Contact Dermatitis in Hairdressers – Workplace Risk in Hair Salons

Due to the nature of the work, contact dermatitis is very common in hairdressers. Around seven out of every 10 hair stylists will suffer from work related dermatitis at some point in their working life. In severe cases it can mean the end of their career.

arm with dermatitis rash

What Causes Dermatitis in Hairdressers?

The danger of dermatitis from exposure to colourants, perm solutions and shampoos is now well documented. 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. It is important to remember that there are also hazards using latex gloves. The risks of using these should be assessed before use.

Wet Working

But experts say that many don’t realise the importance of protecting themselves from ‘wet working’. This is 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. It doesn’t just cover salon staff. People in other jobs such as cleaners, kitchen staff, and car washers also expose 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. Less commonly it can also appear fairly quickly from chemicals.

Allergic contact dermatitis after long periods of exposure to the chemicals in colourants and shampoos. 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. 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 in Hairdressers

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. The HSE recommende longer length non-latex gloves. These 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. I 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. Also try to moisturise at the start of each day and every time you wash your hands. The possibility of dermatitis should be factored into the workplace risk assesment in all hair salons. The above measures will help to minimise the risk of this work related illness.


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. This is because they thoroughly moisturise and help to prevent dryness and cracking.

Raising Staff Awareness

Many hair salons have introduced monthly hand checks for employees to spot any early signs of dermatitis. That’s 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 HSE launched a ‘Bad Hand Day’ campaign to raise awareness of 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. However, after trying them, most agreed they didn’t cause any problems.

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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