Comparing the Level of Dexterity offered by Latex and Nitrile Gloves

multiple types of gloves

In a study conducted by JO SAWYER and ALLAN BENNETT, scientists questioned the difference between nitrile examination gloves and natural latex gloves under actual conditions of use.


An increase in the occurrence of latex allergy has been concurrent with the increasing use of latex gloves by laboratory and healthcare workers. In recent years nitrile gloves have been used to replace latex gloves to prevent latex allergy. Nitrile gloves offer a comparable level of protection against chemical and biological agents and are more puncture resistant. However, if manual dexterity is compromised by nitrile gloves to a greater degree than latex then this may increase the risk of sharps injuries. The Purdue pegboard test, which measures both gross and fine finger dexterity, was used to test the dexterity levels of two glove types used at HPA CEPR; Kimberly-Clark SafeSkin nitrile and latex laboratory gloves. There was a statistically significant 8.6% increase in fine finger dexterity provided by latex compared with nitrile SafeSkin laboratory gloves but no difference in gross dexterity between the glove types. There was no significant relationship between glove dexterity and age or gender. The selection of glove size was influenced by the digit length of participants. Moreover, those with longer, thinner fingers appeared to have an advantage when using nitrile SafeSkin gloves. The level of dexterity provided by latex and nitrile SafeSkin gloves for tasks on a gross dexterity level are comparable and health workers will benefit from the non-allergenic properties of nitrile. For tasks requiring fine finger dexterity nitrile SafeSkin gloves may impede dexterity. Despite this, the degree of restriction appears to have a negligible impact on safety in this study when compared with the risk of latex sensitization and subsequent allergy. In addition to glove material, working practices must also take into account glove size, fit, grip and thickness, as these factors can all influence dexterity.


The dramatic increase in the use of latex gloves began in the 1980s following a greater awareness of HIV/AIDS. The incidence of natural rubber latex (NRL) allergy became more common as a result (Turjanmaa, 1995; Edlich et al., 2003; Ranta and Ownby, 2004) and alternative glove materials were sought. A range of glove materials were tested for barrier effectiveness against bloodborne pathogens (Rego and Roley, 1999), simulated clinical use (Korniewicz et al., 2002), puncture resistance (Fisher et al., 1999; Patel et al., 2004) and durability (Kerr et al., 2004), and in all these tests vinyl and copolymer gloves gave a worse performance than latex gloves. However, nitrile gloves gave a performance comparable with latex. Many hospitals and laboratories are now replacing latex with nitrile gloves, and several studies have documented a reduction in the incidence of latex allergy when implementing this policy (Allmers et al., 2002; Hunt et al., 2002). It is envisaged that more institutions will switch from using latex to nitrile gloves in the future.

Nitrile gloves have different physical properties to latex (Fisher et al., 1999; Jackson et al., 1999; Patel et al., 2004), which could affect the dexterity of the user. Recent research has shown that dexterity can be adversely affected by the use of latex (Neiburger, 1992) and chemical protective gloves (Bensel, 1993), the type of containment equipment used, and also by using the wrong glove size. There has been suggestion that nitrile gloves may produce finger and hand fatigue over time due to the inflexibility of the glove material (Morris, 1994; Korniewicz et al., 2004).

A reduction in dexterity caused by wearing certain types of laboratory gloves could increase the risk of injury from sharps or chemical spills for health and laboratory workers. Therefore, the aim of this study is to use the Purdue pegboard test to quantify the dexterity levels provided by the type of latex and nitrile laboratory gloves used at the Health Protection Agency, Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response (HPA CEPR). The influence of age, gender and digit size will also be investigated. Although this study relates to workers at HPA CEPR, it is anticipated that laboratory and healthcare workers on a wider scale will find the results of value.

As a result, after many trials in aspects including Gross dexterity, Fine finger dexterity, Thumb and finger dimensions, regarding the gloves specification, age and gender of testers, scientists have come to conclusions.


Nitrile SafeSkin gloves offered an alternative to latex that will not promote latex allergy at the HPA CEPR, but it was not known whether the levels of dexterity were comparable. Both glove types were tested using the Purdue pegboard to measure dexterity. Despite being a thicker material, SafeSkin latex gloves provided an 8.6% higher level of fine finger dexterity compared with SafeSkin nitrile gloves. There was no significant difference between the gross dexterity provided by latex and nitrile SafeSkin gloves and no relationship between age and gender for the dexterity provided by any of the gloves tested.

Participants with shorter fingers appeared to have reduced dexterity with the nitrile SafeSkin gloves, but there was no reduction in dexterity with the latex gloves. This could be an artefact of the lack of elasticity in nitrile SafeSkin gloves compared with latex. Nitrile SafeSkin gloves also were perceived by some participants to be a tighter fit than latex. Perhaps the manufacturers of SafeSkin need to reassess nitrile glove size to provide an optimum fit.

The majority of participants both preferred and use latex SafeSkin gloves. This could be a consequence of familiarity as many participants had not used nitrile gloves before. However, although in this study the perception of glove users that nitrile gloves seriously reduces dexterity is unfounded, tasks requiring fine finger dexterity should be given extra time if necessary.

Nitrile SafeSkin gloves should be considered a non-allergenic alternative to latex SafeSkin gloves that does not seriously compromise dexterity. This information should not only be valuable to the HPA CEPR but also will benefit laboratory and healthcare workers.

and raised some questions over the current types of gloves selling in the market

Further work

Only two types of gloves from one manufacturer were assessed in this study. Many types of gloves are on the market, and the majority advertised the high levels of dexterity provided. Despite this, no data were provided to back these claims. Recommendations for further work include the assessment of dexterity levels provided by other gloves from a range of manufacturers. A dexterity test based directly on common laboratory techniques may provide further data on the suitability of different types of gloves for specific tasks. Additionally, latex and nitrile gloves should be compared and tested for longer periods of time to mimic and assess the effects of hand and digit fatigue that can occur during laboratory work.

Details of the research results can be found in the article below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *