#AskAChemist: How natural is Astroglide Natural Liquid?

This week on Ask A Chemist, an anonymous inquiring mind asked, “what makes Astroglide’s Natural Liquid ‘natural’?”

Preach, Rochelle, preach!

Well, that’s a short one.


Of course not! Allow me to wax chemical… let’s start at Astroglide Natural Liquid website

Astroglide natural liquid

So… what makes this Astroglide product ‘natural’ is what it doesn’t contain and that it does contain some plant extracts?

Don’t mince words, Adele

Okay. Let’s get on the same page as to what the label ‘natural’ means. It means the thing with the label on it has been pulled straight from the earth, just like some ol’ time group of people back in history would have done it.

Strong words, Liz!

Actually, nobody seems to be able to agree on what the hell a ‘natural’ label means.  Including me. I may not be able to tell you what that ‘natural’ label means, but I can tell you what natural products chemistry is!

Natural products chemistry will do that to people

Natural products chemistry focuses are finding out everything about chemicals produced by living things, plus isolating those chemicals. Sometimes natural product chemicals do neat stuff and we want ’em in other stuff. Like our medicines, cosmetics, foods, etc. We can either try to make these natural product chemicals ourselves or we can extract them from their source. Let’s say that making a certain chemical ourselves is a giant pain in the tuckus and/or too damn expensive. Time to extract those desirable chemicals. How do we do that? We’ll use heat, cold, other chemicals, filtering, centrifuging – we have all sorts of ways. As an example, let’s look at pectin, of jam and jelly fame, which is one of the things Astroglide says makes their lube au natural. Here’s how the International Association of Pectin Producer’s (IPPA) describes the ol’ pectin process:


Is pectin “natural”? Wait, what does ‘natural’ mean again?

How do we get off this thing?

Pectin is extracted from plant stuff in a big ol’ industrial lab, but pectin itself isn’t lab-made. It’s a natural product.  What else in our lube is a natural product? That aloe vera juice and chamomile plant extract.  The water has probably been purified with other chemicals, but it’s likely 100% natural. No word if it’s artisanal water. Lube ingredient #2 is xylitol, a sweet-tasting carbohydrate that’s a popular sugar-free (no sucrose!) alternative. Xylitol typically extracted from corncobs or birch tree bark. What’s that extraction process involve?

The corn cob source uses a natural ion-exchange interaction of hydrogen, hydrochloric acid, and steam….The birch bark source xylitol uses the same process, but uses sulfuric acid in place of hydrochloric acid. [excerpt from here]

Is xylitol “natural”? I refer you to Dr. Corgi above. Anywho…

Potassium ascorbyl tocopheryl phosphate! Vitamin C and E. Totes sounds natural. According to the Cosmetics Ingredients Review

Potassium ascorbyl tocopheryl phosphate is manufactured using a phosphate diester linkage of vitamin E and vitamin C, formulated as a potassium salt. [excerpt from here]

Hmmmm… potassium ascorbyl tocopheryl phosphate sounds lab-made to me.  But what about the vitamin E and C we Frankenstein? Tocopherols, part of the vitamin E crew, are a natural product “…isolated on a commercial scale from vegetable oils.” The phrase “commercial scale” tells you how much of this stuff we’re using. We also use a LOT of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). It’s not just a vitamin, it’s a popular and effective preservative. We put ascorbic acid and it’s salt forms in all sorts of stuff and we make a lot of it. Fear not hipsters! The ascorbic acid we make in the lab and the ascorbic acid your locally-sourced spinach makes is THE SAME.

Feel better, Alan?

We’re down to hydroxyethylcellulose and phenoxyethanol – both of which are lab-made. Hydroxyethylcellulose is a thickening agent used in a variety of products. Dow makes CELLOSIZE™ hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) and says it’s “…long been recognized as an outstanding thickener for both
interior and exterior latex paints.” Hydroxyethylcellulose is also used in pharmaceuticals to help make gels, which are good delivery mechanisms for all kinds of medicines. Speaking of medicines, phenoxyethanol makes an appearance there too!

Phenoxyethanol is glycol ether used as a preservative in cosmetic products and medicines. This is a kind of ether alcohol with aromatic properties that can enhance a skin product’s scent… This organic compound is also known for its antimicrobial properties against yeast, bacterial organisms and molds. These attributes help [p]henoxyethanol act as a preservative against germ contamination of bottled products. [excerpt from here]

So, in conclusion, Astroglide Natural Liquid contains natural products and lab-made stuff. Looks like Astroglide Natural Liquid hasn’t been pulled straight from the earth, just like some ol’ time group of people back in history would have done it.


Featured image was made by the author using PowerPoint

Rochelle of Everybody Hates Chris gif from gaiaonline

Dassit gif from giphy

Astroglide Natural Liquid image, description, and ingredients are a page screen-cap

Adel gif from tumblr

Liz Lemon of 30 Rock gif from gifrific

Anchorman gif from mashable

Pectin flowchart from ippa

Corgi gif from giphy

Alan Rickman gif from reactiongifs

Supernatural gif from tumblr


DrRubidium is an analytical chemist that spends her days finding needles in needlestacks. Also a science communicator, she focuses on the the science behind everyday stuff and pop culture.

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  1. Ah, Skepchick… where talk about the chemical properties of lube is done through cheeky GIFs. Love!

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