Protecting Your Skin from Solvents, Adhesives and Other Chemicals

Substitution, wearing PPE and good work practice can help protect your skin from solvents, adhesives and other chemicals.


Many adhesives, mastics, solvents and other chemicals can cause skin irritation and allergy.   A skin protection program should (1) determine which products can cause dermatitis (2) substitute another product  that does not cause dermatitis if possible (3) limit skin contact by using gloves or other methods (4) provide handwashing stations (5) use good skin care practices.

Gloves that are properly selected and worn can protect the skin and internal organs from chemical injury while still allowing sufficient dexterity to do the job. 

All protective gloves are not the same.  The material that the glove is made of is the primary factor in determining which chemicals will be effectively kept away from the skin. Other characteristics like sleeve length and glove thickness will also impact the amount and duration of protection. Careful use of a manufacturer’s glove guide can help you to select a protective glove that works best for a given chemical and task combination. Long sleeves, gauntlets or aprons may be necessary if additional body parts are exposed.

Check the MSDSs for the products that you use to determine their ingredients and hazards. Look in the health effects section under the skin heading to determine the product's dermal and systemic effects. Products with lower solvent concentrations and without sensitizers may make skin protection easier.  In the protective equipment section the preparer may recommend a specific type of glove.

Glove manufacturers' web sites are useful tools to research the best gloves to use with a material.  If a product contains a mixture of solvents that have contradictory glove recommendations you may need professional advice in selecting a glove.

Glove materials are tested under laboratory conditions. If a glove type doesn't stand up under your work conditions, select a different glove material, use a thicker glove, or change gloves more often.

Terms to be familiar with when using glove selection guides:
Glove material    Common glove materials include natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), vinyl, and Viton.  Each is effective against specific chemicals.
Breakthrough time   Breakthrough time is the number of minutes from a gloves initial contact with a liquid until that liquid become detectable on the inside of the glove material.  Longer breakthrough times are more protective. When calculating the usable life of a glove include all time periods from initial glove exposure – including breaks and times when the gloves are not worn.  The highest value normally reported is 480 minutes (one 8 hour shift). Gloves should be removed and disposed of before they reach their breakthrough time. Do not use a glove for chemical protection beyond one shift.
Permeation rate  This is the amount of material that can move through the glove material in a given amount of time.  A lower permeation rate is more protective
Degradation rate.    Solvents can begin to break down the glove material, allowing for large scale penetration by contaminants. Degradation rate tells you how quickly that happens.

 Other important considerations in glove selection are:

Length   Longer gloves can provide wrist and forearm protection and can allow for folding over the top of the glove to prevent liquids from flowing down the arms and to facilitate later removal.

Thickness  Thicker gloves provide great puncture resistance and longer use time. The need for hand and finger dexterity may require the use of thinner gloves.

Wearing Gloves

Do not wear watches or jewelry of the job. They can trap chemicals underneath.

Select gloves that fit well.  Gloves that are too tight will be uncomfortable and difficult to remove.  Gloves that are too loose may reduce dexterity and make it hard to do the task. 

Inspect gloves before putting them on.  Look for tears or thin spots.  Pin-hole leaks can be detected by blowing into unused gloves.

Avoid spreading contamination unnecessarily to equipment such as tools and tool boxes, or to phones, doorknobs, and other parts of the facility.

If wrists, arms, the torso or other parts of the body are potentially exposed to chemicals, you may need to wear guantlet gloves, protective sleeves, and/or an apron.  Use the glove selection guide to select the right material. If  significant chemical exposure to a large part of the body is likely, professional industrial hygiene assistance should be sought.

Do not wear gloves with powered tools that may draw the glove and hand into the equipment.

Removing Gloves

  • First  loosen gloves on both hands. Hold hands down so any   contaminated liquid will not drip onto skin or clothing.
  • Remove the first glove only to the fingers.   The cuff of the glove will remain over the palm.
  • Now, grabbing the second glove with the first glove, remove the second glove.The first glove should slip off.
  • Wash your hands before putting on glove and after removing gloves.
  • Try to handle gloves only on the outside. Do not touch the inside.

