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What is a Water-Based Lubricant?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Lubricant is a substance, typically fluid, that is used to reduce friction during sexual activity. Water-based lubricants are specifically those fluids or gels that are made from a base of water and typically a cellulose or glycerin solution. A water-based lubricant is water soluble and can therefore be fairly easily washed off. The earliest and still most prevalent forms of personal lubricants are water-based, though newer forms of oil-based and natural lubricants have come onto the market.

Because they are water-based, such lubricants can have a tendency to dry out during use. This can be remedied to some extent by applying more of the lubricant or by applying a small amount of water to the area. A water-based lubricant will dry on its own and be absorbed into the skin or dissolve after use, leaving only the residue of the other ingredients. Because a water-based lubricant can dry out it is usually best to reapply during use to prevent a buildup of friction that can cause injury such as blistering or skin irritation.

When a water-based lubricant dries on the skin, it can lead to stickiness or tackiness in the area, as sugar or glycerin remains after the water disappears. To avoid such unpleasantness, manufacturers have begun using moisturizers in the water-based lubricants they produce. These moisturizers tend to leave the area of use free from such unpleasant residue and help encourage healthy skin.

Because water-based lubricants are water soluble they are not good for use during any sexual activity that occurs in water, such as a pool, shower or bath. The lubricant will dissolve in the water and disperse, and water alone may not provide enough lubrication to prevent friction and irritation. There are other lubricants such as oil-based or silicone-based lubricants that are preferable for use when in water, though there are other drawbacks and restrictions for effective use of those products. Any user should read the label of any product he or she is going to use before use to ensure proper safety precautions and personal care are observed.

Though water-based lubricant is typically nontoxic, especially in small amounts, it should not be ingested and typically has a bad taste and smell due to the chemicals used. While some lubricants can contain spermicidal ingredients to help aid birth control, typically no lubricant alone is sufficient to prevent pregnancy. Lubricants also do not tend to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and should be used in conjunction with other safe sex practices.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By ElizaBennett — On Aug 23, 2011

Another consideration is that some studies have shown that using lubricant, even saliva, tends to create a hostile environment for sperm and reduce a woman's chances of getting pregnant. (No, that does *not* mean that KY counts as birth control. Just that if you're trying to get pregnant, you won't be helping yourself out if you use it.)

For a lot of couples, it won't make a difference they'll get pregnant easily. But if you haven't gotten pregnant your first couple of cycles and/or you have reason to think you might have lower than average fertility, you might want to try a special lubricant that is more sperm-friendly. I think the one I've heard of is called Pre Seed or something like that.

By robbie21 — On Aug 22, 2011

@umbra21 - I read that same thing about the glycerin, so I checked labels carefully. Astroglide has at least one variety that does not contain glycerin. It even comes in a CVS brand that's cheaper!

I think the problem with the glycerin is that it's basically a sugar. Sugar, either in the diet or in the vagina, feeds yeast and encourages it to grow. (I have cut way down on sugar in my diet and have noticed fewer yeast infections.)

By umbra21 — On Aug 22, 2011

You have to be careful with some kinds of water based lubricant. Because they use glycerin in some of them, they can make it easier for women to suffer from yeast infections.

Unfortunately, almost all kinds of lube seem to have some sort of drawback.

Although I've heard that there are some new kinds of water based lube that can help to protect against getting HPV.

I think it's definitely worth researching to try and find a lube that suits both you and your partner. People don't realize how important it is until they have to go without it.

By pleonasm — On Aug 22, 2011

Water based lubricants are much better for use with condoms. You absolutely have to use lube with condoms, or they might tear. In fact, I've noticed that quite a few condom packs now come with little sachets of lube, which is really awesome.

But, if you use oil based lube, it can end up weakening the condom which might also lead to a tear.

Water based lubes aren't as pleasant to use as oil based lube and it's true, it does tend to dry up quickly, but it's the safest option.

If it dries up, just add some more!

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