Having a bad hair day is inevitable for most of us, but for the unfortunate few who have suffered injury at the hands of a hairdresser it can be something they have to live with for life. Hairdressers are a generally good bunch – aiming to improve people’s lives rather than hinder them, but they are asked to deal with an array of ever changing hair products, many of which are increasingly powerful chemicals, sometimes with little instruction and testing. And it is not just the client who can come off badly: the exposure to these chemicals can be far greater for the hairdresser, who may apply countless products to many heads each day. These chemicals can be corrosive, dangerous, and even carcinogenic. Hairdressers probably do not think of themselves as working in a hazardous environment, but both hairdressers and their clients deserve protection. The increasing prevalence of strong hair products on the internet also creates risk for consumers choosing to apply products at home.
So what treatments cause problems? If ever you have had had your hair coloured you should be aware of the need for a skin test to see if you are allergic to the products. Whilst clients may see it as an inconvenience having to go to the hairdresser 24 hours before a treatment for a skin test, it is far better to have a small, contained allergic reaction than an entire scalp. People are different, and some will react very strongly to products that others don’t. Whilst generally the worst outcome you would expect is an allergic reaction, in two particularly sad cases a 17 year old girl died shortly after applying hair dye at home and a 38 year old mother was left brain damaged. Another lady was left with her eyes swollen shut. None of these people undertook skin tests. Skin tests should be compulsory – they will save individuals from discomfort and in a few cases will save lives.
Some far stronger products do, however, give even greater cause for concern. Terrible injuries, including chemical burns, scarring and blood poisoning are being seen in increasing numbers. The last thing any bride to be would want is hairdressing disaster, but sadly for Stephanie that was the case. Her pre-wedding preparations included having her shoulder length afro hair chemically straightened and coloured. After 45 minutes with the products on her head she complained to the hairdresser of itching and burning. It was washed off quickly, but her skin burnt, and her hair fell out leaving her scarred and bald in large patches, and she spent the day before her wedding in hospital on a drip. The product should only have been left on for a maximum of twenty minutes, and the colour and straightener should not have been used together as it caused a chemical reaction.
Products used in a ‘brazilian blow dry’ can also be a cause for concern. Hair is often sprayed with products containing formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – and then heated up to ‘set’ the hair. Clients complain about breathing difficulties during the treatment. The hairdressers will also suffer. No-one knows what the long term effect of this exposure will be. These products do get banned (eventually) but often proliferate on the internet for some time.
We think the way forward is for hairdressers to be properly regulated, and the Hairdressing Council agrees. This would ensure hairdressers are properly informed and advised, and that bad practices and products (and indeed hairdressers) are stopped. Many hairdressers are excellent, and the public should be able to choose with confidence. How many more scalps do the few bad hairdressers have to collect before something is done?