Why glycerin is no friend to the vagina

menopause Nov 05, 2021

Vagina a bit dry? Standard practice has to reach for a personal lubricant to bring the slippy back into ‘play’. Have you noticed though that horrible sticky feeling afterwards? Yuck. It’s not the sort of feeling you want hanging around for too long!

 Have you also noticed that if you’ve been having a nice time in the sack, you then may find you get thrush or a UTI? We often put this down to sex kind of stirring things up – but there may just be another culprit. And studies are pointing the finger at glycerin.

Glycerin is used in literally gazillions of skincare products and just about every personal lubricant because it gives a bit of thickness to a formula, it acts as a bit of a preservative and it gives that slip. Sadly though, it also gives that sticky feeling. But also it sets up conditions for a full-on bacteriafest which can lead to abovementioned UTIs, itching, thrush, vaginitis.

This is why I absolutely REFUSE to use glycerin in ANY of my product I make!

But if you are like me, you want to go a bit deeper and find out a bit more about things and so here is some more information for you.

Here’s a bit of a biology lesson, but its worth it.

Bodies change as we age. For women this can mean that as oestrogen levels drop, vaginal dryness and atrophy can occur.  The walls of the vagina can thin and become very delicate, leading to tearing and splitting and this is known as atrophy. Other causes of vaginal dryness can be immune disorders such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, reaction to medications and treatment such as chemotherapy.

A scientific term for this is vulvovaginal atrophy, or VVA for short.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, for many women vaginal problems don’t just stop at dryness. Ongoing pain and discomfort from episiotemy scars (I have customers in their 60s and 70s who are still suffering with this). Hormonal changes during menopause also impact the biota of the vaginal environment and changes can result in an increase in conditions such as candida and lichen sclerosus. These can be painful and debilitating problems that can all contribute to dryness, itching, pain and discomfort, which an also have a detrimental impact on wellbeing and relationships.

glycerin sets up conditions for a full-on bacteriafest which can lead to abovementioned UTIs, itching, thrush, vaginitis.

In premenopause, breastfeeding, stress, and underlying conditions such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic heart failure, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and hyperprolactinemia can all cause vulvovaginal atrophy. Medication such as antidepressants and anti-estrogen medication and treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy at any point in a woman’s life, can result in vaginal dryness. VVA is exacerbated by perimenopause, menopause, and advancing age[1].

VVA can present and manifest with a number of symptoms: vaginal dryness, soreness, chaffing, dyspareunia, vaginal discharge, and post-coital bleeding. As well as being distressing in themselves, these symptoms have a knock-on effect on daily life. They can affect sexual relationships, reduce or prevent sexual enjoyment, and impact on daily activities such as sport and physical activities[2]. The nature of the symptoms can cause embarrassment and prevent women from seeking advice and treatment.

When your vagina and vulval area is splitting, itching and burning, normal activities such as physical activity and intimacy can become extremely painful. It’s horrible isn’t it!? Then sometimes your skin can actually split when you walk – never even mind the splitting that happens when trying to have sex! Or I may add, the splitting that comes with loo paper – who knew about that until it happens?

Many of my customers have told me how this has impacted on their personal relationships - and that they feel societal attitudes mean they can't talk about it. There is a sense of the topic of vaginal health as being 'taboo'. And so being a person who likes to help people, I have waded waist-deep into the issues of vaggie health.

So, back to the glycerin….. first we need to understand estrogen.

The Estrogen Effect

Here's what the scientists say: Estrogen causes vaginal lactobacilli (good bacteria) to proliferate. This reduces the pH and prevents colonization from pathogenic bacteria such as Enterobacter. As estrogen levels decline in postmenopause, lactobacilli numbers also fall and thus vaginal pH rises. This provides more favorable conditions for enterobacteria and other pathogens like Enterobacter (bad bacteria) from the gastrointestinal tract to colonize and increase the likelihood of urinary tract infection[3].

And the Icky Result

Most water-based lubricants that have glycerin in them. Glycerin is a glycol. It is also widely used as a sweetener in the food industry and as a humectant in pharmaceutical formulations. Glycerin is a metabolic by-product of sugar and may cause candidal growth[4] and infection and, counterintuitively, may cause mucosal drying. Vaginal application of all types of glycol increased susceptibility to herpes simplex virus 2 in a mouse model[5]. Vaginal health is dependent upon healthy colonization with a lactobacillus-rich microbiome. Studies have shown that glycols/glycerin kill these Good Bacteria in vitro, suggesting a higher likelihood of infection as a result. Lubricant use has been associated with an increased incidence of bacterial vaginosis. Yuk!

