p. 23.

Dear Madam

I was thinking about the fact that you can't used oil-based lubes without risking condom failure and I started wondering what the effect of oil-based lip balms and lipsticks would be when you use a condom for a blow-job. What's your take on it?

• Nikki

Dear Nikki,

Oil based lubes and massage oil on the hands have both been known to cause latex condoms to break down. But the Toronto Department of Public Health AIDS HOTLINE didn't have an answer for your question about lip balms, glosses, etc. when I asked them. So I went to the AIDS Committee of Toronto Resource Centre to see what they had in their files.

I read reports of actual studies that have been done on the effect of oil on latex (and we now have copies of some of them in the Maggie's Resource Centre). None of them referred specifically to lip balms or glosses but they did contain useful information. Sixty seconds of exposure to mineral oil (in baby oil and hand lotion) caused a 90% decrease in the strength of condoms in one study. (According to Kinsey's studies of human sexuality, the average act of intercourse lasts less than two minutes — which gives oil plenty of time to do its dirty work on a safe). Even if a condom doesn't break, oil can cause microscopic holes in latex that are big enough for a virus to pass through.

Another study tested the effect of a bunch of things on latex condoms and found no difference between different types of oils (mineral, vegetable or animal). This study showed that , while glycerine had no effect, rubbing alcohol also had a bad effect on latex — which includes daphragms as well as condoms.

Reading all of this information reminded me of the other things that can have a bad effect on rubbers: sunlight, heat and drying out (check the expiry date and make sure the wrapper is air-tight). Oil in ointments for rashes vaginal symptoms or hemorrhoids will also cause condoms to fail.

I also contacted cosmetic manufacturers with your question. Leon, at the Revlon lab told me that he has never seen a lipstick formula that didn't contain oils; their products average about 30% oil. The woman who answered my call at the Body Shop was the only person I spoke to who knew immediately what I was talking about and why oils were a problem for latex. She said that their products contain either a vegetable oil or a mineral oil and that both types of oil effect latex in the same way. She also mentioned that a lot of "natural" cosmetics rely on Vitamin E acetate as a preservative which is also an oil as are most sun screens which are now included in many lip products.

Lots of girls use condoms for blows and many of them wear lipstick but Maggie's staff have not heard of a lot of problems with condoms breaking during oral sex. It may be that both the amount of oil in the gloss or balm and the amount of gloss or balm that gets on the condom are not enough to cause the condom to weaken and break. And the stress on the condom while doing a blow-job is a lot less than the stress of doing a lay. The biggest danger might be if a girl used the same condom for a half and half.

Guy Michaud, Canadian representative of Jiffy Condoms, says there is a minute amount of vegetable oil in the food additives in their flavoured condoms which are still safe to use for oral sex (they're not good for intercourse due to the risk of yeast infections). But that's why flavoured safes have a shorter shelf life (a sooner expiry date) than other condoms.

If you're doing massage and lays, keep the oil away from the crotch (unless you know you're just doing a hand-job) and make sure you get as much oil off your hands as possible before handling condoms. If you can't wash with soap and water wipe your hands carefully on a towel.

While unprotected oral sex is not a high risk for AIDS, it is for herpes and other STDs, so the safety-conscious pro might want to wipe off her lipstick before giving head with a safe. An oil-free way to prevent chapped lips is liquid glycerine available in drugstores.

Oil & condoms... [Rights Groups]

Created: January 15, 1996
Last modified: January 27, 2000
Maggie's Maggie's
Box 82527, 422 Parliament St.
Toronto, ON M5A 4N8
Tel: +1 (416) 964-0150