Personal and Clinical Vaginal Lubricants: Impact on Local Vaginal Microenvironment and Implications for Epithelial Cell Host Response and Barrier Function

Ellen M. Wilkinson, Paweł Łaniewski, Melissa M. Herbst-Kralovetz, Rebecca M. Brotman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: A majority of US women report past use of vaginal lubricants to enhance the ease and comfort of intimate sexual activities. Lubricants are also administered frequently in clinical practice. We sought to investigate if hyperosmolar lubricants are toxic to the vaginal mucosal epithelia. METHODS: We tested a panel of commercially available lubricants across a range of osmolalities in human monolayer vaginal epithelial cell (VEC) culture and a robust 3-dimensional (3-D) VEC model. The impact of each lubricant on cellular morphology, cytotoxicity, barrier targets, and the induction of inflammatory mediators was examined. Conceptrol, containing nonoxynol-9, was used as a cytotoxicity control. RESULTS: We observed a loss of intercellular connections, and condensation of chromatin, with increasing lubricant osmolality. EZ Jelly, K-Y Jelly, Astroglide, and Conceptrol induced cytotoxicity in both models at 24 hours. There was a strong positive correlation (r = 0.7326) between lubricant osmolality and cytotoxicity in monolayer VECs, and cell viability was reduced in VECs exposed to all the lubricants tested for 24 hours, except McKesson. Notably, select lubricants altered cell viability, barrier targets, and inflammatory mediators in 3-D VECs. CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that hyperosmolar lubricants alter VEC morphology and are selectively cytotoxic, inflammatory, and barrier disrupting in the 3-D VEC model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2009-2018
Number of pages10
JournalThe Journal of infectious diseases
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Nov 6 2019



  • 3-D cell culture
  • cytotoxicity
  • genital inflammation
  • human vaginal epithelial cells
  • inflammatory mediators
  • nonoxynol-9
  • vaginal lubricants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Infectious Diseases

Cite this