What is Zestra, and does it work?
First, some background on the history of the product:
Zestra, a "feminine arousal fluid" was first marketed to the public by
QualiLife Pharmaceuticals in 2005. It was marketed to healthcare
professionals---doctors, nurse practitioners, clinic staff etc--for about
a year before that.
The product's ads claim that Zestra will help women "rediscover
their sexuality" and that the "all natural" Zestra is "clinically shown to
heighten sexual pleasure in women." A TV commercial, which tends to
be broadcast on network shows and cable channels that have a high
percentage of mature women in the audience, shows an attractive,
professional-looking Caucasian woman shopping for groceries.
It turns out she's buying the ingredients for a romantic dinner with her
husband, who shows up later in the ad. From the grin on her face and
the spring in her step--not to mention the voiceover during the
commercial--it's pretty clear that she's expecting to be in the mood for
sex later that day.
Zestra's print ads are more specific--they claim to heighten sensation
and sexual pleasure in women, especially those suffering from sexual
Before any consumer assumes that this product is guaranteed to work,
It is important to remember how much money is at stake in the market
for sex-enhancing chemicals. When Viagra--a drug that boosts erections
in men---was launched in 1998, there were few genuine treatments for
older people (of either gender) who had lost the ability or the desire to
But Viagra was such an enormous success that it led to a race among
pharmaceutical companies and so-called "nutraceutical" firms
(i.e. natural or herbal supplement companies who are not regulated by
the Food & Drug Administration) to develop competing products for both
men and women. Viagra was quickly followed by Levitra and Cialis.
So many couples had gotten their sex lives back through Viagra
(whether their wives liked it or not, in some cases) that it proved there
was a massive multibillion dollar market for sex-drive boosting drugs.
Over those same years, slightly less attention was paid to the equivalent
problem in women: flagging libido, or a loss of vaginal lubrication making sex uncomfortable.
Still, several companies tried to get products to the market to treat
women who wanted sex but whose bodies were not cooperating.
They figured that if Viagra for men could make millions, then there
was probably a similar-sized market for Viagra for women.
For the consumer, the bottom line is that it is important to remember
that pharmaceutical companies generally have an enormous sum of
money on the line when they attempt to convince you that their
products will work Buyer beware.
Zestra has a detailed web site describing its product here:
What does Zestra claim to do?
Many herbal supplements and nutraceuticals claim to "boost" the female
sex drive. (Some non-herbal products, such as KY Warming Liquid, claim
to make sex more pleasurable but don't make any specific claims about
boosting libido, the drive to actually want sex. All KY does is provide
increased lubrication; it will make a woman's vagina more slippery prior
to sex but it does not make her level of desire increase.)
Zestra is different because it makes a specific claims to increase
your libido and your ability to have sex. In two detailed print ads,
QualiLife of Charleston, S.C., makes these claims for Zestra:
1. "Zestra is a topically applied oil that increases female sexual sensation,
arousal and pleasure."
2. "Zestra is effective for most women including those suffering from
sexual symptoms of menopause and sexual side effects from many
commonly used medications such as birth control pills and antidepressants."
3. Zestra is not an "irritant," meaning that it does not increase blood
flow to the genitals simply by mildly irritating the vagina's outer skin
in the way that peppermint does.
4. Zestra is "natural" and not a drug or artificially created chemical.
5. Zestra is "clinically proven solution" to sexual dysfunction problems
On its web site, Zestra claims it "serves] to increase genital sensory
nerve conduction velocity as well as genital blood flow, when topically
To back these claims, Zestra lists studies in three "medical journals."
However, the ads only say that Zestra was "cited" in the studies, not
that it was the subject of the studies themselves.
That is an important distinction. "Cited" means "mentioned"--it does not
mean "proven." Still, this is more evidence than most companies offer
for their sex-boosting drugs, and you can look up these studies for
yourselves at your nearest college library.
(The three studies are: Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy,
2003;29:33-44, "Randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind,
crossover design pilot trial of the efficacy and safety of Zestra for
women in women with and without female sexual arousal disorder."
The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals Clinical Proceedings,
May 2005, "Women's Sexual Health in Midlife and Beyond." Obstetrical
and Gynecological Survey 2005 Mar 60(3): 196-205, "Female Sexual
Dysfunction: Principles of Diagnosis and Therapy.")
Of the three studies, only the first (in the Journal of Sex and Marital
Therapy) actually focuses on Zestra. In that study, "20 women showed
improvement in level of desire, arousal, sensation, pleasure, and ability
to have orgasms [while] using Zestra compared with placebo,"
according to a review in the Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey.
Zestra's web site also contains a second study regarding 20 women on
anti-depressants who saw improvements in their sex lives after using Zestra. You can read that here:
It is not clear from that study, however, if it has been published in a
peer-reviewed journal (which is a crucial benchmark for scientific valid
While a positive result in a study of 20 patients is encouraging, most
scientists will probably tell you that they would want to see the study
and its results repeated elsewhere a few times, with all the variables
(such as the different ways women report concepts like "arousal")
properly controlled and isolated, before declaring something to be
clinically proven." The other thing to bear in mind is that Zestra is not
a drug and therefore QualiLife does not have to "prove" anything before
And, of course, you should remember the common sense test: the
mere act of applying a slippery substance to the genitals is likely to
result in some sexual pleasure, so to some extent Zestra may be a
self-fulfilling prophecy--whether Zestra actually works or not is
irrelevant if using the product feels good. So, again, buyer beware.
