A shocking report published this month has shed light on the multitude of health risks stylists face by working with harsh chemicals central to the hairdressing industry. However, there are a myriad of ways stylists, salon owners and product manufacturers can vastly minimise these dangers.

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The report entitled Beauty and its Beast, written by Alexandra Scranton and published online at Women’s Voices For the Earth, outlines the heightened health risks facing many hair stylists and nail technicians. While the majority of stats are based on international figures, the risks cross geographical barriers, with harmful chemicals found in universally used tools such as hair extensions and wig glue, flat iron and thermal protection sprays and hair colours.

Alarming stats indicate that 58% of hairdressing students in Australia reported having skin problems on their hands. Other international figures see hairdressers in the UK as 13 times likelier to develop a cough than those in other professions and hairdressers in the US four times as likely to be diagnosed with certain lung diseases. Hairdressers in Taiwan reported far greater cardiovascular health on days away from the salon.

Further studies found hairdressers in Finland had a 70% higher chance of developing chronic nasal symptoms than an average control group and salon workers were one of the highest groups to develop new-onset asthma in Europe. Also veteran salon workers with decades of experience were at a higher risk of developing depression compared to those in other industries.

The other risks and their specifications can be read in the full report here.

Australian legislation has made promising signs towards these health issues in some regards, such as banning the high levels of formaldehyde previously used in Keratin straightening treatments, which are still used in many foreign countries, including the US. However, there is still much to be done to ensure a safer working environment for stylists.

What can you do to minimise the risk?

If you’re a salon worker:

  • Use fewer toxic products in the hair salon when possible.
  • Use pump spray products when possible (to reduce inhalation risk).
  • Use personal protective equipment on a daily basis:
    • Wear high quality gloves to protect the skin on your hands.
    • Do not reuse disposable gloves.
  • Ensure proper handling, storage, and disposal of salon products:
    • Close containers of salon products when not in use.
    • Place any rubbish soaked in chemicals in a bin with a tight lid.
    • Dispose of waste appropriately.
  • Use fewer products and smaller amounts of each product when performing services.
  • Wash your hands before and after performing services to remove any chemical residue.

If you’re a salon owner:

  •  Ensure adequate ventilation:
    • Open doors and windows when possible.
    • Install a ventilation system with external exhaust and ability to make multiple air changes per hour.
    • Consider the types of products stocked in your salon.
  • Ensure appropriate occupational health and safety training for all staff members.

If you’re a salon product manufacturer:

  • Disclose all ingredients in salon products.
  • Provide product safety information in multiple languages, according to salon demographics.
  • Employ environmental initiatives in your product development considerations.

The first step to change is information and this report sheds light on what issues the industry faces and what needs to be done. With the combined efforts of salon owners and workers, product manufacturers, government agencies and researchers, we can work towards a safer salon industry.