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.
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.
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.
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.