If you’ve ever had what seems like a rash on your hands from working in the salon, you’re part of the majority. 61% of practicing hair stylists and 59% of hairdressing students have experienced a skin problem on their hands – generally contact dermatitis – during their career.
Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when your skin is exposed to chemicals (such as those found in hair treatments, shampoos, or colours), and/or when it is continually gets wet and dries out again, particularly when you’re rinsing and washing clients’ hair.
Irritant contact dermatitis develops slowly over time, and you may not even notice it at first. But left untreated, it can become debilitating, or even develop into allergic contact dermatitis. A recent US study found it was largely responsible for 40% of hair stylists leaving the industry.
Basically, this is something you really need to stay on top of. But what can you actually do when you’re behind a basin half the day? Shampooing, colouring and hair treatments are part of the job, but there are still measures you can take to avoid contact dermatitis from progressing:
- Use disposable non-latex gloves when rinsing, shampooing, colouring, bleaching, or treating. If you’re prone to sweating, wear thin cotton gloves beneath them to keep your hands dry. Make sure you change your disposable gloves between each client.
- If your hands do get wet, dry them thoroughly with a cotton or paper towel, the more absorbent, the better. Make sure you don’t miss the spots in between your fingers, as they can get super irritated!
- Moisturise your hands as much as possible, such as at the start and end of a shift, during breaks, and when you wash your hands. Use a really thick cream, if you can, that doesn’t have any perfume or fragrances.
- Check your hands at least weekly for signs of dermatitis. Contact dermatitis starts as dryness, itching and redness, which If untreated can developed into blisters or cracked, flaking, or scaly skin.
Contact dermatitis is a serious risk for hair stylists. Government departments across the countries have guidelines in place for employees, and hair and beauty is singled out as one of the most affected industries.
Remember, you have every right to take preventative measures to protect your health and safety in the workplace. If your employer is objecting to you taking time out to dry and moisturise your hands properly or wear gloves in the basin, or provide gloves at all, you need to contact your union.
We’re here to make sure your health and safety is prioritised so you can keep doing what you love. No one wants their career cut short by a painful condition, so if you’re at risk, it’s time to take action. Find out more about how our organisers can help you with health issues in your workplace today.