Most of the personal lubricants available are water based. Water based lubricants are typically recommended by doctors and health care workers, and they are the kind usually made available for free at sexual health clinics.
Water based lubricants are considered safer and better than older oil based lubricants because they don't damage condoms and they flush out of, and off of, the body more easily than oils.
With hundreds of different brands and styles available, it can be hard to distinguish one water based lube from another. In truth there aren't that many differences and most people find a lube that works for them and stick with it. If you haven't found the right lubricant, or have never tried, there are three main differences to consider when buying a water based lube.
Feel and ConsistencyHow thick or thin you like your lube is often a personal preference. But there are some pros and cons and today you can find water based lubricants in a wide range of textures and consistencies.
Thicker lubricants are often said to be better for anal sex. They may create a kind of cushion effect in the rectum and they don't slip off toys or body parts as easily, which is beneficial with the slower pace of anal sex play. For the same reason, they are easier to use with sex toys as they stay where you put them and don't slide off the toy as quickly or easily. On the other hand, thicker lubricants are messier and more noticeable.
Some people find thinner lubricants to be cleaner and less noticeable, and some people say that thinner lubricants mimic natural vaginal lubrication (which may or may not be desired).
One drawback to all but a few water based lubricants is that when the water in the lubricant dries up during use, the skin is left feeling tacky. This is because the rest of the lube ingredients are still on the skin. It also means that if you simply add some water the lubricant reinvigorates and becomes slippery again.
Ingredients of Water Based LubricantsConscious shoppers look for ingredients in lubricants to consider what might cause a reaction during use, and also to consider the environmental impact of chemicals used in the manufacturing of lubricants. There a two types of ingredients people are most likely to react to.
Preservatives and antiseptics. These are the ingredients whose long names end with 'parabens.' People can and do react to these, and increased exposure to them increases the allergic reaction. Two examples of paraben-free water based lubricants are: Good Clean Love and Hathor Aphrodisia. See a complete list of paraben-free lubricants.Glycerin. Many educated sex stores tell their customers who are prone to yeast infections to avoid lubricants with glycerin or sorbitol. While there's no research specifically on whether glycerin in lubricants cause yeast infections, glycerin, is very sweet, and that sweetness could feed the yeast that is naturally occurring in a healthy vaginal canal. Two examples of glycerin free water based lubes are Maximus and Slippery Stuff. See a complete list of glycerin-free lubricants.
Extras: warming, scented, flavored. Again, there's no research to support this, but but if you have sensitive skin or are prone to reacting to chemicals, you should probably avoide the warming and flavored lubricants and stick with the regular lubricants above.
How Long a Lubricant LastsAlmost every company says that their lube lasts longer and doesn't dry up as quickly as their competitors. Some companies claim that their lubricants contain less water, and therefore don't dry up as quickly as other brands. But after 20 years of talking to people about lubricants I have found that different people report the same lubes very differently. One person will say that lube X lasts much longer than lube Y, and another person will swear that lube Y lasted longer for them. It may be that lubes feel and last differently for different people because perception and individual bodily fluids are involved.
The bottom line is that the only way to find out which lubricant lasts longest for you, is to try them out. Many on line sex stores offer "lube samplers" (buy direct) which allows you to try a small amount of several brands to see which is best for you.
One important trick is that you can reinvigorate any water based lubricant simply by adding more water, you don't need to keep applying more lube. All water based lubes do eventually dry up, and almost all of them get a bit tacky when they do. The only product that doesn't dry up like this is silicone lubricants.