While there is a lot of discussion happening around what we put on our skin with regards to lotions, creams and cosmetics, the conversation doesn’t often go as far as to discuss what is in our condoms and lubricants. Mucous membranes, which are found in the mouth, eyes, vagina, rectum and penis tip are especially vulnerable to the ingredients in topical products, as they do not have a stratum corneum, which is the protective layer of skin that acts as a barrier. As a result, without this protective barrier, chemicals can more easily penetrate and be absorbed.
Condoms are an $11 billion global industry and currently 3 brands (Trojan, Lifestyles, and Durex) control 95% of the market. Unfortunately, these brands do not put any emphasis on sustainability, fair trade practices or processing without carcinogens. Most latex collected from the rubber trees is cultivated in Asia and Africa and the majority of the rubber plantations use child labor and pay their workers below minimum wage. Another concern I have with condoms occurs when they are produced; conventional latex condoms often contain harmful carcinogenic chemicals that are introduced to the female body during use. Though the vaginal mucus membranes absorb only a small amount of nitrosamines and the overall risk of cancer from condom use is low, consumers are starting to demand that condom manufacturers eliminate the nitrosamines from their products. Check out this report about nitrosamines in condoms put together by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. This all being said, the benefits of condoms far outweigh the risks and I am not discouraging their use.
What condom brands do I recommend?
If you are visiting the USA I recommend that you pick up Sustain Condoms (unfortunately, this brand is not yet available in Canada because condoms are classified as a healthcare device and regulations are strict). Sustain is the first condom brand to use certified Fair Trade Rubber, ensuring that no child labor is involved in the collection of latex, and that plantation workers are paid fairly and that they and their families are provided healthcare and educational opportunities. Sustain is also free of nitrosamines so that both users and factory workers during manufacturing are not exposed to this potentially harmful chemical. Another unique feature of Sustain is that it is the first condom positioned for women and has a strong female sexual empowerment message and design. Another great option is GLYDE condoms, which you can find on Amazon.ca. GLYDE is an Australian brand that features sustainably harvested natural rubber.
Other brands that are nitrosamine-free (you’ll notice a number of these are non-latex condoms):
A few years ago I started researching the ingredients in sexual lubricants because a lot of my fertility patients were asking if it may contribute to their challenges getting pregnant. Since then it has become an important conversation with patients experiencing vaginal irritation or recurrent infections. I was appalled by some of the commonly used ingredients in personal lubricant and wound up down the rabbit hole trying to find safer alternatives that would not compromise the users health.
Ingredients to avoid in your lube:
Glycerin is known to increase the risk of yeast infections and is definitely worth avoiding in any lube that is being used vaginally.
I recommend that people avoid parabens in all personal care products including personal lubricants. There is evidence that parabens contribute to hormonal imbalances by disrupting endocrine function by mimicking estrogen.
Sugars are not vagina friendly and can contribute to the growth of pathogenic bacteria and the development of bacterial vaginosis.
Propylene Glycol and Chlorhexidine
These ingredients can lead to tissue irritation and may causing burning.
* note that oil based lubricants are not recommended with condoms
Now that you are well equipped to make an informed choice about the condoms and lube you use, you might be wondering how a Naturopath can help with your sexual health. Did you know your ND can perform a gynecological exam and PAP? Also, there are many natural options to help with libido, family planning and hormonal balance so if you are struggling with exhaustion, low libido, vaginal pain or discomfort check in with a Naturopath.
Reproductive Health Technologies Project – Nitrosamines in Condoms
American Chemistry Society – Studies Raise Questions About Safety of Personal Lubricants
Berkeley University of California Wellness – The Slippery Facts About Lubricants
Dr. Jen Newell, ND is the founder of the Naturopathic Skin Care Clinic at the Integrative Health Institute. She is committed to helping others resolve frustrating skin issues because she struggled with hormonal cystic acne and mild rosacea for over 10 years. Dissatisfied with the results from oral contraceptives, antibiotics and other conventional treatments, Jen decided to take matters in her own hands and find a safer and more sustainable solution to achieve healthy, glowing skin.