Surprisingly there is little research evaluating the types of solutions and products women insert into their vagina and the effects these products can have on vaginal health. With bacterial vaginosis and candida infections causing between 5 and 10 million clinic visits annually you would think the government would want to develop a better understanding of intravaginal practices.(1) We assume as with most things that if it is allowed on the shelves it is safe for use. However, this is not always the case. Personal lubricants have been under investigation for years as to their possible role in the transmission or inhibition of HIV. So if they can increase the chances of HIV in anal intercourse between men what are they doing to the sensitive mucosa found in the vagina and what should we do to protect the integrity of our vaginal epithelium?
It has been well established that hyperosmolar sexual lubricants cause epithelial damage in the colon. For example Replens, which is a hyperosmolar lubricant, was found to strip colorectal tissue (damage its epithelia). But what you also need to know is that the endocervical (the vagina) and colonic tissue share similar epithelial structures, meaning the effects of lubricants osmolality has the ability to damage the tissue in the vagina by causeing breakdown of the mucosal epithelium.(2) This is problem because the mucosal epithelium is the bodies functional barrier against potential pathogens both viral and bacterial within the vagina. (5)
However the osmolality isn’t the only concern in over the counter (OCT) sexual lubricants. Their PH, effect on the good bacteria, and preservatives all affect the delicate tissues in both the rectum and vagina. In the study Is wetter better?… they found that 7 of the 10 water based lubricants tested were acidic. This acidity leads to a breakdown of the mucosal lining in the vagina. They also found that lubricants affected the levels of Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is important for maintenance of the female genital tract and loss of lactobacilli coincides with susceptibility to HIV and bacterial infections. Astroglide, Replens and Gynoll were all found to reduce the number of strains of lactobacillus in the mucosal tissue but Ky jelly showed a complete loss of all three strains. The difference here is that Ky Jelly uses a higher concentration of chlorhexidine, chlorhexidine gluconate is a bactericidal compound used frequently as a preservative in OCT lubricants. This particular preservative has been associated with the development of Bacterial vaginitis, although, results were not 100% conclusive and further study is needed. (5)
In this same study silicon based products could not be reliably tested for their impact on epithelial because of their physical nature (lipid based) but overall showed no effects on tissue viability or the epithelium. Lubricants, such as Good Clean Fun and PRE, found to be iso-osmolar showed no loss of viability or epithelium.
Other ingredients in commercial lubricants that can affect the vaginal epithelium are Glycerin and EDTA. Glycerin is believed to affect the epithelium through osmotic changes whereas EDTA chelates the CA and Mg ions and causes the tight junctions that hold the tissue together to diminish. When epithelial cells can no longer bind tightly this allows bacteria and viruses to pass through the protective barrier.
So, take a good look at what your using in the bedroom and make the smarter choice by choosing a lubricant that you can at least read the ingredients on. Flow motion imported from New Zealand by Pacific Resources is one such lubricant. Not only is it certified organic but it is made from simple ingredients and does not contain glycerin or nasty preservatives. Be informed, be healthy and know what your using in your body.
(1)Brown, Joelle. (2013). Intravaginal practices and risk of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis infection among a cohort of women in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 121(4), 773 – 780. UC Office of the President: California HIV/AIDS Research Program. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4m58v21t
(2)Fuchs, E. J., Lee, L. A., Torbenson, M. S., Parsons, T. L., Bakshi, R. P., Guidos, A. M., & … Hendrix, C. W. (2007). Hyperosmolar sexual lubricant causes epithelial damage in the distal colon: potential implication for HIV transmission. The Journal Of Infectious Diseases, 195(5), 703-710.
(3)Nicole, W. (2014). A question for women’s health: chemicals in feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(3), A70-A75. doi:10.1289/ehp.122-A70
(4)Moench TR, et al. Microbicide excipients can greatly increase susceptibility to genital herpes transmission in the mouse. BMC Infect Dis 10:331 (2010);http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1471-2334-10-331
(5)Dezzutti CS, Brown ER, Moncla B, Russo J, Cost M, et al. (2012) Is Wetter Better? An Evaluation of Over-the-Counter Personal Lubricants for Safety and Anti-HIV-1 Activity. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48328. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048328