Sterile or Nonsterile Gloves for Minor Skin Excisions?

Nonsterile gloves are just as effective as sterile gloves in preventing surgical site infection after minor skin surgeries.

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Consider using nonsterile gloves during minor skin excisions (even those requiring sutures), because the infection rate is not increased compared to using sterile gloves.1

B: Based on a randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in a primary care practice.1

A 50-year-old man comes to your office to have a mole removed from his arm. You decide to excise the lesion in your office today. Do you need to use sterile gloves for this procedure, or can you use gloves from the clean nonsterile box in the exam room?

Nonsterile gloves are readily available during a typical office visit and cost up to a dollar less per pair than sterile gloves.1-3 Studies conducted in settings other than primary care offices have shown that nonsterile gloves do not increase the risk for infection during several types of minor skin procedures.

A partially blinded RCT in an emergency department found no significant difference in infection rates between the use of sterile (6.1%) and nonsterile (4.4%) gloves during laceration repairs.2 Similarly, a small RCT in an outpatient dermatology clinic and a larger prospective trial by a Mohs dermatologist showed that infection rates were not increased after Mohs surgery using nonsterile (0.49%) versus sterile (0.50%) gloves.3,4

Guidelines on the use of sterile versus nonsterile gloves for minor skin excisions in outpatient primary care are difficult to come by. Current guidelines from the CDC and other agencies regarding surgical site infections are broad and focus on the operating room environment.5-7

The American Academy of Dermatology is working on a guideline for treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer, due out this winter, which may provide additional guidance.8 A 2003 review instructed primary care providers to use sterile gloves for excisional skin biopsies that require sutures.9

The 2015 study by Heal et al1 appears to be the first RCT to address the question of sterile versus nonsterile glove use for minor skin excisions in a primary care outpatient practice.

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