A person holding a tube of lubricant

Can high osmolality lube cause irritation?

byWanda Chin
It’s a question that almost all of us have asked at one point, and the answer is a complex one: The not-so-sexy fact of sex is that lots of things can cause irritation. Yes, including lube.

The WHO has recommended against using hyperosmolar or high osmolality lubricants because of its potential to damage vaginal epithelial cells and cause irritation.

So, can lube cause irritation? Yes it can. End of story. Right?

Not quite, because the complex part often becomes determining the culprit.

Was it the lube? Maybe, But maybe it was the fabric softener on those new sheets.

Or, was the cologne your partner spritzed down there beforehand, a really bad idea?

So there’s always an issue of correlation, over causation, and it’s important to recognise that our bodies are complex, often sensitive, and the world we live in is filled with irritants.

A woman with her arms crossed over her chest

So if lube can cause irritation, should you just not use it?

Again, not quite.

It all comes down to the type of lube you’re using, how it’s made, and how you’re using it.

Because the kicker here, is that not using lube can also cause irritation.

How to tell which lubes can cause irritation?

Lubricants submerged in water

One measure is by looking at the Osmolality of a product.

Osmolality refers to the concentration of solutes in a solution, measured in osmoles of solute per kilogram of solvent. In simpler terms, it determines the balance of particles inside and outside of cells. When considering personal lubricants, osmolality plays a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of moisture in intimate areas.

Intimate tissues are sensitive, and the use of products with high osmolality might disrupt the natural balance, potentially leading to irritation, discomfort, and increased susceptibility to infections.

Personal lubricants with excessively high osmolality have been shown in vitro to draw water out of cells, causing them to shrink and potentially leading to tissue damage.

On the other hand, products with lower osmolality are designed to mimic the body's natural fluids, maintaining hydration and minimising the risk of irritation or damage. Thus, selecting lubricants with appropriate osmolality could be crucial for maintaining intimate health and comfort.

Recognising the significance of osmolality in personal lubricants, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided recommendations to guide manufacturers and consumers. According to the WHO, personal lubricants should have an osmolality of less than 1,200 mOsm/kg, or less than 8% of glycols in the total formulation, to ensure compatibility with intimate tissues.

So high-osmolality is the worst and we hate it. Right?

Like all things in life, it’s a balance.Lubricants with low osmolality (or low glycols) aren’t as fun and slippery to use, so there is another factor we must balance to encourage the use of lubricants!Research shows that people prefer high osmolality lubricants for their feel and function during sex.

Our Water-based lubricant complies with this WHO recommendation, yet, has enough glycols to ensure that our product is fit for purpose – for slippery, fun and safe sex.

So, next time you’re wondering “Can lube cause irritation?”, just remember that it’s a complex topic with a complex answer, but there are plenty of lubes out there that are specifically designed to support your sexual health.

A woman holds a scrunched tube of Bed Intentions Lubricant against her navel

Water Based Lubricant


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