Why does skin look so yellow during surgery?

Have you ever noticed that during surgery, at least any I’ve seen on TV (never having seen a real, live one) that people’s skin seems unusually yellow, almost jaundiced?

Is it some sort of chemical reaction to the surgery, or is it simply due to unkind lighting in the O.R.?

You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.


Maybe from all the betadine they smear on the skin before they cut?

Duh! :slight_smile: I thought benadine was a dark orange, almost brown color, having seen a post-op once, but I concede you would be right. Thanks for 'splaining that Lucy.

I really ought to stop asking trivial questions at 2 in the morning. :slight_smile:

You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.

No, it is the betadine. They dont wash it off before the actual cutting. When it’s smeared on it becomes a yellow color. Though some might be from the blood too.

‘The beginning calls for courage; the end demands care’

It might look yellow after surgery, in any case. Due to bilirubin released.

It’s the lighting.

Surgeons use the same sort of lighting that you find in ladies’ fitting rooms.

So Uke, care to tell us how you know about lighting in ladies’ fitting rooms? :wink:

[blush, stammer, then an empty show of bravado]

DD, I have spent some of the most memorable times of my life in ladies’ fitting rooms!

Actually, I think I swiped the joke from an old CATHY comic strip. She was trying on bathing suits, see…

Uke- it’s NOT the lighting. Lighting in an O.R. tends to be VERY strong, VERY focused, and fairly close to 5600 degrees Kelvin, color-wise ( Full-spectrum, too.). They need an accurate rendition of color. I don’t know what color the lights are in a ladie’s changing room, apparently my life is much more sedate than yours…


" If you want to kiss the sky you’d better learn how to kneel "

I’ve never seen an actual surgery but I’ve seen a few post-surgical patients and they always look really gray to me. I wouldn’t call it yellow, but it’s not your usual healthy pink.

I have trouble with the bilirubin hypothesis – that process is much slower, IIRC, and isn’t bilirubin actually the cure, rather than the disease?

If my experience is applicable this also casts doubt on the lighting hypothesis. However, I will investigate women’s dressing rooms in the interests of pure research.

“And comb London’s teeming millions for him? Had we but world enough and time.”
Dorothy L. Sayers
Murder Must Advertise

I need to edit better <Sigh> 5600 degrees Kelvin is the color temperature of sunlight, at high noon ( In North America, let’s NOT get into a color temp debate here ). Sorry to have left that out :slight_smile:


" If you want to kiss the sky you’d better learn how to kneel "

I’ve been an RN in surgery for the past 3 1/2 years, at a trauma center.

It’s a betadine scrub/solution- a bit diluted, and it turns the skin a yellowish orange. It’s not “wiped off” because it continues to work killing skin bacteria during the surgery. The other reason is long surgeries ( like Cardiac or transplants) frequently use Ioban, a plastic sticky film that’s impregnated with betadine, it keeps the sterile field stable better. And although the skin really does look orange/yellow in surgery, I’ve noticed that TV cameras make the blue drapes look lighter and greener, so I suspect that whatever filters they use in the cameras add to the yellow hue. The only patients I see that actually look yellow before surgery are the very sick liver transplant patients. That IS due to excess bilirubin. And while in surgery, there is a tendency for the body to sequester fluids,in the tissue, and the blood pressure is lower (they are lying down, and under anesthesia). So a pale person with yellowish orange iodine solution painted on them=yellow skin.

bilirubin? ah, no I don’t think so. That stuff comes out the other side of the body.

betadine is very nice, you can buy something just like it at the store. Its expensive [$10+ a pint]. Feels nice.

Also, notice that surgeons have green clothes? That’s the opposite color of red, & thus, equals that color out.

I’m not sure what the origin of using green as a so-called “sterile” color is, but I doubt that it has anything to do with a color wheel.
Scrubs come in many other colors now-adays, including a lovly blue. Also, and I found this amazing, did you know that real surgical scrubs contain 1 % stainless steel? I bought one years ago, as a fundraiser. It was not some knock-off, but the real deal, donated by some Dr who got some wholesale, and let his daughter sell them as a fundraiser for her youth group.
It said it on the label…" Contains 1% stainless steel". Obviously, the steel helped the cloth to last during the endless autoclaving processes, but…how does one weave in ONLY 1 % of a metal into cloth? Fascinating !


" If you want to kiss the sky, you’d better learn how to kneel ".

Nope, it’s the color wheel. Surgical scrubs used to be white and blood would show up quite smartly. Green and blood is kind of a neutral dark grey blob and not nearly so frightening to friends and family.

Other people who wear scrubs because they work in hospitals and feel white is too imposing (pediatric nurses, for example) may were scrubs with animals and balloons and so on.

Phlebotomists often wear a scrub-like uniform in nearly any color or pattern, but the more thoughtful ones wear something that (according to a color wheel) will mix with red blood and turn it not quite so red if they have an accident of some sort.

BTW the benedine is almost the only color in the OR - the green scrubs and jackets and cloths are kind of neutral - makes the yellow really stand out.