The invention of the disposable surgical glove, is a story more to do with love than hygiene. Their inventor, William Stewart Halsted, a founding surgeon of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, admitted that his primary concern was protecting the hands of his chief surgical nurse from the harsh disinfectants used in the operating theatre in the late 1800’s. Halsted married his chief nurse in June 1890, not long after presenting her with the surgical gloves he’d designed. Some say it was glove at first sight.
Strangely, at the time, no one considered the benefit surgical gloves provided in reducing infection in patients while in the operating room and post surgery. By the late 1900’s, the use of sterile disposable gloves had become so ubiquitous in all practices of medicine, that almost every field of medicine, including dentistry, research and veterinary, considered gloves to be an essential item.
Fast forward to 2020. The surgical glove made it’s début on the world stage as a key weapon in the PPE arsenal in the fight against COVID-19. The global demand, not only by medical institutions and healthcare workers, but also the general public, for nitrile and latex gloves has sky-rocketed over the course of the pandemic. Interestingly, they’re once again being used for the initial purpose their inventor intended. To protect the skin of the wearer from harsh chemical disinfectants.
‘So,’ you ask, ‘are all gloves created equal? Which glove should I choose? Latex gloves? Nitrile gloves? Powdered gloves?’. The answer is not as straightforward as ‘If the glove fits, wear it.’ Here’s the low down on disposable gloves.
Latex gloves are a popular protective choice for medical or commercial use. Latex gloves are made out of latex rubber, a natural product. They have a slight advantage in terms of comfort and dexterity over nitrile gloves, and for this reason most surgical gloves are latex based. Latex is also 100% natural and biodegradable.
However, Latex allergies seem to be on the increase across the globe, and non-latex gloves have become a popular option. Non-latex gloves have not yet replaced latex gloves in surgical procedures, as gloves made of alternative materials generally do not fully match the greater sensitivity to touch provided by using latex surgical gloves. Latex gloves are also generally cheaper than non-latex gloves.
Nitrile is a synthetic rubber compound. It contains no latex protein content and offers greater resistance to tearing. Nitrile gloves are also resistant to many chemicals and a safe option for people who are allergic to latex protein. Nitrile gloves are one of the more durable types of disposable gloves, being considered puncture resistant. Nitrile gloves are the popular choice for medical examination gloves since both the wearer and patient need not be concerned about latex allergies. Nitrile gloves do have one drawback. They are not biodegradable.
Powdered gloves or powder-free?
Powder is used as a lubricant in the manufacture of medical gloves in order to facilitate donning and to avoid the gloves sticking together. Today, the most widely used dusting powders are cornstarch, and calcium carbonate.
Residual powder from producing the gloves is often removed by chlorination using chlorine gas. Surface tackiness of the natural rubber latex is reduced in this process. Gloves then become easier to don because they slide over hands without sticking to the skin. Chlorination not only removes residual powder, but also lowers latex proteins in the glove. This process is most commonly used in latex glove production.
Nitrile glove production makes use of a polymer coating process. Various types of polymers are used, including silicones, acrylics, and hydrogels. These coatings are applied to the gloves’ interior while the gloves are on the former. Almost all medical nitrile gloves are powder-free.
Remember disposable gloves should not be reused and that all latext and nitrile gloves will develop pinholes over time. You should change your gloves if they become torn or visibly contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids. Gloves should be changed frequently during the day, even if not visibly contaminated, and you should wash your hands with soap and water after removing the gloves. After removing any Personal Protective Equipment, always wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.