Doctors Weigh In: Favorite Lubes and Moisturizers for Vaginal Atrophy

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

If you’re living with vaginal atrophy (VA)—a.k.a. genitourinary syndrome of menopause—you’re likely no stranger to discomfort, whether it's vaginal dryness or pain with sex. But there’s good news: There are many different products out there (many you can find right on the drugstore shelves) that can manage these symptoms and help you feel your best. Keep reading to learn what to look for in a vaginal moisturizer or lubricant, with recommendations straight from gyno experts.

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Moisturizers

First up are vaginal moisturizers, which help target many symptoms of VA, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These hormone-free products add moisture to the vaginal tissue—and can be used for increased comfort throughout the day, not just when you’re having sex. “Moisturizers are very helpful for the discomfort that comes with dryness,” says Evelyn Mitchell, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN) with Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Moisturizer will last throughout the day and night.” There are a variety of options on the market, so let’s break them down even further.

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The Hands-down Fave

For Dr. Mitchell, her go-to recommendation for patients with vaginal dryness is Replens, a brand of vaginal moisturizer. “It’s wonderful—some of my patients buy it in bulk because it’s so good,” she says. “It’s completely safe, and you can use every day if you want to.” Replens comes as cooling gel or cream that you can apply to the inside of the vagina as well as the vulva (the outer genital area) to bring back some moisture to these sensitive tissues, she says.

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Other Moisturizer Options

There are plenty of other moisturizers available over-the-counter you can try, including Regelle, Sylk, Yes, and more. When trying new products, check the labels first—the vaginal area is super sensitive, so you don’t want to add any ingredients that could be extra irritating on top of your other VA symptoms. For example, parabens and propylene glycol are additives that may irritate your skin, says the Cleveland Clinic—so you may want to pass on these.

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Personal Lubricants

Personal lubricants are another widely available option to help manage the symptoms of VA. “While it dries out pretty quickly compared with moisturizer, I still recommend lubricants before intercourse,” says Dr. Mitchell. Compared with moisturizers, lubricants are usually reserved specifically for sexual activity to relieve dryness and pain, with popular brands including Astroglide, K-Y, Uber Lube, and many others. But how do you know which one to buy?

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Different Types of Lubricants

When it comes to lube, the three main types you’ll find on the market are water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based. If you’re using condoms (the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) you’ll want to steer clear of oil-based lubes, which can break down the condoms and put you at risk, per the American College of OB-GYNs. “In terms of lubricants for VA, I would recommend a silicone-based lubricant, because water-based tends to dry out faster,” says Dr. Mitchell.

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Plant-Based Lubricants

Your doctor may also recommend plant-based lubricants for VA, says Susan D. Reed, M.D., an OB-GYN and program director of the Women’s Reproductive Research Program at University of Washington Medicine in Seattle. That’s largely because they are less likely to contain irritating ingredients, like perfumes. “Coconut oil is one of the basic go-to options,” she suggests. “Anything that is hypoallergenic, is a good idea, including natural plant-based lubricants.” But again, as Dr. Reed reminds us, you want to avoid these types of lubricants if you’re using condoms to protect yourself from STIs.

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Note the pH in the Product You Want to Use

In general, when you’re considering which moisturizer or lube to try for VA, you want to consider the product’s pH, which tells you how acidic or basic it is, says Dr. Reed. “Look for a pH that is acidic, so in the range of around 4 or less,” she recommends. “This is important because as the pH becomes more basic, it changes the vaginal environment, and you can get overgrowth of certain bacteria that may not be good.” In general, a healthy vagina typically has a more acidic pH—around 4.5—according to the World Health Organization.

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Consider Osmolality

Another thing to consider when choosing a moisturizer or lube is osmolality, a fancy-sounding word that basically tells you whether the product will dehydrate or hydrate the vagina, says Dr. Reed. As strange as it sounds, some over-the-counter products might be dehydrating, Dr. Reed says—not exactly what you want when you have dry VA. Look for products with osmolality of 380 mOsm/kg or less—higher osmolality has been linked to increased irritation, according to a review in the journal Climacteric. The packaging may offer this information—along with pH—or you can look it up online.

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Other Things to Avoid

Remember—the vagina is a super sensitive environment. That means it’s important to avoid products or practices that mess with the vagina’s delicate balance of bacteria, says Dr. Mitchell. “That includes any sort of fragrance, soaps, powders, or lotions down below, as those can make dryness worse and disrupt the environment,” she says. And as sexy as it may sound to try a product that touts tingling or heat as a result, maybe save that kind of spice for the kitchen. “These spicy lubricants that are supposed to increase stimulation aren’t good for your very thin tissues” with VA, says Dr. Reed.

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The Bottom Line on Moisturizers and Lubricants for Vaginal Atrophy

You don’t have to suffer the symptoms of VA. Moisturizers and lubricants are great options to try to relieve you from painful sex and uncomfortable dryness throughout the day, so long as you follow the basic tips outlined by the experts. And if you’re still feeling discomfort after trying these products, know that there are even more treatment options, including hormonal treatments, you can try for VA, says Dr. Mitchell—so don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.