The 4 medical exam glove generations explained

The 4 medical exam glove generations explained

The 4 medical exam glove generations explained

Recap chart for the different glove materials

Examination and medical gloves are one of the most vital and one of the largest spending
sources in supply budget’s for every healthcare facility, but how can you be sure that you are purchasing the right gloves for each task cost-effectively?
Neobex can help you, through the reading of this guide, to better understand the medical gloves industry. We want to help you save money, reduce waste, improve utilization, and enhance staff satisfaction. In this regard, you as the buyer play a decisive role in achieving these objectives. Consequently, the first piece of information we will be covering concerns the 4 medical exam glove generations.

Overview of the 4 generations

With the rise in awareness of latex and chemical allergies and the increase in powder glove bans due to powder-related issues for both patients and healthcare providers, synthetic and powder-free examination gloves continue to gain in favor. Today, technology and the free market make it possible to manufacture gloves with several different materials. Each glove type offers unique advantages but simultaneously come with a certain degree of compromise in terms of barrier protection, durability, sensitivity, comfort, and cost even with the technological advancements in manufacturing. No single glove provides the “perfect” solution for all applications, and it is nearly impossible for a healthcare facility to standardize on a single type of glove material to meet all their needs. 

The first examination glove generation are the latex gloves, then come the vinyl exam gloves, the third generation of medical examination gloves are the nitrile gloves, and finally the fourth generation are the nitrile and vinyl blend.

Visual representation of the 4 medical exam glove generations

First medical exam glove generation: Latex

Excellent fit, feel, dexterity, and comfort are the key characteristics of
latex disposable gloves, the first medical exam glove generation. It isn’t random that most condoms are made of latex.

Latex is the most elastic and durable material available. It is more flexible than nitrile or vinyl and has a higher tactile sensitivity. Latex is a form of natural rubber derived from the sap of the mature Hevea brasiliensis tree and is native to South America but also grows in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the early twentieth century, it supplanted the Indian rubber plants as the main source of natural rubber. When the sap is extracted, it must be chemically prepared using a method known as vulcanization, which was first patented in the United States in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. Natural rubber is vulcanized to make the polymers more flexible and stretchable. Latex has historically been the most commonly used material in medical applications due to its superior fit and feel, but nitrile and vinyl are gaining popularity over general examination gloves due to allergy issues and vinyl’s lower cost.

While powdered latex gloves were banned for medical use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration in January 2017, powder-free latex gloves are still accessible. Automotive, janitorial, and other applications such as paint shops and printing operations all use industrial-grade latex gloves. They’re also used in the food manufacturing and service industries. Exam grade gloves are appropriate for a wide range of medical, dental, and laboratory applications, as well as non-surgical procedures and EMS, depending on the jurisdiction.

Gloves may be washed in a chlorinated solution to minimize latex proteins but will not completely remove them. Chlorination softens gloves as well, but it shortens their shelf life. Latex gloves are more puncture-resistant than vinyl gloves, but they are not as strong as nitrile gloves. Latex pricing is subject to fluctuation due to factors that affect any natural resource, including weather and economic instability.

*Latex allergies affect less than 1% of the population in the United States (about 3 million people). Since daily use of latex-containing products can cause sensitivity, this number rises between 8% and 17% of healthcare staff. Even if there was no prior allergy, some people might experience a contact dermatitis reaction.*

Second medical exam glove generation: Vinyl

Vinyl gloves, consist of only PVC monomers, making them more cost-effective than nitrile and avoiding latex allergy concerns.

After latex, vinyl gloves, the second generation of protective gloves, are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is usually rigid, but it is combined with a plasticizer to make it smooth and flexible enough to mold into gloves. Vinyl gloves made entirely of PVC monomers are less expensive than nitrile gloves, which are often made of synthetic materials. During 19th century experiments, scientists made the unintentional discovery of vinyl. When German inventor Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte discovered a way to polymerize vinyl chloride using sunlight in 1913, he patented the material. Since then, researchers have figured out which additives to use to make the material more versatile. PVC is used to make bottles, pipes, and plumbing fixtures, toys, credit cards, rain gutters, and a variety of other items, in addition to disposable gloves. Vinyl gloves are available in powdered and powder-free versions, as well as industrial and exam grades. 

