Over the years, there have been a lot of misconceptions about product ingredients. I’m talking about ingredients in food, health, and beauty products. The media sometimes gets it wrong, and, as a product developer, I want to set the record straight when they do. News seems to travel fast these days, whether it’s accurate or not, and there is quite a bit of misinformation about personal lubricants.
Let’s go back in time for a minute. In the 80s, Snackwells, Lean Cuisine, Crystal Light, and Molly McButter were all the rage. What made them so popular? They were promoted as “low fat” which made them “good for you.” Yet, olive oil was shunned because it was considered high-fat and bad for your heart. Of course, now we know that fresh, whole foods are a better choice. And, we know that good quality olive oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and even dementia in some people.
So, I’m here to clear up another fallacy. This one is about glycerin. Like olive oil, glycerin has been getting a bad rap. But, that shouldn’t be the case according to medical professionals and chemists who specialize in personal lubricants. Glycerin is a safe, effective, FDA-approved ingredient for vaginal products, moisturizers, over the counter medications, and other personal care products. Even coconut oil contains glycerin. Stay with me because I’m going to share why glycerin is such an effective ingredient in personal lubricants and why we intentionally chose to include it in Playground’s formula.
You may be surprised to discover that many products you use contain glycerin.
Glycerin is widely used in beauty, personal care, and pharmaceutical products for its incredible ability to hydrate, smooth, protect and heal skin. It is also used in the food and wellness/supplement industries to sweeten products. Many over-the-counter yeast infection remedies contain glycerin to keep them slippery when sliding in for medicinal use and allow active ingredients to be evenly dispersed within the vagina. You know that slippery stuff used when you have a PAP smear at your gyno/obgyn? Yes, that is glycerin.
Glycerin isn’t what a lot of people think it is.
A lot of people think that glycerin is a sugar and is responsible for causing yeast infections. That’s wrong, though. Glycerin is a sugar alcohol, not a sugar. When applied topically, a sugar alcohol cannot feed yeast and cause it to grow. The only way glycerin can be converted into sugar is if it is ingested orally. When glycerin is eaten, it goes through the digestion process and is metabolized by your liver. Your liver then converts the glycerin into sugar. From a chemistry perspective, though, it’s scientifically impossible for glycerin on your skin to break down into a sugar and feed yeast
There are good reasons why glycerin is often used in personal lubricants.
Glycerin is an effective and FDA-approved ingredient for personal lubricants for many reasons. First of all, it’s safe. Second of all, glycerin gives the formula its unique second slip. Glycerin also has moisturizing and healing properties. Best of all, glycerin makes the formula long lasting so you don’t have to reapply. A little goes a long way.
Formulas that don’t contain glycerin can dry out very quickly and cause friction and irritation from penetration. When that happens, women can become susceptible to micro-tears in the vaginal wall which can make it easier to contract sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, or yeast infections. Unfortunately, most people don’t reapply lubricant during intercourse which makes it more possible for the delicate vaginal environment to get irritated.
Glycerin does not cause yeast infections.
This news may come as a welcome surprise to you. Glycerin does not cause yeast infections and there have never been any conclusive studies that have linked glycerin to yeast infections. Yeast infections typically occur due to a PH imbalance and can be caused from sexual intercourse, stress, medication and diet (amongst many other things).In fact, glycerin has been proven to have antimicrobial properties when applied to the skin. The National Institute of Health conducted a study (01) on glycerin-based vaginal products and their antimicrobial abilities to inhibit bacteria growth. There’s also a popular study conducted by Dr. Joelle Brown of UCLA that is frequently cited. Dr. Brown linked douches and petroleum-based products to an increased likelihood of yeast infections. While the study concluded that most commercially available lubricants did not cause yeast infections, petroleum-based products did. Many lubricants on the market are created with petrochemically-derived ingredients that may irritate vaginal cells.
Not all glycerin is created equally.
Just like there are different grades of olive oil and honey, you will discover different grades of glycerin in various products that you use. We all know that cheaper, more mass-produced products tend not to be the best for you. Glycerin is no different. Here’s how we know that. When we were sourcing ingredients for Playground, we were comparing products containing glycerin and noticed that there were notable differences in the textures. We didn’t know why, so we consulted with our chemists and raw material suppliers, and they educated us on the different grades out there. We discovered that many competitive products were using cheap grades of glycerin derived from petrochemicals or from undisclosed sources. That’s when we decided to use a FDA-approved, pharmaceutical-grade glycerin made from 100 percent pure flax seed. The one we selected is USP-certified, organic, and sustainable.
Don’t confuse glycerin with petroleum.
Glycerin comes from three sources: animals, plants, or synthetically derived. Glycerin can be a byproduct of petroleum, however, the two have very different chemical structures. Petroleum mixes mineral oils and waxes to create a jelly-like substance. Manufactured or synthetic glycerin is petroleum-based, while natural glycerin is created from fats and oils. I know all of this information can be confusing. But here are the takeaways. You need to know what type of glycerin is in your products. You also need to avoid petroleum and petroleum-based products in your lubricant if you want to prevent infections.
You should also look out for propylene glycol, a petroleum byproduct. Propylene glycol is used in many different products and is a known irritant. It’s not unusual for glycerin and propylene glycol to be combined in the same lubricant. The combination could contribute to irritation.
Make sure that the glycerin that’s in your personal care products has been tested.
If you don’t know where the glycerin in your products is derived from or whether they've been tested, you may want to reconsider using those products. Our formulas were tested over many months by an FDA-approved third-party laboratory specializing in skin sensitivity tests. Many rounds were conducted over the course of 6 months that proved there was no reaction or irritation to the skin.
We also have a food-grade ingredient called Citric Acid that helps keep the formula in the proper PH range of around 4.5. We tested that PH level and monitored it over many months to ensure the PH remained stable over time and when exposed to different temperatures, such as extreme cold or heat.
Ask the right questions, do your homework, and draw your own conclusions.
I think it's incredible that sexual health is a concern and that women are more educated and curious than ever before about the ingredients they are putting in and on their bodies. Yet, I encourage you to conduct your own research and not just believe what you read or hear. Keep asking tough questions and holding manufacturers to higher standards. Just remember, I’ll be there with you.