Hand Washing 

Use Ph neutral or acidic soft soaps such as Aloe Vera 80, Cetaphil, Dial, Dove, Gillette Wash, Ivory, Jergens, Lever 200, Neutragena, pHisodem, Softsoap or Caress. Dove, or Oil of Olay bar soap. Do not use abrasive soaps or solvents, including alcohol wipes or limonene based cleaners (usually citrus scented)  to clean your skin. 

Portable Handwashing Stations

Flowing water (as opposed to a wash bucket) removes contaminants from the skin surface, preventing skin damage.  Abrasive cleaning agents (like soap with pumice) should be avoided.  Liquid detergents that are near pH neutral or slightly acidic (pH 6.8) is reccommended to return skin to normal pH and prevent continuing caustic cement burns.  Some spray neutralizing agents are marketed for masons, and may provide additional buffering of skin pH. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide adequate washing facilities for employees that work with contaminants that may be harmful. 

Section 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1) requires that employers provide adequate washing facilities for employees engaged in the application of paints, coating, herbicides, insecticides, or in other operations where contaminants may be harmful to the employees.

Additionally, 1926.51(f)(3)(iii) notes that lavatory facilities must be equipped with hot and cold running water, or tepid running water.  The Occupational Safety and Health Act additionally notes that premoistened towelettes, once allowed by some state regulators, cannot be substituted for handwashing facilities.

Employers must maintain such facilities in accordance with public health sanitation practices, including upkeep of water quality through daily change or recharge (or more often if necessary); toilets clean, kept sanitary, and operational; handwashing facilities refilled with potable water as necessary and kept clean, sanitary, and safe; and proper disposal of wastes from the facilities.

Reusing Gloves   

Gloves used for protection from adhesives, caulks, solvents and coatings cannot be easily reused without contaminating the skin. Dispose of the gloves properly after removal.

Gloves used for protection from paints and coatings cannot be easily reused without contaminating the skin.  Gloves used for protection from solvents may be reused within the shift as long as the time from first solvent exposure does not exceed the breakthrough time and there has been no physical indication of breakthrough or degradation.  Dispose of the gloves properly after removal.

Barrier Creams

There is little data on the reliability of barrier creams. Do not use barrier creams as the primary protection of your skin.  Barrier creams may be an alternative when gloves can not be worn for safety reasons. Where exposures are light and incidental, barrier creams may provide sufficient protection and, by making hand washing easier, reduce the use of harsh hand cleaners.  If redness or irritation results from using a barrier cream, discontinue use.

Risks Addressed:

Skin and systemic damage from dermal exposure to chemicals.

How Risks are Reduced:

Gloves and other protective clothing provide a barrier between the skin and chemicals.

Gloves and other protective clothing should be used when harmful chemicals can not be removed from the job process.  

Effects on Productivity:

Wearing gloves may decrease dexterity and slow down the job process. Wearing gloves reduces clean-up and inury time due to skin problems. Providing a range of sizes makes it easier for workers to choose gloves that fit well and that minimize job interference.

Additional Considerations:

If significant chemical exposure to a large part of the body is likely, professional industrial hygiene assistance should be sought. Extensive use of solvents and adhesives may also create a respiratory hazard. 

Use of any glove may be hazardous when using powered equipment.

Gloves may be flammable, especially when used against solvents and other flammable materials.  Keep away from flames and hot surfaces.

Hazards Addressed:


Many glove manufacturers provide on-line selection guides that display the protection characteristics against specific chemicals. If no glove is effective against all the components in a mixture it may be necessary to wear a second glove with complementary protection qualities. North's Silver Shield Glove provides a very broad range of protection and is thin enough to fit easily under another glove. Ansell 7th edition Chemical Guide and Honeywell Industrial Glove Guide

Return on Investment

To calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your specific application, please visit our Return on Investment Calculator. While a specific ROI example has not been developed for this particular solution, the ROI Calculator provides a useful tool and guidance on how to generate your own on investment analysis.