Lube is one of those magical products that seems to improve everything it touches. Running into any discomfort or pain during sex? Throw some lube on there. Having trouble getting turned on, because of stress from work, mental health struggles or constant doomscrolling? Put down your phone and pick up some lube. Bored of masturbating in the same old ways? Add some lube — or try a different one. It’s like the hot sauce of sex in that way (although please don’t confuse one for the other).
There are a few major types of lube, but the water-based kind is what you’re probably most familiar with. The big names in the biz, like Astroglide and K-Y Jelly, are best-known for their water-based products. This type of lube has lots of advantages: It’s relatively cheap and accessible, and it comes in a variety of thicknesses. It works great for penetrative sex of all kinds. It sometimes contains ingredients that’ll leave your skin smoother and softer, and unlike silicone- and oil-based lubes, it won’t stain your sheets. Another thing that sets water-based lubes apart from other types is that they’re safe to use with condoms and sex toys of all kinds.
But water-base lube definitely isn’t perfect — it tends to dry up faster than other kinds, as the water in the formula gets absorbed into your skin. This happens especially fast if the lubed area is exposed to air, so I wouldn’t recommend water-based lubes for solo or partnered hand jobs or external fingering, unless you like it sticky (which, let’s face it, you probably don’t). The good news is, you can re-hydrate your lube by either applying more of it or adding some water. (Ever spritzed your own junk with a spray bottle like it was some kind of exotic orchid? It’s weird, but it works.) Natural vaginal wetness can also perk up water-based lube.
What to Look for in a Water-Based Lube
1) Non-Irritating Ingredients. You’d think that a substance meant to go inside of you would be safe to put, well, inside of you, but a lot of lubes contain ingredients known to cause irritation or infections. Glycerin is a major offender — it’s a moisturizing ingredient, but it’s been linked to an increased risk of vaginal infections and UTIs, and may even make vaginal dryness worse. Propylene glycol, which is an ingredient in antifreeze (yes, really), can also cause irritation and dryness. Parabens — that is to say, any ingredient ending in “-paraben,” like methylparaben and propylparaben — are preservatives that have been linked to breast cancer. You should also avoid nonoxynol-9, an ingredient used in spermicidal lubes; it inflames the vaginal walls, which could increase the risk of STI transmission.
Don’t get too freaked out, though — there are lots of lubes that don’t contain any of these havoc-wreaking ingredients, and many even feature substances that are good for your skin and sexual health. Aloe soothes inflammation and itching, for example, while an algae extract called carrageenan has been shown to reduce rates of HPV transmission. Some lube ingredients are even said to have arousal-boosting effects, like CBD and the aptly named horny goat weed.
2) Consistency. This one’s a matter of personal preference. Thinner lubes are easier to spread where you need them in a hurry, while thicker lubes tend to stay where you put them, rather than dripping all over your bed (or couch, or floor). Thinner ones more closely mimic what natural vaginal lubrication feels like, but thicker ones give you some “cushion” that can make anal sex much comfier.
3) Taste and Smell. Depending on what you plan on doing with your lube, you might want it to have a palatable taste — or no taste at all. Presumably if you go down on your partner, you want to taste them, not the bitter or artificial-seeming flavor of a store-bought substance. Read reviews online to find out what users think of the taste and smell of a lube you want to buy — or go to a sex shop and sample a few yourself, like you’re at a weird-ass wine tasting.
Eager to get wet and wild? Here are the best water-based lubes for staying slippery during sex…
Best Thick Water-Based Lube: Sutil Rich
This luxe lube is so silky and long-lasting that it almost feels like there’s gotta be some oils or silicones in it — but nope, it’s just a particularly fantastic water-based lube. It spreads easily without making a mess. The formula was created with anal sex in mind, and it’s plenty thick enough for the job, though it performs just as well during vaginal sex.
It contains ingredients known to have aphrodisiac effects, like lotus root extract and horny goat weed extract, though I’ve never noticed a marked increase in arousal from using this lube. There’s a slight bittersweet flavor to it that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (cup of lube?), but it’s easy to wash off fast if you need to. It’s on the pricier side as far as lubes go, and although I think it’s worth the cash, I know the cost will be a dealbreaker for some. If you want something that’s similarly thick but cheaper, check out Sliquid Sassy below.
