Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
If you’re feeling dry, itchy, and uncomfortable—and tired of it, we’ve got your back. Because vaginal dryness is something no one should have to experience. Especially not alone.
And we know that it’s more than just one symptom. Vaginal dryness can affect everything from how often you go to the bathroom (and how comfortable you feel while going) to how you feel during the most intimate moments with your partner(s).
So, we’re here for you. And we’re here to talk all about moisturizers and lubricants—if they really work and what you should be aware of as you consider your options.
Why vaginal dryness occurs
Some may experience vaginal dryness before “the change,” as a result of dehydration, taking certain skin-drying medications, taking anti-estrogen medications, having certain cancer treatments, or the removal of both ovaries due to surgery, however, most who experience it do so during perimenopause or after menopause.
That’s because one change “the change” brings on is lower estrogen levels. Less estrogen means less moisture. And, as a result, the lining of the vagina can dry out.
While almost half of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness, a LOT less—20 to 25 percent—get help for it, according to research cited by the American Academy of Family Physicians (1).
The good news is vaginal lubricants and moisturizers can help. Here’s how and what to look out for.
Lube & vaginal lubricants
Lubricants, which come in liquid or gel form, are a great first go-to for dealing with mild vaginal dryness. If applied to the vagina and vulva before intercouse, they can help with pain that occurs during sex.
“Lubricants act rapidly to provide short-term relief from vaginal dryness and related pain during sex,” write the authors of a 2016 “Climacteric” journal article on the treatments for vaginal dryness. “They are particularly beneficial for women whose vaginal dryness is a concern only or mainly during sex.” (2)
Dr. Melynda Barnes, MD, the Clinical Director at Rory, gives us the rundown on the main types of lubes here:
|Type of Lubricant||Overview||OK to use condoms?||OK to usewith sex toys?||Increased risk of infections?|
|Water-based lubricants (without glycerin)||These are most similar to the natural lubrication the body creates.||Yes, but may require reapplying||Yes||No|
|Water-based lubricants (with glycerin)||Because these can result in an increased risk of infection, using these is not recommended.||Yes, but may require reapplying||Yes||No|
|Silicone-based lubricants||These last longer than water-based lubes and are good for sensitive skin.||Yes||Not with silicone sex toys||No|
|Hybrids||These are a blend of water and silicone.||Yes||Usually||No|
|Oil-based lubricants (olive oil, etc.)||These are not recommended as they may increase risk of infections and can cause condoms to break, leading to risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).||No||Yes||Yes|
One word of warning from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) about “warming” lubricants, while some women have reported pleasurable feelings associated with this type of lube others found they caused painful symptoms like stinging and burning pain. (3)
By the way, at Rory, we offer an all natural, water-based lube that you can find here.
As the name suggests, moisturizers help preserve vaginal moisture and can keep itching, burning and discomfort at bay—and, compared to lubes, these work a little longer. Plus, they help with vaginal dryness beyond painful sex. Apply these internally a few times per week and externally every day, as needed.
Vaginal lubricants vs. vaginal moisturizers
While both lubricants and moisturizers can help reduce the discomfort associated with vaginal dryness, they have a few key differences:
|Product||Overview||When to apply?||How long do they last?||Are they absorbed into the skin?|
|Lubricants||…help, if applied before sex, to deal with pain associated with intercourse.||Before sex||Temporarily||No|
|Moisturizers||…help with day-to-day irritation.||Varies from daily to every three to four days||More long term, up to three to four days||Yes—they’re absorbed into the skin and work to create moisture similar to the body’s own production.|
While it’s important to understand the differences between the products and how each works, this isn’t an either/or situation. Those experiencing vaginal dryness can use both—moisturizers every few days and lubricants right before and during sex.
One thing lubricants and moisturizers have in common is that both types of products can contain glycerin, which Dr. Barnes cautions to avoid. “Glycerin changes the PH of the vagina, which can increase risk of yeast infections,” says Dr. Barnes. “We recommend glycerin-free lubricants and moisturizers for women who are prone to vaginal infections.”
Wait, there are also vaginal creams? What are they and how are they different than lubricants and moisturizers?
Not to be confused with moisturizers and lubricants, which can be purchased over the counter, vaginal creams containing estrogen are available only with a prescription. Like moisturizers, these are applied a few times a week. Up to 93% of women report “significant improvement” in pain during sex when using low-dose vaginal estrogen, according to research cited by the NAMS (3). And for some, after a stint with estrogen therapy, vaginal tissue may be restored to a degree that the treatment can be stopped and moisturizers or lubricants together or alone may suffice.
Other treatments for vaginal dryness
While moisturizers and lubricants may help with some symptoms, they won’t address the underlying cause of vaginal dryness, which is why these products may not offer enough relief for some. If that’s the case, a doctor can help come up with a treatment plan that works. These may include systemic options, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT); local treatment, such as vaginal estrogen creams, or supplements, like soy or phytoestrogens.
1. Bachman GA, Nevadunsky NS. Diagnosis and Treatment of Atrophic Vaginitis. Am Fam Physician. 2000 May 15;61(10):3090-3096.
2. Edwards D, Panay N. Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition?. Climacteric. 2015;19(2):151-61.
3. The North American Menopause Society. Vaginal and Vulvar Comfort: Lubricants, Moisturizers, and Low-dose Vaginal Estrogen. The North American Menopause Society. Accessed March 12, 2019View resource