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The History of Latex Gloves  The Glove Nation Knowledgebase

The Latex Glove
The Ubiquitous Latex Glove
The earliest use of natural latex rubber gloves was in 1883, but it wasn't until 11 years later that this new invention began to be used as part of standard surgical procedure at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. There is a rich written record of Surgeons at Johns Hopkins complaining about the difficulty of getting the gloves fully onto their hands, so almost immediately the fledgling glove industry began to look for a glove lubricant. Many different types of lubricants have been tried over the years.

Glove manufacturers were simultaneously trying to solve their own need for a lubricant to facilitate removal of the rubber gloves from hand molds. Lycopodium spores mixed with talc were used for the first few years until a study conducted in the late nineteen twenties showed that the lycopodium spores were slightly poisonous to humans. Following this revelation, many glove manufacturers switched to a talc-only lubricant, but although this innovation persisted for almost 40 years, eventually another study showed that the talc was complicating recovery for many surgical operations; and the complications were sometimes quite nasty.

Cornstarch was first tried in 1947, but it took several years before glove manufacturers switched from talc to cornstarch. Most latex gloves were lubricated with modified cornstarch by 1975. Edible cornstarch was absorbable and was generally considered to be a non-irritant.

Cornstarch also solved the problem that glove manufacturers needed help with: a lubricant that could be coated on the manufacturing forms that are used for latex dipping the gloves; allowing the gloves to be easily removed from the hand-shaped dipping form after drying. (GloveNation gloves use the highest quality of cornstarch that is available: 100% pure, edible, USP Cornstarch, which minimizes the negative effects of the powder.)

Why has our discussion of latex glove history centered around glove powder? Because latex proteins have become widely recognized as a major allergen. Many medical allergists contend that these allergic reactions have developed in our modern world because of the very wide use of latex in many products, not just gloves. The allergies are very real and affect the wearer of the glove as well as people in close proximity - especially if the gloves are powdered. Without descending into a detailed discussion of latex allergies, suffice it to say that these allergies have largely directed the disposable glove industry since 1975.

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 the powder free latex glove are inarguable; whether the glove is being used in a tattoo parlor or at an airport security checkpoint.