Widely touted as the latex allergy cure-all, latex-free nitrile disposable gloves rapidly permeated the market backed by claims of superior chemical resistance, tear resistance, and barrier protection. Those frequently in contact with bodily fluids or solvents, such as dentistry professionals and automotive specialists, soon adopted the prestigious gloves into their safety supply regimen. Yet, as with most supposed universal fixes, all is not well in nitrile-ville.
Consider the mysterious occurrence of nitrile allergy. Generally unrecognized across all industries, the lesser known aversion is slowly garnering the attention it deserves. Similar to its big brother latex allergy, nitrile allergy can likely be attributed to the chemical additives contaminating the majority of disposable gloves currently on the market. Users often mistakenly identify chemical allergies for adverse reactions to latex or nitrile. The less a glove is washed after leaving the manufacturing line; the more residues are left on the material, fiendishly waiting to unleash contact dermatitis upon unsuspecting wearers. This is the case with powdered gloves.
Chemicals commonly called rubber accelerators are usually the culprits. Benzothiazoles, carba chemicals, thiurams, and hexamethylenetetramine (methenamine) are used to speed up the manufacturing process of rubber, or vulcanization. Vulcanization transforms untreated natural rubber latex into a material better suited for the manufacture of a multitude of products such as garden hoses, electrical cords, and dental dams. Unfortunately, lingering trace amounts of these accelerators can cause irritation and result in a stubborn skin rash.
Logically, disposable glove manufacturers and distributors responded to this growing concern in kind. Many products are now adorned with “Accelerator Free” labels that may or may not be substantiated. In fact, the FDA website warns consumers to be weary of misbranding:
Gloves that have exaggerated, untrue, or unsubstantiated claims are “misbranded” under section 502(a) of the Act, because the labeling is false or misleading in some manner.
So, what should anxious consumers do, now faced with mounting hesitations toward both latex and nitrile disposable gloves? Buy a clean product. Buy a powder-free product. It’s worth repeating that the bulk of manufacturers do not wash their gloves after processing, leaving each one swarming with angry chemical hitchhikers. Users increase the risk of a potential allergic reaction, regardless of the type of glove worn. Think of it like wearing brand new clothes before washing them first. The bottom line: be sure to ask your manufacturer what precautions they are taking to ensure you’re using a truly hygienic glove.
Allergy to rubber accelerators. (2002). Retrieved August 20, 2010, from http://dermnetnz.org/dermatitis/rubber-antioxidant-allergy.html.
Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff – Medical Glove Guidance Manual. (2010). Retrieved August 20, 2010, from http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/GuidanceDocuments/ucm073111.htm.