Nontoxic Intimacy: What's in Sexual Health Products?

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love of all kinds. While our kids are writing notes and sending chocolates, we can’t help but think about the different forms of intimacy. And thinking about intimacy leads us to the concerning ingredients found in many sexual health products.

This blog is filled with tips for avoiding yucky ingredients that have no place in your intimacy plans. Products that are used in sensitive areas of your body are especially important to consider, as the tissue in these areas is more permeable than the rest of your skin. That’s why sexual health products should not be made with or contaminated by potentially harmful or harsh ingredients. Read on to learn about some common ingredients better left outside of the bedroom.

Ingredients of Concern in Sexual Health Products
  • Flavor – The term “flavor” can denote a complex mixture of ingredients, potentially containing upwards of 100 ingredients. Of particular concern are some of the ingredients included under the “flavor” umbrella such as solvents, preservatives, flavor modifiers, emulsifiers, and more. Even though a lot can be behind the word “flavor,” the formulations are considered trade secrets and therefore companies do not need to list each constituent on the label.
  • Isothiazolinone Preservatives – A type of preservative* commonly found in personal care products like intimate washes, often used after sexual play. Two of the most commonly used isothiazolinone preservatives in this class are methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone, both known sensitizers and irritants. Methylisothiazolinone is also a potential endocrine disruptor.
  • Nitrosamines – Substances linked to cancer found in most condoms on the market today, which make their way into condoms via contamination during the manufacturing process. Because nitrosamines aren’t typically disclosed on the label, you can spot safer options by looking for brands who disclose their products are nitrosamine free.
  • ParabensParabens are another kind of preservative* commonly used in personal care and sexual health products such as wipes and lube to help avoid microbial growth. Paraben ingredients can be identified by the use of “paraben” as a suffix, such as butylparaben, benzylparaben, ethylparaben, and methylparaben. Parabens mimic estrogen in the body, and have been linked to reproductive harm, developmental harm, and breast cancer.
  • Undisclosed Fragrance – “Fragrance” may contain more than one hundred different ingredients. Fragrance formulas can often be found in personal care products such as lube and intimate washes. Fragrance ingredients can include a number of different ingredients that are toxic to human health, but two common examples are phthalates and synthetic musks. Fragrance formulations are also considered trade secrets, meaning that companies are not required to disclose fragrance components. It’s best to avoid fragranced products unless they are entirely disclosed, or search for products that have been vetted by a trusted third-party verification such as MADE SAFE that requires full ingredient disclosure.
* Note that preservation of products is important – especially when water is present in the formulation – so make sure the products you use do contain preservatives and they are safer options. The shortcut to knowing your product has been preserved with safer options? Look for the MADE SAFE® seal.

Tips for Nontoxic Intimacy
  • Read product labels to avoid the ingredients of concern listed above.
  • Look for natural products. Although products labeled as natural cannot always be assumed to be better, plant-derived ingredients are typically better options for internal use.
  • Buy nontoxic lubricants that are pH-compatible to the natural vaginal microbiome. 
  • Use products that disclose 100% of ingredients.
  • Avoid products that list “fragrance” or “parfum.”
  • Avoid problematic flavoring and its accompanying additives by shopping for certifications, such as MADE SAFE, that prohibit the use of such ingredients.
  • Look for the MADE SAFE® seal on certified intimacy products.

Want to dive even deeper to learn more? 
Read our full profile on sexual health products. We break down concerns by type of product and offer even more tips for shopping safer to help you keep toxic products out of the bedroom.

Back to blog