Lube Lessons: The Truth About Glycerin
By: Rebecca Pinette-Dorin
THE TRUTH ABOUT GLYCERIN
Everywhere you look on the internet there is a blog on lubricants telling you that Glycerin is “a poison”, “a chemical”, “a sugar” or just basically something you definitely should not have in your lube. “Glycerin causes STIs and yeast infections,” is a common theme and a common misconception.
Yeast infections are caused by many, many things: hormones, antibiotics, fatigue, a lack of hygiene during sex, or even too much hygiene- and yes, you can get a yeast infection by putting sugar on your vagina- but Glycerin is not a sugar. Nor is it a poison, but yes, in as much as it is a “compound or substance that has been purified or prepared” it is a chemical. Big deal.
The truth is high-quality vegan glycerin makes great water-based lube. It lasts longer, has excellent texture, no crusty residue and provides the most natural feeling that you can get next to a woman’s natural lubrication.
As the daughter of a chemist and microbiologist, I literally grew up in a lab, so I get more than a bit annoyed whenever I see this kind of fake science at work. Let’s try and clear Glycerin’s name, shall we?
START WITH THE SCIENCE
Glycerin, or glycerol (C3H8O3) as it is scientifically called, can be made from many things. It is not at all the same thing as sugar, which is sucrose and fructose combined (C12H22O11). Sugar is a carbohydrate and glycerin, strangely enough, is an alcohol. And while yeast loves sugar, absolutely no real scientific study has ever shown that glycerin causes yeast to grow- but that is not to say all glycerin is completely blameless when it comes to fungal infections like candida.
First of all, there are many types of glycerin, which can be made from both animal fat or vegetable oil. To put it very simply, when the fatty acids are separated from the oil or fat, glycerin is what remains.
Only vegan, ultra-pure, medical-grade glycerin should be used to make personal lubricants. Food-grade glycerin could still contain some fatty acids which might indeed cause a bout of Candida, and call me crazy but I personally would not like to use a lubricant made from animal-fat glycerol.
Here is where things get sticky (Pun intended!). In most lube, there is no way to know what kind of glycerin is in play. Manufacturers of adult products almost never inform consumers where their ingredients are coming from, or how they are made. Probably they don’t even know. Cheap, substandard glycerin does not necessarily feed yeast, but it can create an unhealthy environment in the vagina because it raises osmolality.
Say it with me: OS-MO-LAL-ITY. (Now say it five times fast!)
One key attribute of any personal lubricant is osmolality, which is, to put it simply, the measure of how much a substance pulls moisture from one side of a membrane to the other. Or for our purposes, how much does a lube cause your vaginal or rectal skin to release its moisture? (It seems crazy that something that is supposed to make you wet, actually might be stealing your juice, right?) Lubes with high osmolality dry out your membranes, causing irritation and pH imbalance. An imbalanced environment in your vagina or anus is fertile ground for all kinds of trouble; yeast infections are just the tip of the iceberg.
The 2012 World Health Organization’s (WHO) study on lubricants for use with condoms found that the vast majority of US manufactured lubricants had osmolality levels three to five times what WHO considered the highest limit for safe sex (1200 mOsm/kg). One very popular lubricant listed in the study had an osmolality of 4523 mOsm/kg and another industry standard came in at a whopping 8064 mOsm/kg, almost eight times the safe-sex limit! These products are not exceptions, they are the rule. 86% of the lubes listed in the WHO study had osmolality levels well over the safe-sex limit.
(Check your brand’s osmolality here: www.womensvoices.org/osmolality-ph-properties-commercial-lubricants/)
IN CONCLUSION, GLYCERIN IS NOT THE ENEMY
Cheap and impure ingredients in lube are the problem and the problem is endemic. I don’t want to scare you, but the sad fact is, most personal lubricant in the United States is sold unregulated by the FDA, even though FDA certification is required by law.
But what about all of the sexperts, the bloggers, the educators who insist that glycerin is poison? Are they all wrong?
The short answer is yes. They are wrong. (Please, before you get super angry with me- hear me out.)
Many of those blogger and educators are people I love and respect. They are doing their job to try to protect people, but they are victims of something called an informational cascade. That’s when something, even false information, is repeated so many times it becomes true, even though it isn’t. (To paraphrase the hilarious Nora Ephron, “Then why isn’t it called the misinformational cascade”?)
“Glycerin is sugar/poison/the devil” has become cannon through simple repetition, and I think it is time to stop the cascade and start telling the truth.
What we need is not to view glycerin as the enemy, but to hold our lubricants to higher standards. What we need is transparency about where ingredients are coming from. What we need is to give women the information they need to make informed decisions about their own bodies without resorting to scare tactics.
Want to learn more about lubricants and how to find the one that works best for you? Read How Do I Know Which Lube To Choose?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Pinette-Dorin is a writer, activist, business-woman and educator who has been working in the sex industry since 2004. Currently, she is the North-American Sales Manager for EXSENS. Learn more at: www.sexpositiverebecca.com
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