by Don Sadler

Surgical gloves are one of the most basic, but also most critical, tools used by surgeons and perioperative nurses in the OR. And the surgical glove market is one of the most dynamic of all OR products.

“The surgical glove market is healthy and growing, and several different factors are playing into this,” says Ben Wallace, the Senior Product Manager of the Surgical Glove Division of Medline Industries, Inc. “The biggest is the simple fact that more surgeries are being performed today than ever before.”

Research conducted by TechNavio backs this up. According to TechNavio, the market for surgical gloves in the U.S. is growing at a steady rate of 5 to 6 percent annually, and this is being driven primarily by the increase in surgical procedures.

“Moreover, the increasing prevalence of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) has resulted in mandatory usage of disposable gloves,” says a senior research analyst at TechNavio.

The global surgical glove market in 2013 was estimated to be close to $1 billion, and this is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.45 percent to reach $1.738 billion by 2018, TechNavio predicts. The U.S. has a share of about 45 percent of the global surgical gloves market, and this is expected to reach nearly $600 million by 2018, based on the 5 to 6 percent annual growth rate noted above.

Among the biggest trends in surgical gloves is the move away from powdered latex gloves to synthetic gloves with neoprene and polyisoprene.

“This is due largely to latex and chemical allergies and resulting skin reactions, which range from a simple rash to a life-threatening anaphylactic event,” says Ken Petersen, Director of Customer Marketing with Ansell Healthcare. “Also, the donning powder contributes to the spread of allergens and other bacteria. Over the next few years, we expect to continue to see the trend toward a heavier synthetic product mix, which will drive growth in the market.”

Different surgeons prefer different kinds of gloves, Wallace notes, depending on their areas of specialty and the kinds of procedures they perform.

“Latex-free gloves haven’t always been the most comfortable, nor have they had the same physical characteristics as latex. But manufacturers are focusing R&D heavily in this area,” Wallace says.

The growing use of polyisoprene in surgical gloves is a good example.

“These gloves feel and perform more like latex,” says Wallace. “Polyisoprene is more similar to latex at the molecular structure, so it imparts the characteristics of latex.”

Petersen says that increased scrutiny has been placed on HAIs and the fact that insurance providers will not reimburse for HAI-related care.

“These pressures are pushing the surgical glove industry to develop stronger and safer barrier protection solutions for both patient and staff safety,” Petersen says.

“As we experience a growing awareness around latex and chemical allergies, the market will continue to move away from natural rubber latex products to synthetic glove materials — namely, polyisoprene and neoprene,” he adds. “This movement to synthetic surgical gloves has been accelerating over the last few years, with many hospitals going completely synthetic. We expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future.”