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The Risks to Hair Salon Workers: Dermatitis

By: Susan Hunt MA - Updated: 14 Jul 2017 | comments*Discuss
Dermatitis Irritant Hair Salon Skin

Around seven out of every 10 hair stylists will suffer from work-related dermatitis at some point in their working life – and in severe cases it can mean the end of their career.

The danger of dermatitis from exposure to colourants, perm solutions and shampoos is now well documented and the Health and Safety Executive has warned that stylists must start to protect their skin.

Working on a daily basis with hair colourants, bleaches and cleaning products can permanently damage your skin and a growing number of stylists now realise the danger and wear gloves.

But experts say that many don’t realise the importance of protecting themselves from ‘wet working’ - one of the main causes of dermatitis in hairdressers.

The term ‘wet washers’ refers to people who spend long periods of time with their hands in water – and it doesn’t just cover salon staff. People in many other jobs – such as cleaners, kitchen staff, caterers and car washers - also expose their hands to water for at least two hours a day.

Even trainees in hair salons - who don’t use chemicals but often spend a major part of their day washing clients’ hair - are at major risk of dermatitis.

What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a skin disorder. There are two types - irritant contact and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis often develops gradually through working frequently with water but less commonly can also appear fairly quickly from chemicals.

Allergic contact dermatitis commonly develops after long periods of exposure to the chemicals in colourants and shampoos but in people with sensitive skin, it could happen much more quickly.

And unfortunately, once you develop allergic contact dermatitis you will have the allergy for the rest of your life.

The same chemicals found in a hair salon are often in personal beauty products and household cleaners so even if a hair stylist switches careers, any exposure to the allergen could cause the dermatitis to flare up again.

The main symptoms of dermatitis include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Redness
  • Dry skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Blisters
  • Flaking skin
  • Preventing Dermatitis

    Firstly, check your skin regularly for any signs of problems – such as dryness, redness or itchiness.

    Always wear disposable non-latex gloves when working with bleach, colours, shampoo and water. Many UK salons have agreed that the HSE recommended longer length non-latex gloves are most suitable and comfortable to use - but remember to change gloves after each customer!

    You need to avoid latex gloves because even if you aren’t allergic to them, many clients could have an allergy to latex – and in extreme cases, contact can prove fatal.(Latex is also known to contribute to other skin conditions and asthma.)

    Make sure you dry your hands well with a cotton hand towel or paper towel and try to moisturise at the start of each day and every time you wash your hands.


    Fragrance-free moisturisers are best because fragrances can cause problems for sensitive skin. When applying moisturiser, be sure to include your fingertips and wrists which are often neglected.

    Creams which are aqueous or paraffin-based are recommended for dermatitis (and many other skin conditions) because they thoroughly moisturise and help to prevent dryness and cracking.

    Raising awareness

    Many hair salons have now introduced monthly hand checks for employees to spot any early signs of dermatitis – because dermatitis isn’t just an inconvenience. Skin can become extremely sore and the condition can impact on your life, hobbies and social life.

    In 2006 the Health and Safety Executive launched a ‘Bad Hand Day’ campaign to raise awareness of the serious and long-term effects of dermatitis.

    It spelled out the importance of using gloves and thanks to this campaign, more hairdressers than ever before are now using gloves at work.

    Many didn’t previously use gloves because they thought they might be uncomfortable or might snag in clients’ hair – but after trying them, most agreed they didn’t cause any problems.

    And celebrity hairdresser Mark Hill, who supported the campaign, says: “Buying and wearing non-latex gloves to protect your hands from skin damage makes good business sense.”

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    Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
    My hand was exposed to L'Oréal essafol color remover and now it prunes when wet and feels numb why????
    Mandy - 14-Jul-17 @ 9:07 PM
    Tree - Your Question:
    My son works as an apprentice for Tony & Guy his hands are in a very bad way from sore cracked skin but this company don't seem bothered in helping him with the problem they just use & abuse the youngsters.Big named company but rubbish health & safety

    Our Response:
    Your son should speak to his line manager and/or take on the advice given in this article. It is also up to your son/the employee to take his own responsibility regarding managing his skin problem.
    WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 9-Feb-17 @ 2:22 PM
    My son works as an apprentice for Tony & Guy his hands are in a very bad way from sore cracked skin but this company don't seem bothered in helping him with the problem they just use & abuse the youngsters...Big named company but rubbish health & safety
    Tree - 8-Feb-17 @ 8:39 PM
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