You may wear disposable nitrile, latex or vinyl gloves many hours each work day. If your hands develop dry, itchy, irritated areas or blisters, you are understandably concerned. Wearing gloves and having healthy skin is imperative in your line of work.
Could your gloves be to blame? In this Q&A article, we’ll help you get the bottom of the types of glove related contact dermatitis, their causes, and how you might find a resolution for your skin condition.
Q. What is contact dermatitis?
A. Occupationally related contact dermatitis is a skin condition that can develop from frequent and repeated use of hand hygiene products, exposure to chemicals and glove use. Contact dermatitis is classified as either irritant or allergic.
Irritant contact dermatitis is common, nonallergic, and develops as dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin around the area of contact. It is usually caused by an irritant, such as the chemicals commonly used in the manufacture of hand products and gloves. It can also be caused by water, (including improper hand drying before donning gloves,) soaps, detergents, solvents, acids, alkalis and friction. Diagnosis is made by reviewing the patient’s medical history, current symptoms, and exclusion of Type IV and Type I hypersensitivity. This is not an allergic reaction.
Allergic contact dermatitis (type IV hypersensitivity) often manifests as an itchy, red rash, sometimes with small blisters, beginning approximately 6 to 48 hours after contact. Like irritant dermatitis, it is usually confined to the areas of contact. It can result from exposure to accelerators and other chemicals used in the manufacture of most latex and non-latex gloves. Diagnosis is made by reviewing the patient’s medical history, current symptoms and by performing a skin patch test.
Q. What are chemical “accelerators?”
A. Chemical accelerators are used in the glove manufacturing process to “accelerate” the linkage of rubber molecules in natural rubber latex or synthetic rubber latex, such as nitrile and vinyl. The chemicals transform the liquid rubber into a thin, strong and elastic glove film, and stabilizes the material.
These sulfur-based chemical accelerators (dithiocarbamates, thiurams and mercaptobenzothiazoles (MBT)) cause the majority of skin dermatitis reactions.
Q. What are “accelerator-free” gloves?
A. Accelerator-free gloves, like FreeStyle1100, and Scion700 are manufactured using a breakthrough cross-linking technology that does not use chemical accelerators (dithiocarbamates, thiurams and mercaptobenzothiazoles (MBT.)) The result is a thin, soft and stretchy glove that is actually stronger than traditionally manufactured nitrile glove material.
Q. What does “Low Dermatitis Potential” mean?
A. This is an FDA approved claim reserved for gloves that have been tested, and are 1) proven free of chemical accelerator residue, 2) will not induce skin irritation, and 3) will not cause any potential sensitization reaction.
Q. How long should I try accelerator-free gloves?
A. Each person is unique. Some individuals know within a few hours, while others require an extended trial of several days or even weeks to know if accelerator-free gloves will resolve their hand dermatitis. (Additional samples of FreeStyle1100 are available for individuals needing a longer period of time to evaluate the glove.)
Q. Is there anything else in a glove that can cause allergic contact dermatitis?
A. Yes. Although 90% of glove allergies are caused by accelerators, the remaining individuals may be reacting to other substances sometimes used in the manufacture of gloves, such as lanolin, polyoxypropyleneglycol (a coagulant,) dyes (organic or inorganic,) quaternary ammonium compounds, and preservatives.
Q. How important is it to resolve contact dermatitis early?
A. Skin is an important barrier to bloodborne pathogens and disease. Broken skin due to ongoing irritation or allergy puts an individual at higher risk. A chronic skin condition is painful, and could result in an individual having to abandon their career choice.
Q. I don’t have contact dermatitis. Should I still consider switching to an accelerator-free glove?
A. Yes. According to NIOSH, “Because the prognosis of occupational irritant and allergic dermatitis is poor, prevention is imperative. This fact is emphasized by one study showing that 75% of patients with occupational contact dermatitis developed chronic skin disease.” (1) With thousands of potentially harmful chemicals being introduced into the workplace each year, it is important to reduce your exposure wherever possible.
NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,) Allergic & Irritant Dermatitis(1)
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Frequently Asked Questions, Contact Dermatitis and Latex Allergy