What are Powder Free Latex Gloves?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Wearing powdered latex gloves for an extended period of time can lead to the development of dermatitis on some users.
Wearing powdered latex gloves for an extended period of time can lead to the development of dermatitis on some users.

Powder free latex gloves are latex gloves which do not contain powder. Classically cornstarch, powder is added to gloves to make them easier to put on. It is supposed to make gloves safer, by reducing the risk of ripping or tearing them while donning them, but studies seem to suggest that powdered latex gloves are actually problematic for people with latex allergies. Many facilities have phased out the use of powdered gloves in favor of powder free ones, including major research facilities, which have pushed for a complete phasing out of powdered gloves.

Powdered latex gloves posed a threat to the surgical wounds of patients.
Powdered latex gloves posed a threat to the surgical wounds of patients.

Glove manufacturers started adding cornstarch to their product when they realized that latex gloves can be challenging to put on, especially in a hurry. The gloves can stick to themselves or hang on the hand, ripping and tearing along the way, in addition to being a nuisance. Powder prevents the gloves from being sticky, making them easier to pull on quickly.

Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.

The problem with powder is that it apparently binds to latex proteins in the glove. If the wearer dons powdered gloves for a prolonged period of time, the powder can penetrate the skin, delivering latex proteins and causing an allergic reaction. This problem is exacerbated if the hands are wet, and it can lead to mild contact dermatitis, or more serious problems, like anaphylactic shock.

The powder in powdered latex gloves makes them easier to pull on.
The powder in powdered latex gloves makes them easier to pull on.

People wearing gloves are not the only ones at risk. When powdered gloves are removed, the powder puffs off, distributing latex proteins around the room. These proteins can be inhaled by people in the surrounding area, and they can also penetrate surgical wounds, causing problems for patients. Severe latex allergies have developed in people who have undergone multiple surgeries and in many operating room nurses, illustrating the danger of powdered gloves.

As a result of these issues, powder free latex gloves have gone into widespread use. These gloves are less likely to cause reactions and are less likely to contribute to the development of serious latex allergies acquired through occupational exposure. They need to be put on more carefully to avoid tearing, but this issue is considered less of a problem than the rise in latex allergies which has been linked to powdered gloves.

Like other forms of barrier protection for the hands, powder free latex gloves come in a range of sizes to accommodate different wearers. They are disposable and designed for use on one patient only. Gloves may be changed during the course of a prolonged procedure for safety.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon153651

My daughter works in a dentist office and can wear the latex with the powder fine. They don't bother her at all. But in her microbiology class in college, she wears Nitrile Latex free/powder free, and comes home with her hands red, bumpy and burning. Can anyone tell me what would be in these gloves that she might be allergic too? She may only have them on for 10min. and she is on fire. I don't understand it.

CopperPipe

It always amazes me how easy it is for new inventions to get green-lighted and then end up causing huge problems.

I mean, I know that nobody probably actually knew that putting powder in latex gloves would cause an uptick in latex allergies, but why on earth wouldn't someone think to test for that?

I personally don't have a problem with the powder or anything, but my wife is horribly allergic to latex, and she actually ended up in the hospital after a routine exam when the doctor used an old pair of powdered gloves (apparently he had a large backstock), so I'm glad that they're phasing them out.

Of course, it will be interesting to see what problems come up with the disposable nitrile exam gloves...

pharmchick78

A lot of doctors that I know really hated having to use the powdered exam gloves -- a lot of them actually switched over to nitrile gloves for that very reason.

I know I never liked them -- for some reason they seemed to make my hands get really sweaty, which kind of defeated the point of the powder to begin with, and made the gloves uncomfortably sticky.

I'm glad that most places are switching over either to the powder free latex examination gloves or the standard purple nitrile gloves -- and I think a lot of my patients are too.

pleats

Oh, I am so glad that people are phasing out those power free latex gloves. I used to loathe going to the doctor because my doctor always used the really powdery examination gloves, you know, the ones that just put off a poof of powder whenever they take them off.

I would get the worst headache every time I went to the doctor, and I finally figured out that it was from that powder!

Although I never had a skin allergy to the latex or anything, I guess that I'm specifically allergic to the latex/constarch powder combination.

Anyway, I really don't like any kinds of powders like that (I can't stand baby powder or chalk dust either), so I for one am definitely not sorry to see those things go.

Bring on the powder free latex exam gloves!

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    • Wearing powdered latex gloves for an extended period of time can lead to the development of dermatitis on some users.
      By: eyetronic
      Wearing powdered latex gloves for an extended period of time can lead to the development of dermatitis on some users.
    • Powdered latex gloves posed a threat to the surgical wounds of patients.
      By: Remains
      Powdered latex gloves posed a threat to the surgical wounds of patients.
    • Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Because of latex allergies, many hospitals have stopped using latex gloves and replaced them with ones made of other materials.
    • The powder in powdered latex gloves makes them easier to pull on.
      By: eldadcarin
      The powder in powdered latex gloves makes them easier to pull on.