So the obvious question is why would you put glycerin in a product to be used in and around the vagina when it is going to increase issues like thrush and urinary tract infections (as well as increase a mouse's chance of getting herpes)? So we started researching the brands out in the marketplace to see who had glycerin in their ingredients, because surely they wouldn’t, would they? We were shocked. In fact, we only found ONE water-based product that did NOT contain glycerin!


Now you can see why we do not offer any water-based options in the NatFem range – I don’t want to go there . Simple.

What I did back in 2017 is create NatFem as a premium leave-on skin product made from 100% natural plant oils, potent botanical extracts and (in the case of the balm) beeswax to help with vaginal health. It's available at the Archeus Apothecary.

Unlike most products in this vaggie category, NatFem is made for daily comfort and to help soothe and support the repair of vaginal irritation. The product is a smooth and velvety balm that can be applied with a finger to the vaginal and vulval area.

And yes, NatFem is lovely and slippy (but not sticky or icky!) so it's pretty nice to use as a sexual lubricant BUT because it is oil-based it cannot be used with condoms[6]. It will make them split - she says with mispent youthful experience involving olive oil :-)

NatFem is bursting with the following attributes:

  • Made from 100% natural plant oils, beeswax and potent botanical extracts selected for their antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-itch and wound healing properties.

  • NatFem Oil is suitable for vegans

  • Does NOT contain hormones such as estrogen or progesterone

  • Does NOT contain parabens

  • Does NOT contain glycerin

  • Does NOT contain water

And women love it. And I LOVE helping women with their VVA problems. And giving them a premium quality natural alternative to slippy, sticky, icky glycerin.  You can check out reviews on the products pages, but here are some excerpts of emails I receive too… you know, so it not just me tooting my own NatFem horn.

“Your balm has helped me so much I just want other ladies to feel good too. I have been singing the praises of your Natfem Balm and ladies are interested to know more. Could you please send me some of your business cards to keep in my handbag so I can give them out.”

  “Thank you very much for your NatFem balm- it has made a huge difference to my life in many small and large ways. This morning I had my 2 yearly gynaecology check-up. I took your NatFem balm to show my gynaecologist what I’ve been using, and he seemed impressed with your product. He has been searching for a moisturiser to recommend to his patients.”

 “It's taken me longer than planned to get back to you, but I saw my Gynaecologist this morning and showed her your product. She said it should nicely compliment my use of the Dermol cream and may mean I can use less of the steroid so, I've just placed an order with you.”

 “Thank you so much for taking the time to provide such a thorough answer! Wow, I had no idea about glycerin's impact on the vagina.”

 “Your product is great! thank you. I use it personally and also highly recommend it weekly to many of my patients/ clients I am a local pelvic health & women's physiotherapist with a large clientele base and often test and recommend products - I direct clients to your website to purchase directly from you  - if you ever do sample sachets I would love to be considered to give some out to clients - especially the sceptics that have tried so many other products!  I have recently purchased and sent some to a colleague in Auckland for her to try, so she can recommend for her clients as appropriate. I hope you get many more clients through this recommendation. Thanks again for a great product.”

N. Potter & N. Panay (2021) Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers: a review into

use, efficacy, and safety, Climacteric, 24:1, 19-24, DOI: 10.1080/13697137.2020.1820478

[2] The North American Menopause Society. Management of symptomatic vulvovaginal atrophy: 2013 position statement of TheNorth American Menopause Society. Menopause 2013;20:888–902

[3] Raz R. Urinary tract infection in postmenopausal women. Korean J Urol 2011;52:801–8

[4] Brotman RM, Ravel J, Cone RA, Zenilman JM. Rapid fluctuation of the vaginal microbiota measured by Gram stain analysis. Sex

Transm Infect 2010;86:297–302

[5] Moench TR, Mumper RJ, Hoen TE, Sun M, Cone RA. Microbicide excipients can greatly increase susceptibility to genital herpes

transmission in the mouse. BMC Infect Dis 2010;10:331

[6] Oil makes latex split

Does this blog post resonate with you? Drop me a line if there is something you’d like to share.

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