Latex disposable exam gloves have been the traditional choice for the healthcare industry for over 100 years. Although concerns regarding latex allergies continue, latex gloves are unsurpassed when it comes to durability, tactile sensitivity, comfort, and fit.
History of Latex Gloves
Since the mid-1900s, latex gloves have been primarily manufactured in Malaysia. Malaysia continues to be a dominant supplier of latex gloves because the country is a key player of raw latex production. From a business stand point, it makes sense to manufacture goods in close proximity to raw materials to reduce costs.
The quantity of latex exam gloves was produced at steady rates until the early 1990s where demand for latex gloves sky-rocketed. This demand was driven by an increase public awareness of HIV and the risks healthcare professionals faced. For this reason, hospitals sought out quality latex medical exam gloves in increased numbers putting pressure on the available supply. Soon thereafter, many other professionals like dentists, rescue workers, and police officers began wearing latex gloves adding to the growing demand. Production capabilities expanded in Malaysia and other countries to meet this demand.
At this time, latex gloves had minimal regulation and pinholes, rips, and other imperfections were not an uncommon occurrence. To make matters worse, people started to complain about having sensitivity to the latex gloves showing symptoms of allergic reactions. Looking at the manufacturing process of latex gloves, it is not surprising that many gloves were causing issues because certain steps in the process of making latex gloves involve minimizing the occurrence of latex allergies. Since these steps were expensive, many factories minimized their costs by shortening or ignoring. Over time, the FDA began regulating the quality of exam gloves produces forcing factories to conform to standards set. Today, all medical-grade exam gloves must pass through a series of tests to be sold in the U.S. market
Manufacturing Process of Latex Gloves
Today, the process for manufacturing gloves is a simple process. The raw material harvested is latex; however, to make latex into a favorable glove material, it must be formulated with chemical compounds. This ensures the final glove product has increased tensile strength and flexibility. This formulation plays a major role in determining the quality of the final glove produced.
To make latex into a glove form, molds called formers are used. These formers determine the texture on the product as well as what size the glove will be. The formers pass through a production line where they are dipped into the latex liquid formulation. The speed of the line will determine the thickness (measured in mil) of the glove which is correlated to the strength.
After the forming process is complete, the gloves need to remove harsh chemicals through vulcanization and leaching process. It is during the leaching phase where protein is minimized. Once the gloves pass through these stages, they are washed and dried before they are inspected for testing.
Not all proteins in the residual extractable fraction cause the allergic reaction. Although to date 13 proteins (mostly soluble) in raw Hevea latex have been reported to be possible allergens as defined by their display of IgE antibody binding activities, it is unlikely that all of them would be present in the finished products after processing.
And Why Use Latex?
In many ways, latex is hard to beat. Latex is natural rubber. Latex stretches like nothing else and will instantly snap back to its original shape and size. No other glove material can quite match this natural property of latex. A surgeon wearing a proper set of latex gloves can forget that he is even wearing them. If you need gloves that fit close and conform exactly to the shape of your hands, you should seriously consider using latex gloves.
If you are allergic to latex, you may need to consider nitrile or synthetic gloves, but if you are one of the large majorities who do not need to consider latex allergies, don't be confused by all the choices in glove materials: order latex gloves with confidence.