Vinyl has a looser fit than latex or nitrile, making it more comfortable but with less tactile sensitivity. It removes latex allergy issues while still avoiding nitrile gloves’ petroleum properties. Vinyl is a cost-effective choice, particularly for applications that require frequent glove changes. As a result, it is widely used in the foodservice, beauty & salon, and janitorial industries. Although most vinyl gloves are transparent or ivory in color, some are blue and designed for food processing. If a piece of the blue glove detaches and gets into the food, it can be seen and removed faster.

Third medical exam glove generation: Nitrile

Nitrile is a third-generation disposable glove substance that was first developed in the 1990s. German chemists Erich Konrad and Eduard Tschunkur patented nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) in 1934, and commercial development began in earnest in the 1930s for tire manufacturing and rubber seals. After developing the first 100 percent nitrile disposable glove in 1991, Neil Tillotson and Luc DeBecker were awarded a patent for nitrile exam glove technology. 

Nitrile gloves were late to catch on in the medical community, but they quickly became the “Next Big Thing” in the hand protection sector at the expense of latex. Nitrile is currently the most widely recommended disposable glove. The material is stronger than latex or vinyl, with a latex-like fit, feel, and comfort. Nitrile has three times the puncture resistance of latex, as well as three times the abrasion and chemical resistance. It is recommended for working with 3/4 of common chemicals on the market. Mineral oils, vegetable oils, grease, gasoline, diesel fuel, and a variety of acids are all resisted by nitrile. 

Nitrile does not aggravate latex allergies because it is free of organic latex proteins. This is not only important for latex-sensitive individuals, but also for consumers who come into close physical contact with the general public, such as medical and dental practitioners, security officers, tattoo artists, and salon employees. Nitrile gloves are not only widely adopted in the medical industry but also in automotive, construction, janitorial, plumbing, paint shop, chemical, and industrial applications. They’re also ideal for use in the food processing industry.

Nitrile gloves are available in two grades: industrial and exam. As nitrile gloves warm up from your body heat, they conform to your hands for a more uniform and comfortable fit. The cost of petroleum determines the price. Nitrile gloves are more costly than other fabrics, but they are more durable and suitable for long-term use. The thickness of many industrial-grade nitrile gloves is increased to better withstand more demanding applications. Nitrile gloves often last longer than natural latex rubber gloves.

Fourth medical exam grade generation: Blend

The PVC Nitrile blend glove is a new form of synthetic glove created using vinyl manufacturing technology. 

The blend gloves are the fourth generation of protective gloves after nitrile and are relatively new in the industry. These gloves are made of PVC vinyl paste and nitrile, giving it partly the benefits of both materials in one package. The nitrile & vinyl blended hybrid gloves are manufactured with an efficient compound of vinyl resin and nitrile through a special method that does not use natural rubber latex. They are less expensive than Nitrile but provide greater tactile sensitivity, tensile strength, and puncture resistance than vinyl but not as much as nitrile. This glove has good value for cost if you need a modest amount of dexterity and durability. They are the economical substitute for Nitrile for latex-sensitive workers. The demand for nitrile gloves has gradually increased over time, which is why the industry has produced a wide range of nitrile glove solutions to accommodate a wide range of workplace applications. 

On the other hand, vinyl gloves are still a common disposable glove choice for many workplaces due to their ease of use and the fact that they are often a less costly option for workplaces with a high glove turnover. It became clear to the industry that a vinyl-nitrile hybrid could be an ideal alternative option for non-medical consumers, providing not only a high level of safety but also a superior level of comfort and dexterity, as well as good value for the cost. Blend gloves offer a high level of elasticity and comfort, providing the wearer with a superior fit, firm grip, and greater dexterity, touch sensitivity, and comfort where vinyl gloves are less elastic than nitrile varieties and do not fit tightly against the palm, and where nitrile is too expensive, and where latex is a concern due to allergies. Hybrid gloves are used in a variety of industries, including the food industry, simple manipulation in eldercare and hygiene, cleaning, and technology manufacturing.

Key takeaways

Each glove type offers unique advantages but simultaneously comes with a certain degree of compromise in terms of barrier protection, durability, sensitivity, comfort, and cost even with the technological advancements in manufacturing. No single glove provides the “perfect” solution for all applications, and it is nearly impossible for a healthcare facility to standardize on a single type of glove material to meet all their needs.