The History of Latex Gloves

Posted by Lisa Bott, MBA on Dec 8th 2020

The History of Latex Gloves

Latex gloves have been in manufacture for over one hundred and twenty years.

This manufacture was done largely in Malaysia alone as this was the primary source of the rubber tree.
The first recorded use of latex gloves was in 1883 by William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. To protect his nurse's hands he asked the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company if they could make a rubber glove that could cope with being dipped in carbolic acid. The nurse soon became so adept with using the gloves that others, began following her example and using them too.

It wasn't until 1884 that the gloves are recorded as being used on a daily basis for medical procedures at Johns Hopkins hospital. The hospital has documentation by surgeons at the time complaining about how difficult it is to get the gloves fully onto their hands!

To solve the problem of donning the hands Lycopodium spores (a type of ground moss) mixed with talcum powder was used to lubricate the gloves for a few years, but in the 1920s it was found that Lycopodium spores were poisonous to humans and therefore harmful to both the patient and the nurse or doctor wearing them. �

Following this, just talc was used as the powder of choice for over 40 years but even this caused problems because the talc was harmful to humans when it entered the body via the gloves through the course of surgical operations.
Cornstarch, which is the powder still used today, was first tried in 1947, but it wasn't used by the majority of manufacturers till approximately 1975.
 The first disposable latex gloves were manufactured in 1964 by Ansell, founded by Eric Ansell in Melbourne, Australia in 1905.

There was a stable and steady demand for latex gloves until the early 1990s when the demand increased dramatically. This noticeable boost in demand was primarily due to the increased awareness of the HIV virus and the risks to medical staff who were concerned that they may catch the disease without adequate protection. So the hospitals began buying greater quantities of latex gloves. �

As well as the increased demand from the healthcare industry other professions such as police, dentists, beauty industry and aid workers started to demand to use high quality gloves as well, to protect them from risk of infection.
This dramatic increase in demand made it possible and necessary for other Asian countries to get involved in the production of latex gloves.

At this time there were also concerns about the quality of the gloves as the directives and quality standards that regulate the industry today were simply not in place at that time so gloves were frequently produced with holes and tears.

Soon afterwards the FDA began regulating the production of latex gloves. The term medical-grade means that the glove will act as a consistently protective barricade which, through the fabric, stops the transmission of microorganisms found in blood or other bodily fluids which can infect and cause disease. This includes infections such as Hepatitis B and HIV.�

Prior to 1976, no specific Federal statutory program existed to regulate medical devices.
Today, Medical Grade Exam Gloves are regulated for quality under section 21 CFR 800.20 of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA standards mirror the standards by the Association of Testing Materials (ASTM).

Medical Grade Exam Gloves are strictly tested to pass certain requirements in durability, protection and appearance. Gloves that do not meet the grade are described as general purpose gloves which can have many uses in the home and workplaces, particularly in industries such as beauty and food industries.

There are many concerns about latex gloves because of the increasing amount of people that are becoming allergic to latex, so Nitrile or other latex-free gloves are becoming increasingly popular. However latex gloves are still deemed the most popular medical exam grade gloves due to their durability, comfort and way they fit to the hand.

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