Chemical Accelerators

The Glove-Related Allergen of the 21st Century

Do you wear disposable gloves every day and have dry, itchy, irritated skin or blisters on your hands?

Dermatitis is a widespread workplace problem. Skin diseases compose up to 35 percent of all occupational diseases, with contact dermatitis the problem in the majority of those cases. In 2005, the Society for Investigative Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology reported that contact dermatitis was associated with more than 9 million physician office visits, resulting in more than $1.4 billion spent on treatment.

Allergic contact dermatitis (a type IV allergy) occurs when a substance triggers an immune response in your skin. It can appear as a red rash with bumps and sometimes blisters. In laboratories, it is most often caused by exposure to natural rubber- or sulfur-based chemical accelerators used to make common non-latex gloves.

Type IV allergies represent up to 28% of glove-related reactions, and most are due to chemical accelerators.

The Real Culprits

If an individual wearing nitrile gloves develops dermatitis, they may believe that they have a nitrile allergy. In most cases, however, the allergy is not to the nitrile co-polymer, but another chemical in the gloves: the accelerators.

Chemical accelerators are used in glove manufacturing to hasten the linkage of molecules in natural rubber latex or in synthetic rubber latex like nitrile and vinyl. The accelerants transform the liquid materials into thin, strong, and elastic glove films.

Sulfur-based chemical accelerators include dithiocarbamates, thiurams, and mercaptobenzothiazoles (MBT.) Thiuram allergies are the most frequent, followed by reactions to dithiocarbamates. According to a study in the United Kingdom, allergies to carba mix and its constituents have increased significantly from 1996 to 2012, increasing an average of 10.1 percent annually.

In their search for a solution, individuals with glove-related dermatitis often switch from nitrile to polychloroprene gloves. These gloves contain residues of mixed dialkyl thioureas (MDTU), another known allergen group. By changing gloves, they unknowingly increase their risk of developing additional allergies.

Fortunately, new technologies for glove materials can help reduce exposure to allergens.  

“My allergy on my hands was so bad, it was like poison ivy blisters and my hands were raw. Now [with Low Dermatitis Potential gloves] my hands are completely healed.” – Terry Heckman, Laboratory Research Assistant, University of Texas, Austin

A Better Alternative

Gloves made from patented1 LOW DERMA technology nitrile carry the FDA-approved Low Dermatitis Potential claim. These gloves are made using a breakthrough cross-linking technology that does not require sulfur-based accelerators or MDTU. The gloves also undergo additional testing to ensure that they are free of chemical accelerator residue and will not cause skin irritation or allergies.

How well do these gloves work? When a group of healthcare workers with hand eczema (determined to be allergic contact dermatitis caused by accelerators) switched to accelerator-free medical gloves, they all showed improvement, and more than two-thirds became completely free of symptoms.

“Every day we are contacted by individuals suffering from glove-related dermatitis and many believe it is an allergy to nitrile,” says Stephen J. Atwood, President of Hourglass International, Inc. “They’re relieved to learn that it is most likely notnitrile but the sulfur-based accelerants in the nitrile gloves causing the problem. The best part is that we have accelerator-free gloves with LOW DERMA technology that offer exceptional hand protection that will relieve their agony. Two of our nitrile exam gloves, FreeStyle1100 and Scion700, are chemotherapy drug permeation tested, and the LOW DERMA technology they’re made from is the only nitrile glove U.S. FDA 510(k) cleared for protection against Fentanyl. Our HandPRO glove brand also includes accelerator-free nitrile gloves for controlled environments and cleanrooms.”

Focus on Prevention

Because skin is an important barrier to bloodborne pathogens and disease, broken skin puts individuals at higher risk of infections and other diseases. A chronic skin condition can also be painful and may cause some people to abandon their career choices.

Even individuals without allergic contact dermatitis should consider switching to an accelerator-free glove. According to NIOSH, “Because the prognosis of occupational irritant and allergic dermatitis is poor, prevention is imperative. One study found that 75 percent of patients with occupational contact dermatitis later developed a chronic skin disease.” 

Thousands of potentially harmful chemicals are introduced to workplaces each year, so it is important to reduce your exposure whenever possible. New materials like LOW DERMA technology nitrile with Low Dermatitis Potential makes it possible to wear comfortable gloves that provide the protection you expect from nitrile — without the allergens.

1. Patent

2. >240 minutes; granted by U.S. FDA 510(k).


NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,) Allergic & Irritant Dermatitis

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Frequently Asked Questions, Contact Dermatitis and Latex Allergy

UK rates of occupational skin disease attributed to rubber accelerators, 1996-2012. Warburton KL, Urwin R, Carder M, Turner S, Agius R, Wilkinson SM.