As a body modification artist, it's your duty to protect both yourself and your clients from transmission of infection and diseases that start out as teeny tiny microorganisms waiting to take root in the human body. To do that, you have to maintain a clean shop and a sterile work area, which you can learn to do by reading our Maintaining a Sterile Work Environment and How to Setup a Sterile Field articles. One of the recurring themes you'll notice in both articles is that wearing gloves is a part of the job when it comes to maintaining a sterile area. There are two reasons for this:
- It's Just Good Common Sense. No one wants to be sick, yet we're constantly at risk of getting sick because we're all walking around with who knows how many zillions of little bacteria and other microorganisms clinging to us and every surface around us. The only things you can do to protect yourself are to stay clean (e.g. wash your hands thoroughly and regularly) and add an extra layer between yourself and other people's germs whenever possible. That means wearing exam gloves and even surgical masks when performing body modifications. Doing so will help cut down on the number of evil microorganisms you breathe in and the number you pass from yourself or your instruments to your unsuspecting clients.
- You're Legally Required to Wear Gloves. If you follow OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, which is a legal requirement for all tattoo and piercing shops, then you'll know that wearing exam gloves is a must because it helps prevent transmission of bloodborne diseases. New mods are open wounds with welcome mats in front of them inviting microorganisms to come in and play. If you don a new pair of gloves in between major steps in the modification process and any time you break away to do something else, however briefly, then you minimize the chances of dropping off a handful of those nasty little microorganisms at the new portal you're creating into your client's body.
The bottom line is that it's in everyone's best interest for you to wear gloves during body modifications of any kind, ranging from piercings to tattoos to scarification and beyond.
The Right Type of Gloves for You
There are two options available to you when it comes to glove materials: latex and nitrile. Latex is a naturally-occurring substance that comes from certain plants, like poppies and rubber trees. It's actually a milky liquid, but when it's exposed to air, it coagulates and becomes a stretchy, rubbery solid. That stretchy, flexible nature is what made latex the glove material of choice for so many years. It allows manufacturers to make a product that will fit a wide variety of people with a range of hand sizes, and it gives those wearing gloves the ability to use their hands nearly as freely as if they weren't ensconced in latex. The only downside is that progressively more people have begun developing latex allergies in recent years.
You aren't necessarily born with an allergy to latex. Just using latex gloves day in and day out can cause you to develop an allergy over time. For many, latex allergies manifest as a red rash that's minimally to moderately itchy where latex has come in contact with the skin. Washing the affected area well with soap and water and discontinuing use of latex products is a sufficient solution in those cases. For a slightly more extreme reaction, a dose of Benadryl or another antihistamine may be required. In severe cases, a latex allergy can cause such significant swelling that a person's airways may close and cause them to die without immediate treatment. In those extreme situations, an EpiPen may be required to counteract the allergic reaction.
If you don't have an allergy to latex now, that doesn't mean you won't develop one later. Whether or not latex is an issue for you, you have to keep in mind that you could unknowingly get a client with a latex allergy at any time. Even if someone tells you they're allergic upfront, you may not know how allergic they are. If you decide to use latex gloves anyway because you don't keep nitrile gloves on hand as back-up and you've misjudged the severity of your client's allergy, then you could find yourself in a scary situation that involves calling 9-1-1 and hoping they make it in time to save your client's life.
The Nitrile Gloves Alternative
The ever-growing number of people with latex allergies who need to be handled with gloves during medical procedures and body modifications lead to the development of nitrile gloves. Like latex, nitrile is rubber; however, it's synthetic rubber rather than a naturally-occurring rubber. Nitrile is a copolymer combination of acrylonitrile and butadiene, which is why it's also known as acrylonitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) in addition to Buna-N and Perbunan.
There are a number of advantages to using nitrile over natural rubber (latex) gloves. First, nitrile gloves are 3 times more puncture-resistant than latex gloves, which is a huge advantage when you're working with sharps like tattoo needles, piercing needles and scalpel blades. Second, nitrile rubber is resistant to oils and acids, whereas latex gloves may be broken down more easily by those substances. Finally, nitrile is able to withstand a broader range of temperatures, ranging from -40°F to 226°F. That means your nitrile gloves will hold up well whether you've got your hands in a freezer or are reaching into a still-hot autoclave to retrieve tools or jewelry.
With all that said, there are still two strengths to latex gloves that nitrile can't beat: latex gloves are stronger overall, even if less puncture-resistant, and they're more flexible than nitrile gloves. So, you may want to have at least some latex gloves on hand to use when you're working with tiny pieces like small captive beads or doing more intricate modification work on someone who you know isn't allergic to natural rubber.
When purchasing latex gloves, you have a few options: standard latex gloves with powder, lightly-powdered latex gloves, and powder-free latex gloves. Some gloves are also lightly-fragranced, but most are not. For instance, Black Dragon latex gloves are powder-free and fragrance-free to minimize chances of causing an allergic reaction or developing an allergy. There are even natural latex gloves that are polymer-coated to minimize allergen issues without sacrificing as much flexibility and strength, like Defend latex gloves.
Whether you get nitrile or latex gloves, you also have a variety of color options from which to choose. Some people prefer black gloves, which do a good job of hiding ink and other stains, while others prefer pink gloves that may look a little more natural on them and incite less anxiety in clients waiting to be modified. There are also green gloves, blue gloves, and gloves in other colors available in our Nitrile Gloves & Latex Gloves section.
Finally, you have to choose the right size gloves for you. Many options are available in sizes extra small to extra large, so that you can choose gloves that will fit you well whether you have small or large hands. The first time you purchase gloves, go with medium or large if you aren't sure about the specific size that will fit you best. Just get a single box in one or two sizes, and see how they feel. Decide from there if you should purchase larger, smaller or the same size gloves next time you order.
Whichever combination of size, color, material, powder, and fragrance options you choose, you may also want to consider purchasing a glove box holder that you can mount on the wall of your modification work space, like the one shown holding a box of black gloves in the image above. That way your gloves will always be within reach as you're performing body modifications, so you can easily grab a new pair before you first touch a new client and prior to each stage of the modification process.
Exam Gloves at Wholesale Prices
At Painful Pleasures, our goal is to make it affordable for all body modification artists to practice their crafts. We understand that it can be expensive to stay stocked up with all of the tattoo supplies, piercing supplies and various medical supplies you need to do your job, which is why we offer wholesale prices even in our Retail Store. You can save even more by purchasing gloves in cases and other supplies in bulk to obtain quantity price breaks where offered, and by shopping in our Wholesale Store anytime you're placing an order of $100 or more. If you need to place an even larger order of $500+, take advantage of the lowest prices we offer--available strictly to industry professionals like you--by shopping in our Distributor Store.