It has been suggested that experimental and clinical studies demonstrate that glove powder on medical gloves can enhance foreign body reactions, increase infections and act as a carrier of natural latex allergens. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently issued a safety alert recommending the use of powder-free, reduced protein content latex gloves to reduce exposure to natural latex proteins (allergens).
Glove powder includes dusting or donning powders, mold-release compounds, and manufacturing debris. Dry lubricants such as cornstarch, silicone etc., are used to make donning gloves easier and to prevent gloves from sticking together during the manufacturing process. Cornstarch, which meets the specification for absorbable dusting powder is the most common lubricant for patient examination gloves.
There are alternatives to dusting powder for lubricating natural rubber latex surfaces. The most common method is chlorination. Chlorine reacts with the natural rubber latex surface to reduce the natural tackiness, eliminating the need for adding dusting powder. The extra washing performed during the chlorination process provides an added benefit by also greatly reducing the level of soluble natural latex proteins. However, chlorination affects some of the mechanical and physical properties.
Due to awareness of these complications in the US, over 90% of exam gloves and 60% of surgical gloves used in hospitals are powder free. Powder-free gloves are manufactured using a chlorination process that creates a less tacky glove surface while facilitating quicker donning. Chlorination processing requires more extensive washing during manufacturing and consequently tends to produce a glove with appreciably fewer free latex proteins and other residual chemicals. This process significantly reduces allergic reactions.