Let’s start with the gloves. The glove is our most basic tool for keeping ourselves relatively disease free in the body modification industry. I use the term “relatively”, because there’s always some idiot out there that will mess this up. Gloves are part of the business and we think nothing of them as they’re used for daily tasks. But, there’s some interesting stuff about them perhaps you didn’t know.
The very first surgical glove was used in 1758 by a German physician named Johann Julius Walbaum. It was made from sheep intestines and used during and obstetrics procedure. Obstetrics involves babies and all kinds of womanly parts and stuff (just in case you didn’t know). That kinda thing can get pretty messy, so it seems weird to me they can only track the use of surgical gloves back to the 1700’s. Think about it. We’re only talking about just over the last 200 years or so. Kind of grosses me out.
The father of latex gloves was a surgeon by the name of William Stewart Halsted. He was the first head suregeon at John Hopkins hospital. Halsted was credited as being the first to use surgical gloves in 1894, however it’s rumored that Dr. Joseph Bloodgood may have beat him to the punch using them nearly a year earlier. I apologize here guys, because it’s about to get a little romantic. Obviously, it’s not the first time latex is involved in something of a romantic nature. You see, Mr. Halsted had quite the affection for his head surgical nurse. Her name was Caroline Hampton. He had such trust and admiration for Ms. Hampton that he refused to operate without her by his side.
The post operative cleansers back in the 1800’s were rather harsh. As a result, Ms. Hampton developed a pretty bad case of dermatitis. For those of you unaware; dermatitis literally means inflammation of the skin. It’s an umbrella term to anything that irritates the shit out of your skin. Incidentally, using the term dermatitis, rather than “rash” makes one sound more competent.
Back to the love story; Mr. Halsted noticed that Ms. Hampton was struggling with her hands and looked for solutions. He contacted Mr. Charles Good Year (yes, Good Year) who owned a rubber company and asked for him to make rubber gloves to protect Ms. Hampton’s hands. Ms. Hampton first donned those gloves during a surgical procedure in 1890. In all actuality, the first American to use surgical gloves was Ms. Halstead. So, there it is; a chick was the first to use surgical latex gloves. Apparently the gloves must have been awesome, because that very year Mr. Halsted and Ms. Hampton were quickly engaged, then married. Something about falling in love a midst blood and guts seems infinitely romantic to me.
In 1893, Dr. Joseph Bloodgood routinely used surgical latex gloves during hernia operations and discovered that using them minimized his post operative rate of infection by almost 100%. Amazing how that works, isn’t it? In 1894, Mr. Halstead began using gloves regularly during surgical procedures and this is what he had to say about it.”Why was I so blind not to have perceived the necessity for wearing them all the time?” I’m sure the first tattooists to wear gloves must have felt the same way. Can you imagine what it must have been like walking around with ink stained hands all the time?
Unfortunately, I had an exceedingly difficult time trying to track down the first known tattooer to wear latex gloves. But one thing’s for sure; I personally wouldn’t be a tattooist today if I had to squish around gloveless in ink and blood to complete a tattoo. It seems the emergence of latex glove use spontaneously erupted during the early 1980’s with the presence of our good old friend AIDS. AIDS had people paranoid and for the first time ever, the basis of blood borne pathogens began to creep into our general populous as a valuable scare tactic and preventative tool. It took the CDC until 1987 to issue standard precautions. Almost a hundred years after Dr. Halsted’s genius idea, the all encompassing value of using gloves was finally recognized. Tattoo artists weren’t the only ones who considered the value of using latex gloves. Dentists had also begun to pick up on the trend. In 1989, it was a general rule for dentists to wear gloves “if bleeding is expected”. So, the terrifying an obvious truth here is that dentist’s began casually using gloves right about the same time that tattooers did. Yuck.
Fast forward to the latex glove being used commonly in tattoo shops and doctor offices everywhere and we’ve begun to see a drastic change in its acceptance. About ten percent of our population has a latex allergy and the numbers keep increasing, which means latex is no longer recommended as we embark on a new millennia. There’s evidence that it’s not entirely the glove itself, rather the powder used in the gloves that cause latex allergies. There are two main concerns surrounding latex powder. First, the glove powder is an airborne carrier of proteins which can be a source of cross contamination. Also, they can harbor endotoxins, which are dead bacteria. If that wasn’t enough to put latex gloves on the shit list, consider this little bit of information; mineral oil, petroleum, and lanolin can break down latex. In order to protect yourself from blood borne pathogens during a tattoo procedure, you either need to switch the gloves you’re using, or switch emollients. Another culprit for breaking down latex gloves is rubbing alcohol which will completely disintegrate them. There’s a science experiment for a slow day at the shop.
The first tattooer I’ve known to warn about the danger of latex allergies is an artist by the name of Pat Fish. I remembered reading this article early 2000’s or possibly late 1990’s about her struggle with latex allergies. It kind of stuck with me, the fascination that someone could be allergic to something I found so helpful and harmless. Of course, I feel the same way about those poor kids with peanut allergies. I believe Pat’s warning was well timed as I’ve noticed a continuous increase of clients allergic to latex.
The logical alternative to latex gloves would be using nitrile gloves which were introduced in 1990. The allergic reaction rates of nitrile gloves appear to be virtually nonexistent, which takes the guess work out of finding out if you’re client is allergic. Another bonus to using nitrile gloves is that petroleum and oil based products don’t’ break down nitrile gloves nearly as quickly as latex. Nitrile is swiftly becoming a replacement for latex. I imagine, there will be a day when another synthetic glove far superior to nitrile will become the new answer to modern universal precautions. As we begin to watch latex gloves moving into the realm of extinction, no doubt something new will be on the horizon changing the way we perform our craft.
A fine example of how we’re moving forward with glove technology is the invention of Green Dex. Green Dex is the world’s first biodegradable nitrile gloves. You can get more info. by checking out http://green-dex.com . This is the perfect glove for those environmentally sensitive tattooists out there who desire to minimize their carbon foot print. These things are pretty interesting and worth a look.
If you’re looking for nitrile gloves and fashion seems to be a concern, then I recommend checking out https://www.esafetysupplies.com and https://www.mcrsafety.com which both have a pretty good selection of colorful nitrile gloves. Ever had a box of orange nitrile gloves? Check out these two sites and if you want them, you can make it happen.
It’s obvious a standard in our industry is the black nitrile glove. People often associate black nitrile gloves exclusively with tattoo artists; like most people associate strippers and cocaine. Microflex is a company I’ve been using as a glove supplier on and off for most of my career. Microflex carries the Midnight and Black Dragon lines of black nitrile gloves, but I’ve used several types of black nitrile gloves and noticed minimal differences between brands. However, I can say when I go cheap on picking up gloves; I get a higher amount of them that tear easily. I’ve found that buying the cheaper gloves actually costs more money, because you lose half the dam box in broken gloves anyway.
Brands, style and type of glove varies with each artist’s preference. The best way to find a variety of gloves at affordable prices is to shop Amazon. I know a bunch of tough tattoo guys probably don’t troll Amazon looking for gloves often, but it’s worth taking a minute and giving it a look. The deals available for gloves on Amazon are pretty awesome. Amazon is a great way to try new things without having to pay a ton of money for a product that may not suite you.
Regardless of what kind of glove you choose; remember the cardinal rule of helping eliminate the dangers of cross contamination and wash your hands you filthy bastard.
If you liked this article….Tell all your friends! I’ve got more interesting stuff on the horizon I would love to share. Check back soon for more!
Thanks- Cee Jay