even if you aren’t – keep anything sweet away from your vulva. Yeast infections can become chronic and very difficult to treat, and they’re miserably uncomfortable. A lube with glycerin might seem fun in the short term, but might not feel so great later.

The Garden Knows Best

Keep in mind that “clean” or “natural” on a label comes with caveats. Many “natural” sex products aren’t made from organically-grown ingredients – meaning you might still end up with pesticide residue on your genitals (not to mention that industrial farming is terrible for the health of the earth we all depend on). 

Here at Foria, the only unpronounceable thing we like to see on labels are the Latin names of plants. We’ve been making clean, all-natural and organic intimacy products since 2014, and we believe that the additives we’ve discussed here are unnecessary at best, harmful at worst. Plants invented sex - why mess with nature?

With increased consumer awareness, we’re pleased to see our back-to-the-garden approach being appreciated. We will never use phthalates, parabens, artificial fragrances or glycerin – and although our products smell and taste great, you can be confident that it’s just Mother Nature’s magic at work, not synthetic BS. Ever. 


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