“Do you like the look of black latex gloves?”
is a commonly heard question when checking into a hospital. This is of particular concern for patients with open wounds or who are having surgery because of the possibility of their very direct contact with latex proteins. But what many people do not consider is the fact that powdered latex gloves can contribute to latex allergy problems even if the gloves themselves never make actual contact with the patient.
When powdered gloves are removed from their dispenser and pulled on or off a user’s hands, there is a minute puff of powder particles dispersed into the air. The most commonly employed glove powder is cornstarch. Only about 1/8 of a teaspoon of cornstarch is used per pair of gloves but this is enough to make potentially harmful latex proteins airborne, particles that were not completely removed from the gloves’ surface during the manufacturing process. Inhaled, this can be an irritant that develops over time into serious respiratory allergies for both patients and those who wear powdered latex gloves.
There is also evidence that the cornstarch dust picks up bacteria in its flight, subsequently spreading infection. Studies indicate that cornstarch impedes wound healing since it is a foreign body, contributing to infection, scarring and adhesion.
Cornstarch powder is primarily used to facilitate the donning of latex gloves. (GloveNation
gloves use the highest quality of cornstarch that is available: 100% pure, edible, USP Cornstarch, which minimizes the negative effects of the powder.) This powder is also coated on the manufacturing forms that are used for latex dipped products such as gloves because it allows for the product to be easily removed from the hand-shaped dipping form once it is dried.
Today in the U.S., because of awareness of these complications, over 90% of exam gloves and 60% of surgical gloves used in hospitals are powder free. Powder-free gloves are manufactured using a chlorination process that makes for a less tacky glove surface to expedite donning. Chlorination processing requires more extensive washing during manufacturing and consequently tends to produce a glove with significantly fewer free latex proteins and other residual chemicals, which is helpful in reducing allergic reactions.
Because the manufacturing process is more complex for powder free latex gloves, the additional cost is reflected in their sale price. In the long run, however, the health advantages of powder free gloves are inarguable.