Lubricants, Condoms and Allergic Reactions

by Kent McGroarty

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 10, 2007

Condoms are a necessity for safe sex, and many people enjoy using personal lubricants. Unfortunately, allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe can occur from the use of both. It is therefore important to educate oneself as to which lubricants and condoms potentially cause the most irritation, keeping in mind that skin and tissue irritation are a contributing factor in contracting STDs.

It is an established fact that somewhere between one and six percent of the population is allergic to latex rubber. Symptoms are varied and can range from mild skin irritation to severe allergic reactions including a life-threatening condition called anaphylactic shock. Signs that indicate an allergic reaction to latex include itchy, red, or swollen genitals after sex with a latex condom or a vaginal exam using latex gloves as well as itchy or swollen lips caused when a dentist uses latex gloves or from blowing up a latex balloon. Other symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, swelling, and wheezing. Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, nose, and eyes, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, flushed skin, dizziness, and confusion. People who are allergic to specific foods such as bananas, avocados, kiwis, and chestnuts should be aware of their increased susceptibility to latex allergy.

Alternatives to latex condoms include porous animal skin condoms, which do little in the prevention of STDs, and polyurethane plastic condoms. Polyurethane condoms can be used in conjunction with all types of lubricants, whereas certain lubricants cause the breakdown of latex. They are also more resilient to heat and humidity and are thinner for better sensitivity. While polyurethane condoms have proven to provide good protection against infection, they have not been as widely used as latex which means that it is still unclear as to how much protection a polyurethane condom will provide against HIV and other STDs. Some studies have also shown that polyurethane condoms break more easily than latex condoms. They are also more expensive and harder to find than the latex. However, they can provide a good alternative for those in a committed relationship who are allergic to latex.

Personal lubricants and spermicides can also be highly irritating to the skin and tissues. Some people are very sensitive to the spermicide Nonoxynol-9 (N-9). Women whose partners use condoms with N-9 are more likely to develop urinary tract infections or vaginitis. Condoms treated with N-9 do not offer any extra protection against pregnancy, have a shorter shelf life than condoms without N-9, and are pricier. It is also recommended that flavored products be avoided as the sugar in the product contributes to yeast infections.

Personal lubricants fall into four categories. It is very important to research which ingredients are more likely to cause irritation as many lubricants are made with "lots of chemical compounds". Fortunately, there are lubricants available made from natural substances and compounds.

Petroleum-based lubricants such as Vaseline, mineral oil, and baby oil products are the most likely to cause allergic reactions. While these lubricants are long-lasting, they completely destroy latex rubber and should not be used with cervical caps or diaphragms. Many women experience vaginal inflammation, irritation, and increased likelihood of yeast infection after using petroleum-based lubricants. These lubricants are also very staining to fabrics (sheets, etc.).

Oil-based and silicone-based lubricants cause very little if any skin irritation. Oil-based lubricants, which are typically made from natural oil sources such as nuts or vegetables, can also both destroy latex and stain fabric and upholstery. Silicone-based lubricants are made from a very slippery chemical compound and are waterproof. They are safe to use with condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps, but are harder to wash off.

Water-based lubricants are arguably the best lubricants on the market today, as they are the most versatile, safe, and popular. They are generally made of de-ionized water, glycerin, and propylene glycol. Glycerin is a highly slippery substance that provides good lubrication. Few women complain of allergic reactions to glycerin. Water-based lubricants are also safe to use with condoms.

Common petroleum-based lubricants include Vaseline and KY Jelly. Body Glide and ID Millenium are silicone-based, and Wet and Astro-Glide are water-based. Finding the right lubricant and condom are very important factors in overall sexual health and the search for such should be taken seriously.

Kent McGroarty is a freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to EDGE'S Style, Travel, Health, and Fitness channels. Contact her at [email protected].