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Archive July 2019 XX, No. 7

Thinking of Buying Surgical Gloves

Find the fit, feel and level of protection your surgeons and staff desire.

Joe Paone

Joe Paone


You've come to the right place if your surgeons and OR staff aren't happy with the gloves they're using, or if you're just looking for a better glove or a better deal. Not only will we break down a product category that continues to evolve and innovate, but we'll also highlight some of the many interesting surgical glove options out there so you can know if a glove is worth trialing.

Easy-to-don powdered gloves were banned by the FDA in 2017, and latex gloves, which many surgeons prefer, are being phased out by many facilities because of the risk of allergic reactions to surgeons, staff and patients. That's led to a range of powder-free, non-latex, synthetic options. Pardon the pun, but there's no one-size-fits-all gloves solution.

There are numerous factors you should consider when thinking of buying surgical gloves.

  • Know your materials. If it weren't for the allergy risks, time-tested latex gloves would likely still be the gold standard for many surgeons. They gained a deserved reputation over decades for their durability, comfort, safety and feel, and many surgeons who never experienced an allergic reaction associated with their use have been reluctant to give them up. As with many things in health care, some clinicians understandably feel that if something isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing. And for quite a while, synthetic alternatives to natural latex simply weren't up to their standards.

With an increasing number of facilities moving away from latex, the goal of synthetic gloves is to replicate the satisfyingly tactile feel and dexterity that latex provided with materials that don't present allergy risks to surgeons, staff or patients.

Early synthetic glove materials like nitrile and neoprene were "very strong and chemically resistant, but had poor elasticity, so it took a lot more force to stretch them compared to latex. This is a big issue because surgeons, especially those doing more delicate procedures, were struggling with the gloves. And if you double-glove with a glove that's inelastic, it can be really, really tough to avoid hand fatigue and cramping," says Chris Lavanchy, engineering director of the Health Devices Group for ECRI Institute in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., an independent nonprofit organization that advises providers on the safety and cost-effectiveness of medical practices and products.

Another problem surgeons have experienced with synthetic gloves, says Mr. Lavanchy, is a stickiness that makes them difficult to don. The industry has responded by using techniques like chlorination, which makes the inner surface of the glove more slippery and easier to slide over the fingers.

Over the years, there's been a move away from nitrile gloves toward other synthetic materials. "We do still see some nitrile gloves," he says. "But we're seeing quite a few hospitals adopting polyisoprene or polychloroprene gloves. Their properties have been adjusted to make them more similar to latex."

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