What Is a Surgical Lubricant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2019
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Surgical lubricant is used in some examinations and procedures to keep patients comfortable. The use of lubricating jelly can help with internal examinations, for example, so the patient doesn’t experience internal tearing and pain when instruments or hands are inserted. In addition to their use in the medical field, these products are also suitable as personal lubricants, and many are available at drugstores and in similar settings for members of the public.

Good surgical lubricants have several characteristics to make them useful in medical settings. They are designed to be water soluble for easy removal, and are bacteriostatic so organisms can’t grow in them. In addition, they are typically non-irritating so they won’t cause rashes, inflammation, and other problems, particularly when used around the nose and genitals, where sensitive mucous membranes might react. It is safe to use a surgical lubricant in orifices, but not around injuries like deep puncture wounds.

These products don’t stain, a consideration when care providers want to avoid staining skin or garments. They also won’t react with gloves, surgical instruments, and other tools, a potential concern with products not specifically intended for this purpose. Health care providers do not want to use a lubricant, for example, that would break down their gloves, because this would expose them and the patient to the risk of infection. A surgical lubricant is carefully tested in development to make sure it is safe for use.


Individual sterile packages are available for procedures where this may be necessary. In other cases, it can be kept in a flip-top or pump container that is used to dispense lubricant for individual procedures. To reduce the risk of transmitting infection, people pump out the amount they need while setting up for the procedure. If they need more, they can ask a sterile assisting nurse to dispense it, or may change gloves to pump or squeeze out another dollop.

Another non-medical use for surgical lubricant is in piercing and tattooing. It can be used to apply stencils to a tattoo site while setting up, and also to lubricate skin during the procedure. Piercers may apply a small amount of surgical lubricant to ease jewelry or needles through, especially if they are gauging up to make a piercing larger. By lubricating the earring, they can slide it through more easily and with less risk of tearing, allowing the hole to stretch without causing significant pain for the client.


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