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Silicone-based lube: less friction, more glyde

Photo by Simone Viani on Unsplash
Photo by Simone Viani on Unsplash

Nowadays, I like to have a different lube for every occasion. But back when I first tried silicone-based lube, it was a total game changer and quickly became my ultimate go-to lube for pretty much everything (including oiling my squeaky bedroom door hinges and preventing my thighs from chafing when I wore dresses).

The best thing about silicone-based lube is how long-lasting it is. No, wait - the best thing has to be how little taste or smell it has. Or, hold up… actually the fact that it isn’t sticky - and never gets sticky - is really just amazing. Alright, so I can’t commit to a single best thing. There’s just so much to love about silicone-based lube! 

But, of course, there are also some drawbacks that you’ll want to consider before stocking up.  

Here are the quick pros & cons:

But when people start to inquire beyond these advantages and disadvantages, silicone gets a little more complicated - and some people might just avoid using silicone-based lube entirely because they don’t understand what it is or if it’s safe.

What is silicone?

Silicones are derived from the natural compound silica (a.k.a. silicon dioxide, or SiO₂), which is a combination of the two most prevalent elements in the earth’s crust (oxygen and silicon) and is found in many rocks, clays and sands

“Silicone” is sometimes used interchangeably with “silicon”, but the latter refers specifically to the natural chemical element, while “silicone” is the lab-manipulated substance.

Silicones used in lube and body care products are comprised of organosiloxanes, which are molecules with alternating silicon and oxygen atoms along a carbon chain or ring (sometimes other elements are added in small amounts). 

On a product label, ingredients ending in -cone, -siloxane, or -conol are usually silicones.

Is it safe?

There's a lot of conflicting info out there about silicone, in general, and silicone-based lubricants, more specifically (like, A LOT). And because of how the internet works, many of the same claims get repeated over and over (often without any reliable supporting evidence).

Given this overwhelming number of differing opinions, I was happy to find Lab Muffin’s video in which she refutes the most common myths about silicone-based skin & hair products. If you’re not already familiar with her work, make sure to check it out! Lab Muffin is a chemistry PhD, cosmetic chemist and science educator, so she knows way more about silicones than your average person.

The 3 most common concerns about using silicone-based lube

#1 It's often said that silicone lube coats the skin/mucus membranes, not allowing them to breathe and potentially trapping bacteria or dirt - and that this can lead to infection and/or irritation.

Here's what Lab Muffin has to say (specifically in relation to silicone coating the skin, since she's talking about skin and hair care products):

[T]his isn’t the case, and it’s hard to work out where it comes from other than just speculation – there’s zero research that shows any of this!
Silicones actually form a breathable layer on your skin – they’re permeable to oxygen and water vapor [...] Oxygen and water molecules can wiggle out in between the flexible siloxane chains in a silicone layer.
Silicones also have low comedogenicity [tendency to block pores] according to standard tests – dimethicone has a rating of 1, while cyclomethicone has a rating of 0.    

#2 It's also sometimes claimed that frequent use of silicone-based lube can actually dry out the vaginal tissues.

However, Lab Muffin maintains that the science suggests the very opposite when it comes to the skin-hydrating effects of silicones:

In general, this is talking about dimethicone in skincare, and it’s a similar accusation that gets thrown at petrolatum or petroleum jelly as well – that it forms an impenetrable occlusive film on your skin that dries out your skin and makes it dehydrated.
But apart from the fact that water [vapor] can actually pass through silicone films, some studies also show that silicones can improve your skin!    

#3 The most worrisome thing that gets said about silicone is that it's toxic, specifically to the reproductive organs and endocrine system.

But according to Lab Muffin:

Silicones are actually very safe! They haven’t been linked to cancer or hormone disruption or any other long-term health effects, and regulatory authorities around the world (Health Canada, European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, UK Environment Agency, Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), Australia’s Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation (IMAP)) have said that they’re not a risk to humans.

The science seems to confirm that silicones are safe, at least in cosmetics. But, unfortunately, there’s so little research specifically about sexual lubricants that what information we do have about silicone lube is mainly extrapolated from studies done in relation to topical body products... which leaves us lube-curious folk with some lingering questions.

While we're waiting on the lube-specific data to come in, it may help to have an idea of what actually goes into silicone-based lubes.

Breakin' it down: silicone lube ingredients

You may have noticed that silicone-based lubes have a much shorter list of ingredients than their water-based counterparts. Most quality silicone lubes only contain 2 or 3 different silicones, and sometimes a little aloe or vitamin E.

Because they don’t contain water, silicone lubes don’t require preservatives to keep bacteria at bay, nor are they filled with common offender ingredients like propylene glycol or glycerin, which can make lube especially concentrated and lead to infections.

This all sounds great, right? It is. But (of course there’s a but, because lube - like life - is never that simple), the few ingredients that silicone-based lubes do normally use are the cause of much controversy in the lube-o-sphere and beyond. 

Types of silicone


Of the 3 most common silicones found in lube, cyclomethicone is the most controversial and trickiest to unpack - but I've done my best for you!

More about cyclomethicones:

• I really liked this explanation of their chemical structure and function (in the context of hair products) by cosmetic chemist Tonya McKay Becker.

• In terms of their safety, check out this thorough examination of cyclomethicones D4-D7 by the Cosmetic Review Expert Panel, which determined that these compounds are safe to use in cosmetic formulations in the current amounts. 

This is the study that delves deeper into those rat experiments, concluding that they probably wouldn't translate into damage to human health.

Dimethicone & Dimethiconol:

Meanwhile, dimethicone is probably the most widely used and well-known silicone in lube and other body products, with dimethiconol being a slight variation.

If you want more info on the safety of these silicones, check out the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel's assessments of dimethicone here and dimethiconol here.

Silicone lube & silicone toys

I think this is enough science for one post! But since we still haven't covered the curious relationship between silicone-based lube and silicone toys, I've written a separate post all about it, including a super nerdy Q&A with the co-founder of Fuze Toys!

Silicone lube & the environment

I've also written a post about the environmental concerns of silicones. Check it out here!

Top silicone lube tip

This was a lot of info to digest, so let’s leave off with a fun tip…

Beyond the wonders it can work on noisy hinges and chafing thighs, silicone-based lube might also save you from painful blisters the next time you're breaking in a pair of shoes... just dab a little lube on your heels before putting on your new footwear!


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