The recent FDA announcement banning the use of powdered surgical and patient examination gloves in the United States, as well as the absorbable powder used to lubricate these gloves, certainly comes as no surprise.

But it should also come as no surprise that, despite this announcement, the users and manufacturers of medical gloves will not miss a beat, as alternative glove technologies have been proven and available for some time. Certainly, there remain many dedicated users of powdered medical gloves in the United States. And while change is never easy, it’s time to change. And that’s a good thing, for both professionals and patients.

Years of clinical studies, research and industry input have provided ample data about the adverse reactions to both workers and patients that may arise from the use of gloving powders. These include the potential for infection, delayed wound healing, inflammation or latex protein allergy responses. Even the practice of washing surgical gloves prior to surgical procedures has not proven to eliminate potential issues.

As such, manufacturers have been dedicated to educating healthcare professionals about the potential risks while working with medical researchers and key opinion leaders to develop new glove technologies that provide the benefits of powdered gloves while minimizing the inherent risks.

However surprisingly, a recent survey indicated that up to 40 percent of workers were unaware of powder safety issues. That same survey indicated that ease of donning, fit and feel were the glove attributes they rated most highly. The good news here is that new glove manufacturing technologies address both the safety issues and the attributes most highly valued.

Looking back

There is a long history associated with powdered gloves. They have been used for well over a century, initially as surgical gloves and then expanding into other areas of patient care as the onset of the AIDS epidemic and the spread of hepatitis became concerns in the late 20th century.

Today, medical gloves are used beyond surgery, hospitals or medical offices. They’re found in pharmacies, laboratories, emergency services and beyond.

Powder has been used in the glove manufacturing process for the following reasons:

  • Powder facilitates ease of glove donning and absorbs perspiration
  • It eliminates glove blocking, i.e., gloves sticking to themselves
  • It functions as a mold-resistant agent
  • It facilitates removal of the finished glove from a manufacturer’s forming tool

Attention to detail in the manufacturing process can produce powdered gloves with very low protein content, thus reducing the risk of latex protein allergies. And that’s a good thing, since powdered medical gloves are still used in many countries around the globe.

But improved technologies and manufacturing techniques can eliminate the need for powder entirely. The application of a polymer coating to the inside film of latex or synthetic gloves enhances the donning attributes of the glove in both wet and dry conditions. A wide array of synthetic glove choices is available today such as polyisoprene, neoprene or nitrile providing excellent barrier protection.  The bottom line is: there are other, better clinically relevant solutions available that have all the same fit, feel and comfort of powdered gloves.

And while many workers have already moved away from powdered gloves, many are still actively exploring the new offerings to determine which option is right for them. In fact, new allergic reactions may arise as a result of new gloves adapted after the ban due to an individual’s sensitivity to some accelerators or chemicals used in the gloves’ manufacture. That’s where education on the part of the manufacturer critically comes in – working with distributors and companies alike to help them select the best option that ensures performance, protection and safety for all. 

The prices for these new technologies can be, of course, higher. But the return on investment well outweighs the initial higher cost: protection afforded to both the worker and patient, improved efficiency via less time a worker may lose with an allergic reaction and decreased risk of potential compensation or litigation from a patient affected by an allergic reaction or postoperative complication. The FDA estimates that total annual benefits of the powdered ban are expected to range between $26.6 million and $29.3 million.  The global impact in terms of savings will be measured potentially in the hundreds of millions. 

Moving forward

The FDA mandate eliminates, for some medical professionals, a product on which they have come to rely for decades.

It’s easy to say it’s time to move on. After all, we HAVE to do so.

But moving on – even if we know it’s for the better - isn’t always an easy thing to do. Something that has become part of one’s routine –such as popping a tape into a VCR or checking messages on a pink message pad slip – has gone away, replaced with better technologies. Such is the case with medical gloves.

But the good news is you have a wide choice of better options. There is a broad array of medical gloves from which to choose with new, improved benefits, and it’s really just a matter of finding the right fit, feel and formula that will allow you to provide the same great care you’ve always provided – and feel protected and comfortable while doing it.