Disposable Gloves 101

History of Disposable Gloves 

In 1890 William Stewart Halsted was the first to use sterilized medical gloves when he was at Johns Hopkins University. With the publication of germ theory Halsted was using carbolic acid, introduced by Joseph Lister, to sterilize his hands and his nurse's hands. She was sensitive to the chemical, and it was damaging the skin on her hands; so he asked the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company if they could make a glove of rubber that could be dipped in carbolic acid.

The first disposable latex medical gloves were manufactured in 1964 by Ansell. They based the production on the technique for making condoms. These gloves have a huge range of uses ranging from medical to food processing.

Powdered / Powder-free gloves:

Advantages and disadvantages of powder gloves

The Advantages 

  • The lubricant effect of the powder makes the gloves easier to don.  
  • Powder facilitates instrument grip and handling.  

The Disadvantages

  • The main disadvantage is that the powder promotes type I (particularly air-borne) allergies.  
  • Powder can also be an irritant, causing dermatitis and creating lesions that constitute portals of entry fortype IV allergies in particular. The FDA, in a report dated September 1997*, states that powder contributes to the development of type I and type IV allergies.  
  • Powder plays a pro-inflammatory role giving rise to post-operative complications.  
  • Lastly, the powder constitutes a carrier for other chemicals and microorganisms: bacteria, toxins, etc.  

Surgical Gloves 

Fitted, sterile gloves with extended cuffs, designed to be worn in surgical conditions or when barrier protection against blood borne pathogens is essential. Gloves packaged by size as hand-specific pairs.

Examination Gloves 

Usually ambidextrous non-sterile gloves, designed to be worn for general medical use when hand and health protection is needed; if non-sterile, usually packaged by size as singles in boxes of 100; sometimes hand-specific or designed with long cuffs for special procedures.

Ambidextrous Gloves 

Gloves that are not hand specific. Best suited for general use. Most manufacturers make three to five sizes in these gloves. Ambidextrous gloves tend to be cheaper than fitted or hand-specific gloves.

Gloves come in a variety of materials; most common distinctions are latex verse synthetic, or non-latex.

Latex gloves 

Natural rubber latex is biodegradable, a renewable resource.

Latex is the stable dispersion (emulsion) of polymer micro particles in an aqueous medium. Latexes may be natural or synthetic. It can be made synthetically by polymerizing a monomer such as styrene that has been emulsified with surfactants.

Latex as found in nature is a milky fluid found in 10% of all flowering plants (angiosperms). It is a complex emulsion consisting of proteins, alkaloids, starches, sugars, oils, tannins, resins, and gums that coagulate on exposure to air. It is usually exuded after tissue injury. In most plants, latex is white, but some have yellow, orange, or scarlet latex. Since the 17th century, latex has been used as a term for the fluid substance in plants. It serves mainly as defense against herbivorous insects. Latex is not to be confused with plant sap; it is a separate substance, separately produced, and with separate functions.

The word is also used to refer to natural latex rubber particularly non-vulcanized rubber.

Synthetic (non-latex) gloves 

These gloves are the best choice for individuals who are sensitive to natural rubber latex but still need proper barrier protection. They can be made out of Neoprene or nitrile.

Three common reactions can occur related to disposable gloves:

Irritation, a non-allergic reaction, and two allergic reactions: Type I hypersensitivity (or immediate hypersensitivity) from the natural rubber latex protein allergens, and Type IV hypersensitivity from chemicals.

Irritation is a non-allergic inflammation of the skin and is the most common of the three types of reactions. Chemicals, powder, and endotoxins can remain on the surface of the glove after it is manufactured. All of these can cause skin irritation. Chronic irritation is a medical term signifying that afflictive health conditions have been present for a while.

Type I hypersensitivity also known as Immediate Type Hypersensitivity, is potentially the most severe of the three reactions. It is an IgE antibody mediated allergy to the naturally occurring proteins found in natural rubber latex. Symptoms include inflamed itchy redness occurring within minutes of exposure; watery eyes, runny nose and asthma-like symptoms; more severe reactions may include skin rashes, facial swelling, breathlessness, and, in rare cases, anaphylactic shock.

Type IV Reaction or delayed hypersensitivity is an allergic response to specific chemicals referred to as contact sensitizers. The chemicals added during manufacturing that can be found in both natural rubber latex and synthetic gloves may cause it. Symptoms include skin inflammation, puffiness, redness and itchiness usually occurring several hours after exposure and sometimes persisting for several days. Type IV hypersensitivity is often called delayed type hypersensitivity as the reaction takes two to three days to develop. Unlike the other types, it is not antibody mediated but rather is a type of cell-mediated response.

For more information on hand health visit: 



"Glove manufacturing". Ansell.eu. Retrieved 2012-12-14

"Personal Protective Equipment FAQ". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2013-06-08

"Rubber Gloves". Johns Hopkins Hospital. January 14, 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-03. "William Stewart Halsted, The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s first surgeon in chief, is credited as the first to develop and introduce rubber surgical gloves in the United States. That was in 1894, five years after the institution opened."  

·  "100 Years of Australian Innovation - latex gloves". Retrieved 2010-03-07. "In 1945, Ansell designed and built the first automatic dipping machine, which produced 300 dozen pairs of synthetic gloves in eight hours. Ansell introduced disposable surgical gloves in 1964, which won the company an Export Award in 1967. International expansion over the next two decades saw Ansell become the world's largest producer of latex gloves for household and medical use." 

"User Labeling for Devices that Contain Natural Rubber (21 CFR 801.437); Small Entity Compliance Guide". Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2012-12-14

"Advantages and Disadvantages of Non-latex Surgical Gloves" (PDF). touchbriefings.com. Retrieved 2012-12-14