Best Thin Water-Based Lube: Blossom Organics Natural Moisturizing Lubricant
On the other end of the viscosity spectrum is this thin, runny, all-organic lube. Its main ingredient is aloe, and it contains other moisturizers like hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, too, so it’s ideal for soothing any skin irritation or dryness you’ve got going on. It’s pH-balanced specifically for vaginas, so as to not throw off the delicate flora balance down there. A thicker lube would be better for anal play, but this one’ll work in a pinch as well — it just might need to be reapplied more often.
Extract of stevia leaf gives this lube a sweet taste that’s pleasant but not overwhelming or distracting. If you want a lube to use mainly for vaginal penetration but occasionally for other things as well, this one ticks all the boxes.
Best Drugstore Water-Based Lube: Good Clean Love Almost Naked Personal Lubricant
It’s hard to find a decent, non-irritating lube at a regular drugstore, which is probably why so many people give up on lube altogether after having a bad reaction to the first one (or first few) that they try. Not everyone wants to — or can — go to a specialized sex shop to pick up lube, so let me save you some trouble: This is the best water-based lube your local drugstore is likely to have in stock.
Aloe leaf juice gives this lube its moisturizing powers; it’s got very few other ingredients, and is 95 percent organic. It has a mild and inoffensive vanilla flavor, so you can switch between oral and penetrative sex without issue. Next time you need lube and need it fast, look for this bright green bottle on your drugstore’s shelves.
Most Convenient Water-Based Lube: Dame Aloe Lube
The bottle a lube comes in can be a surprisingly big factor in how well it slots into your sex life. If the nozzle is hard to use one-handed, gets clogged constantly or sprays lube out willy-nilly, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Dame took that into account when designing the bottle for their aloe-packed lube: Its pump-top dispenses a consistent and small amount every time, so you can control the dosage and aim it right where you want. For an extra $4, they’ll throw in a textured rubber sleeve you can put around the bottle to make it easier to grip onto, even while your hands are lubey. The formula of the lube itself is alright — it’s moisturizing and pH-balanced, but thin and not very long-lasting. The bottle it comes in, however, is top-notch.
Best Water-Based Lube for Anal Play: Sliquid Sassy
Sliquid makes some of the absolute best lubes on the market, and if you ask me, this is their best one. It’s thick and long-lasting enough for anal, and I find that it often doesn’t even need to be reapplied midway through. It’s utterly devoid of scent and taste, so you can forget you’re even using lube once you’ve put it on. It’s pH-balanced and non-irritating, too. Truly, if everyone was gifted a bottle of Sliquid Sassy upon losing their virginity, the world would be a much better (and sexier) place.
Best Water-Based Lube for Sensitive Skin: Sliquid H2O
When I worked in a sex shop, many customers would ask me what lubes were best for sensitive skin, often because they’d been burned before — quite literally — by mega-irritating drugstore lubes. I’d always lead them right to Sliquid H2O. It contains just five simple ingredients, and has no scent or taste. It’s about as pared-down as a water-based lube can possibly be.
It’s relatively thin, though, so if you want something thicker for anal play or other activities, try the very similar Sliquid Sassy above.
Best Flavored Water-Based Lube: Aloe Cadabra Flavored Personal Lubricant
Look, to be honest with you, flavored lubes are a bit of a gimmick. They’re only really useful in a few situations, like if you’re giving head through a condom or dental dam and dislike the taste of latex, or think it would be funny if your peen tasted like piña colada for an evening. But if you want one, this is among the best out there.
It’s sweetened with stevia, which isn’t a vaginal irritant like the nightmarishly sugary ingredients found in some other flavored lubes. It’s loaded with aloe and vitamin E. There’s a delightful variety of flavors available, like peppermint, Tahitian vanilla, strawberry and mango. It’s an all-around *chef’s kiss* of a lube.
Best Water-Based Lube Sampler Pack: Sliquid Naturals Lube Sampler
Not sure what kind of water-based lube you want? No worries — Sliquid makes this cute little buffet of samples for you to try. Inside is two packets each of their bestselling Sassy and H2O formulas, as well as their silicone-based lube and three different flavored options. Like sipping a flight of beers at a brew pub, it’ll teach you a lot about what you like.
It’s also not a bad idea to throw one of these in your bag or suitcase next time you go on a sex-date or a romantic vacation — the packets are less likely to burst or leak than a bottle, and you’ll have lots of lube options on hand when you need them. Better slippery than sorry, right?