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Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer (an elastic hydrocarbon polymer) that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the latex sap collected and refined into a usable rubber. The purified form of natural rubber is the chemical polyisoprene, which can also be produced synthetically. Natural rubber is used extensively in many applications and products, as is synthetic rubber.
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The use of rubber is widespread, ranging from household to industrial products, entering the production stream at the intermediate stage or as final products. Tires and tubes are the largest consumers of rubber. The remaining 44% are taken up by the general rubber goods (GRG) sector, which includes all products except tires and tubes.
Other significant uses of rubber are door and window profiles, hoses, belts, matting, flooring and dampeners (antivibration mounts) for the automotive industry in what is known as the "under the bonnet" products. Gloves (medical, household and industrial) and toy balloons are also large consumers of rubber, although the type of rubber used is that of the concentrated latex. Significant tonnage of rubber is used as adhesives in many manufacturing industries and products, although the two most noticeable are the paper and the carpet industries. Rubber is also commonly used to make rubber bands and pencil erasers. Many aircraft tires and inner tubes are still made of natural rubber due to the high cost of certification for aircraft use of synthetic replacements.
Some people have a serious latex allergy, and exposure to certain natural rubber latex products such as latex gloves can cause anaphylactic shock. Guayule latex is hypoallergenic and is being researched as a substitute to the allergy-inducing Hevea latexes. Unlike the sappable Hevea tree, these relatively small shrubs must be harvested whole and latex extracted from each cell. Chemical processes may also be employed to reduce the amount of antigenic protein in Hevea latex, resulting in alternative Hevea-based materials such Vytex Natural Rubber Latex that, while not completely hypoallergenic, do provide lessened exposure to latex allergens.
Some allergic reactions are not from the latex but from residues of other ingredients used to process the latex into clothing, gloves, foam, etc. These allergies are usually referred to as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).