Choosing the right glove is of vital importance to ensure you have the best means of protection against hazards in the workplace. However, not all gloves offer the same two-way level of barrier protection that is required to protect both you and those in their care. Different tasks call for different requirements, so it’s important to have an understanding of your options and how to find the most suitable hand glove.

Glove material plays an important role in glove selection, with each type providing different protective properties, texture, flexibility and thickness (‘Protecting Hands Against Chemical Exposures’ 2000). Natural rubber latex, nitrile and polyvinyl chloride glove materials are typically found in examination gloves, whereas natural rubber latex and polyisoprene are most commonly found in surgical gloves.

Types of Glove Materials

Natural Rubber Latex (NRL)

Discovered by Dr William Halsted in the 19th century at Johns Hopkins Hospital, natural rubber latex gloves were introduced to protect the hands of nurses and assistants in the operating theatre, who presented with symptoms of dermatitis (Lathan 2010).

NRL gloves are best known for their high elasticity and are considered to have good fit and comfort. The soft and stretchy properties of NRL gloves make it an ideal material to suit any palm shape and size. When compared to other materials, NRL does not provide as sufficient protection against harsh chemicals and chemotherapy drugs.

While latex exam and surgical gloves have been popular in healthcare, long-term exposure to NRL gloves have been proven to potentially trigger an allergic response and present a danger to some medical staff and patients.


Neil Tillotson and Luc DeBecker invented and patented nitrile rubber gloves in 1990, a technology made with nitrile butadiene latex rubber elastomeric material (US International Trade Commission 2010). Synthetic nitrile gloves were quickly adopted in healthcare due to increases in latex allergies and its other advantages.

Nitrile gloves have superior puncture resistance compared to NRL, with greater strength and durability. This material is a safe alternative for latex sensitive individuals, and has excellent chemical resistance to oils, harsh solvents, acids, broad range of chemicals, and most chemotherapy drugs.


Following the combined efforts of scientists at B.F. Goodrich Co in mid-1950s, Samuel E. Horne Jr is credited for polymerizing synthetic polyisoprene using Ziegler catalysts in 1954 (Rohrer 2014). The creation behind synthetic rubber stemmed from a need to meet the at the end of the 19th Century for mainstream products (automobiles), and transformed into a way towards improving technology (‘Isoprene’ 2006). As a rubber glove manufacturer, B.F. Goodrich Co, created a patent for producing synthetic polyisoprene, which has continued to be adopted by large glove manufacturers. In the movement towards a more latex-free work environment, polyisoprene surgical gloves represent the latest advancement in glove material technology.

Polyisoprene surgical gloves contain an almost identical molecular structure to natural rubber latex, which in turn possess great dexterity, tactility and comfort. To ensure you are using the safest type of polyisoprene gloves, it’s important to check that they are free of harmful chemical accelerators such as Diphenyl Guanidine (DPG) and Mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT).


The creation of vinyl (also known as polyvinyl chloride or PVC) was a surprise discovery made in 1872 by Eugen Baumann, a German chemist who, after leaving a flask in sunlight, found that heat could change the properties of vinyl chloride monomer from a fluid to a solid (Yousif et al. 2015). PVC has vastly expanded into many commercial products, with vinyl gloves becoming common in hospitality and aged care for its affordability.

Vinyl gloves are a good latex free alternative, but possess a very weak glove film, low chemical resistance, and have a tendency to break and puncture easily due to its low tensile strength (Rego et al. 1999).

Comparing Materials

Each material is defined by its own characteristics, which can heavily influence your choice of hand gloves. When making this decision, it is imperative to evaluate the long-term benefits of each material.

Table 1. Comparison of Glove Materials

Material TypeNRLNitrilePolyisopreneVinyl
Barrier Protection• Good tensile strength, dexterity and grip, but has limited puncture resistance• Superior strength and puncture resistance• Reinforced barrier protection from double gloving and the indicator system• Breaks and punctures easily during use and is highly permeable to bacteria and viruses
Type I Allergies• Contains latex proteins

• Overuse can result in the development of highly severe to moderate latex allergies (Type I)

• Not suitable for use with patients presenting a latex allergy
• Latex free

• Suitable for use with patients presenting a latex allergy
• Latex free

• Suitable for use with patients presenting an allergy to latex proteins
• Latex free

• Suitable for use with patients presenting an allergy to latex proteins
Fit and Comfort• Best glove for fit and comfort, particularly for use over long durations• Very good comfort and fit due to high elasticity and memory• Comfortable fit• Limited fit and comfort due to low elasticity and loose wrist
Chemical Resistance• Good chemical resistance• Excellent resistance against harsh chemicals• Great resistance against harsh chemicals• Low chemical resistance
Value• Affordable glove widely preferred by healthcare professionals, but is limited by its latex properties

• There are more cost savings available in switching from NRL to nitrile gloves
• Slightly higher cost than vinyl or latex but nitrile gloves provide better value for money due to its superior properties• High cost glove with premium qualities and no latex risk, justifying the expense• Low cost glove, which is not cost effective in the long term and is environmentally hazardous (Constable 2010)
Recommended GloveGloveOn COATS® LatexGloveOn ProtectGloveOn VictorGloveOn VinClear


  1. Constable, K 2010, ‘The Gloves Are On’, HACCP Australia Food Safety Bulletin, viewed 2 July 2019, <>
  2. ‘Isoprene’ 2006 in N Schlager, J Weisblatt and DE Newton (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Chemical Compounds, Thomson Gale, China, viewed 16 July 2019, <>
  3. Lathan, SR 2010, ‘Caroline Hampton Halsted: the first to use rubber gloves in the operating room’, Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 389-392, viewed 2 July 2019, PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2943454
  4. Meyer, B 2006, ‘Synthetic rubber pioneer Samuel Horne Jr. dies at age 82’, Rubber & Plastics News, 10 February, viewed 11 July 2019, <>
  5. ‘Protecting Hands Against Chemical Exposures’ 2000, EHS Today, 1 August, viewed 25 June 2019, <>
  6. Rego, A, and Roley, L 1999, ‘In-use barrier integrity of gloves: Latex and nitrile superior to vinyl’, American Journal of Infection Control, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 405-410, viewed 2 July 2019, Science Direct, doi: 10.1016/S0196-6553(99)70006-4
  7. Rohrer, J 2014, ‘125 people and innovations that shaped the rubber industry’, Rubber World, 251, no. 1, pp. 27-35
  8. US International Trade Commission 2010, Certain Nitrile Gloves and Certain Nitrile Rubber Gloves, Invs. 337-TA-608 and 612, DIANE Publishing, Washington, DC, viewed 4 July 2019, <>
  9. Yousif, E, and Hansan, A 2015, ‘Photostabilization of poly(vinyl chloride) – Still on the run’, Journal of Taibah University for Science’, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 421-448, viewed 5 July 2019, Taylor & Francis Online, doi: 10.1016/j.jtusci.2014.09.007