What is in Zestra? (Zestra Ingredients)
According to the company, Zestra, an oil, is a mixture of:
* PA Free Borage Seed Oil
Borage Seed Oil contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which the body
converts to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) when taken internally. PGE1 has anti-inflammatory properties and
may also act as a blood thinner and blood vessel dilator, according
to this site:
According to that same source, however, "scientific evidence
supporting the use of borage oil has been limited."
* Evening Primrose Oil,
Like borage seed oil, evening primrose oil comes highly recommended
by the herbal supplement crowd despite extremely limited evidence for
effectiveness on anything. What claims are made tend to be for people who take it internally, via the mouth. As Zestra is applied externally,
on the genitals, there is even less information on what that might do.
See this site for a discussion of both chemicals:
* Angelica Extract
According to the National Institutes of Health web site: "Angelica seed
oil has produced mild skin irritation in rabbits. Phototoxic reactions
occurred in humans and laboratory animals treated dermally with
various angelica extracts.
Skin sensitization reactions have been reported in two dermatitis
patients tested with angelica root oil whilst ingestion of a root extract
produced a widespread rash in another individual. Both the seed oil
and root oil were of low acute oral and dermal toxicity in rodents and
rabbits." Read the site for yourself here:
The above informationwould suggest that angelica extract
makes your skin more sensitive.
* Coleus Extract
Again, there are no reliable sources indicating coleus for sexual
dysfunction in women, and much of the literature produced by the
alternative health types discusses taking it internally. One site says:
"At recommended doses, coleus is generally regarded as safe, with few
reports of side effects. There have been reports of skin rash, a milky
film over the eyes (when used as an eyedrop), increased heart rate
and flushing." Read it here:
A slightly more positive take on the stuff (but still not very enlightening
in terms of libido) can be seen here:
* Vitamin C
Most scientists know Vitamin C as the stuff we find in plants that,
when eaten prevents people from getting scurvy. So it is good for
you. When rubbed on the skin it is harmless, and may prevent
wrinkles. But again, evidence for its enhancing libido is thin. Read
* Vitamin E
Vitamin E, like C, is another ingredient that often shows up in hand creams because it is supposed to help with healing and reduce scars.
But there is little to suggest it enhances libido. Having said that,
anything that makes your skin feel good is likely to feel equally good
as a sexual aid--which means its action may be as much mechanical
as chemical. Read more here:
Sexual lubricants enhance sexual pleasure mimicking natural vaginal
secretions that reduce friction and provide a pleasurable slippery
sensation during intercourse.
Since most women secrete less of these lubricating secretions as they age, introducing store-bought lubricants is a valid method enhancing
Zestra is a sexual lubricant that contains herbal ingredients that have shown to cause a tingling sensation in a woman's genitalia.
Before you plunk down $24.00 for a 6.4 ml (slightly more than 2
teaspoonfuls) supply of Zestra (available as box of nine 0.8 ml per
single use packets), we suggest that you try some of the other, less
expensive sexual lubricants such as any of the KY products from
Johnson & Johnson or their generic equivalents.
These products are available at all local drugstores for prices for
1/10 to 1/20 the price of Zestra.
On the other hand, if you believe in herbal products and you have
the $24.95 for a box of nine Zestra packets (plus $7.95 for shipping
and handling if you order it via the Zestra website) and want to try
Zestra, go ahead and try it! It will work, but it is costly and not
How can I buy Zestra?
Zestra is available at major pharmacies and drug stores like
Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and CVS. At drugstore.com it
costs $24.95 a box (in August 2005). There are nine foil packets of
the product per box, which are good for 9-12 uses. That price is
comparable to a dozen condoms.
Learn more about Zestra at these sites:
Zestra.com - official web site; professionally done;
resembles a website that one would normally see for a prescription drug.
The front page of the site displays the logos of the top 4 national
chain pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Duane Reade) in
an attempt to lend credibility to the product.
You need to remember that just because a large national chain drug
store sells a product, that doesn't mean the product is effective.
For instance, the large chains also sell shark cartilage
(a quack remedy for cancer prevention) and magnetic bracelets and
ankle supports (quack remedies for pain). The chains sell what makes money, whether it is
effective or not.
The website also prominently displays the logos of sexually oriented
trade journals (The Journal of Sex & Martial Therapy) and well known
internet sites (such as WebMd) and that have reviewed Zestra.
Clicking on these logos link to reviews of the product.
Most of the research that you see on these links was sponsored by
Zestra's manufacturer (QualiLife Pharmaceuticals).
Much to QualiLife's credit, some of the review articles' conclusions
are neutral or less than complimentary to the product.
The website also allows one to download the Zestra television
http://www.askmen.com/love/vanessa/44_love_secrets.html - a
popular online men's website/magazine; presents an "advetorial" (an
advertisement in the form of an article) regarding Zestra; this report I
s highly favorable regarding Zestra.
http://www.seekwellness.com/womensexuality/about_zestra.htm - a
popular online women's health website/magazine; above link is
basically an advertisement for Zestra.
Recent Zestra News:
Top Medical and Sexual Health Experts Join Zestra's Advisory Board …
As physicians and healthcare professionals, we are highly selective with
the boards we agree to join, and we welcomed the opportunity to serve
on Zestra's Advisory Board because we believe Zestra is leading the
way in developing a clinically supported product that effectively helps women improve their intimate relationships," said Richard F. Corlin,
M.D., who will serve as the board's chairman. …[ 2/21/2007;
Zestra Laboratories Press Release ]
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