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Controlling Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a type of eczema that occurs when your skin comes into direct contact with an irritant. The irritant damages the outer layer of the skin, causing redness, itching, burning or stinging and can lead to your skin becoming blistered, dry and cracked.

It is reported that up to 70% of hairdressers suffer from work-related skin damage, such as dermatitis, at some point throughout their career. Skin damage like this is unsightly, unpleasant and
unprofessional looking but it can be prevented.

What Causes Dermatitis in a Hair Salon?

Dermatitis can affect all parts of the body but most commonly it just affects the hands. People that work with irritants in their job, or those whose work involves a lot of water, are more at risk of suffering from dermatitis than others – which is why hairdressers need to be extra careful.

In a hair salon, dermatitis is likely to be caused by:

  • Frequent contact with water.
  • Contact with the chemicals in hairdressing products, e.g. shampoo, bleach or hair colour.
  • Contact with cleaning chemicals or detergents.

If your work involves a lot of contact with water, then you are more at risk of developing dermatitis. For example, if you wash the hair of 10+ customers throughout the day. The other main cause is contact with the chemicals in hairdressing products when you’re shampooing, dyeing, bleaching or cleaning up afterwards.

There are many ways in which your hands may come into contact with water and chemical products.

For example:

  • Washing or colouring hair with bare hands.
  • Handling equipment left to soak in cleaning chemicals.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or clothing.
  • Splashing chemicals on to your skin when mixing or handling them.
  • Aerosols, such as hairspray, settling on your skin.

How to Prevent Dermatitis in a Hair Salon

Although dermatitis is an unpleasant condition to have, the good news is that it’s easily preventable. There are a few simple things you can do to help prevent dermatitis:

  • Wear disposable, non-latex gloves for shampooing, colouring and bleaching etc.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly with a disposable paper towel.
  • Moisturize your hands as often as possible with fragrance-free moisturiser. Make sure that you moisturise all of your hands, wrists and fingers.
  • Wear a new pair of gloves for every customer.
  • Check your skin regularly for early signs of skin problems.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that skin creams are paraffin-based or aqueous moisturising creams. These should be in a form that can be used without cross-contamination
between users – so ensure each worker has their own supply. Skin creams are important as they help to remove contamination from the skin and replace lost oils.

Checking for Dermatitis

You should check your skin for signs of damage every day – look out for areas of soreness, redness or dryness on your hands, wrists and arms.

PPE for Hairdressers

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is recommended as a hair salon health and safety measure. Protective gloves help to keep water and hair products off your skin and thus prevent dermatitis.
The HSE recommends that the gloves you use at work are: single use, all-round smooth, powder-free, non-latex gloves, ideally around 300mm length (top to tail). These are available in different
sizes and it is important to use the size that fits properly. Choose long-length gloves with folded cuffs to prevent water running down your arm where possible.

You should throw away single-use gloves every time they are taken off – instil a ‘new customer new gloves’ mantra in the workplace to make sure people comply with this. This is important because the gloves will be contaminated with products and water and may cause dermatitis if re-used.

You should be sure to always dry your hands thoroughly after any wet work, even when you are simply washing your hands with soap and water.

COSHH in Hairdressing: Asthma

When you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs, known as a trigger or respiratory sensitiser, your airways become narrow, tight and inflamed. This sensation is known as
asthma and can lead to difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing and a tight chest.

Asthma can be brought on by certain work activities, including those involved in hairdressing.

Things in a hair salon likely to cause asthma include:

  • Hair products.
  • Cleaning chemicals.
  • Hairspray.
  • Fumes from solvents and cleaners.
  • Dust from latex.
  • Henna products.

How to Prevent Asthma in a Hair Salon

Preventing asthma from developing or worsening whilst at work is a necessary step to take. Tips include:

  • Keep the workplace well ventilated. Have an open door or window where possible to get clean air flowing through.
  • Avoid using dusty products, such as henna powder, and choose pastes or solutions instead.
  • Wear a face mask and stand well back when using hairspray as some products can make existing asthma worse.

Some types of hairdressing products are known to cause problems and so may be labelled ‘may cause sensitisation by inhalation’ or ‘can cause allergic reactions’. Check the label of any products
that you use to decide upon the necessary precautions.

When to See a Doctor

If you think that you or a colleague has developed dermatitis or asthma as a result of exposure to hazardous substances at work, then it is essential that you see a doctor straight away. A doctor can
then give a diagnosis of whether the symptoms being experienced are related to the products you are using and will advise on whether work activity should continue or whether changes need to be made.