Section 3.1 Occupationally Specific Advice Hairdressers and Beauty Therapists

Section 3.1 – Occupationally specific advice

Hairdressers and beauty therapists

Hairdressers and beauty therapists come into contact with a large range of substances each day at work, such as shampoos and conditioners, dyes, bleach, wax, massage oils, skin products, nail glues and nail polishes. These products are made up of many different chemicals that can affect the skin and may lead to dermatitis.

Skin irritants are the most common cause of occupational contact dermatitis in hairdressers and beauty therapists. Irritant contact dermatitis is particularly common in apprentices, junior and casual staff and those who often perform a lot of basin work. This condition tends to occur gradually and may slowly worsen over time.

In the hairdressing and beauty industry, the most common irritants are:

  • Water from washing hands and client’s hair frequently, and from handling wet hair
  • Shampoo, conditioner and styling products
  • Bleach and perming solution
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Cleaning products
  • Not drying hands properly
  • Heat and sweating

Taking good care of hands and protecting them from the very beginning of a career will assist in prevention of irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis can occur at any time in a hairdresser’s or beauty therapist’s career and often happens after irritant contact dermatitis has already damaged the skin.

Common allergens in the hair and beauty industry include:

  • Hair dyes
  • Bleach
  • Perming solution
  • Chemicals used in rubber gloves
  • Acrylate chemicals used for artificial nails including shellac
  • Fragrances in hair and cosmetic products
  • Colophony (contained in depilatory waxes). Those allergic to sticking plasters may also be allergic to depilatory waxes.

Contact Urticaria

Hairdressers are also at risk of developing contact urticaria. In hairdressing and beauty therapy, causes of contact urticaria may include:

  • Natural rubber latex e.g. disposable latex gloves
  • Bleach (dust free bleach can lessen the likelihood of developing this type of allergy)

Testing is performed by a blood test or skin prick test at a specialised allergy centre.

Special Note: Temporary tattoos

Hair dye has become an important cause of allergy to so-called ‘henna tattoos. Pure henna (a plant extract) does not cause allergy, however temporary henna tattoos often have hair dye added to them to make the tattoo darker and last longer.

Cases of allergic contact dermatitis have been reported from people who have had the ‘tattoo’ applied when they have been on holiday in Bali and other destinations such as the Gold Coast.

This allergy can be extremely severe as the dye may be applied in much stronger concentrations than when it is applied to the hair. In some cases it may be mixed with a solvent, which aids skin penetration. This tattoo may cause allergy to develop and usually doesn’t cause a rash at the time, however may occur several days later, even after returning home. Subsequently, when the person is exposed to hair dye, eyebrow or eyelash tint, an extreme reaction may develop.

This allergy to hair dye is permanent and would almost certainly ruin a hairdressers’ career.

Important advice to give hairdressers and beauty therapists:

When someone from the hair and beauty industry attends for a patch testing appointment or assessment, it is important that they receive information about how to manage their dermatitis and prevent further recurrences in the future. Consideration should be given to both the home and work environment.

Additionally if the patient is unable to avoid PPD due to their work, cutting the hair before dyeing it reduces exposure to PPD/hair dye.

A few key points this occupational group should be educated about are:

The importance of using a MOISTURISER regularly: See Section 7.2 Skin Care

Wearing suitable gloves for the job: See Section 7.3 Gloves

To prevent work-related contact dermatitis occurring or recurring, it is imperative that hairdressers and beauty therapists use the right sort of gloves for the task being performed. It is not uncommon for them to begin to wear gloves only when the skin on their hands is already damaged. The long-term outcomes for hairdressers and beauty therapists with occupational contact dermatitis are generally poor and many sadly end up leaving the profession. Appropriate education and use of preventative measures may reduce the chances of this occurring and preserve careers.

It is important to wear gloves when:

  • Mixing and applying hair colours
  • Mixing and applying bleach
  • Perming
  • Rinsing out chemicals
  • Shampooing
  • Using chemicals for artificial nails
  • Handling wax (if you have a history of problems with sticking plaster)
  • Cleaning the salon, therapy beds and equipment

In addition to recommending gloves, glove education is also needed. Some important glove tips that hairdressers and beauty therapists need to know include:

  • To change gloves between clients and at least hourly if still dealing with the same client to reduce sweating, which may also irritate the skin
  • Disposable gloves must be thrown away after each use. They are not designed to be washed and re-used; this poor work practice allows the chemicals to pass through the glove and onto the skin
  • Always keep the contaminated surface of the re-useable gloves on the outside. Even after washing, some of the chemicals remain on the surface and are still active
  • Wear gloves from the start of your career (not only after dermatitis has started)
  • When wearing gloves for a long period of time, wear cotton gloves underneath to minimise sweating (these can be purchased from the supermarket or chemist)
  • Do not wear powdered latex gloves
  • From our experience at the Skin Health Institute, when handling acrylic nails it is suggested that a person “double gloves” with two pairs of nitrile gloves for superior protection

Patch testing hairdressers and beauty therapists

Key allergens and series to consider when patch testing someone from the hair and beauty industry:

Series Key allergens Additional notes
  • Australian Baseline Series (ABS)
  • Cosmetics or extended cosmetic series
  • Rubber series, if wearing rubber gloves
  • Hairdressing chemicals
  • Hairdressing products
  • Methacrylate – Nail series, if using artificial nails or acrylate screening series
  • Ethyl cyanoacrylate – used in eyelash extensions
  • Paraphenylenediamine (ABS)
  • Other hair dyes (Hairdressing chemicals Series)
  • Ammonium persulfate (Hairdressing chemical series)
  • Glyceryl mono thioglycolate (Hairdressing chemical Series)
  • Ammonium thioglycolate (Hairdressing Series)
  • Colophony (in depilatory wax) (ABS)
  • Nickel (ABS)
  • Acrylates – methyl methacrylate, ethyl acrylate, 2- hydroxyethyl methacrylate
  • Blood serum test for latex (formerly known as RAST test) if using latex gloves
  • Total IgE (for indication of atopy)
  • Note that ammonium persulfate (bleach) may cause immediate reactions, presenting with respiratory symptoms e.g. runny nose, sneezing or congestion
  • Test scissors etc. for nickel if the patient is nickel allergic

Recommended reading

2013 Lyons G, Roberts H, Palmer A, Matheson M, Nixon R. Hairdressers presenting to an occupational dermatology clinic in Melbourne, Australia. Contact Dermatitis. 2013 May;68(5):300-6. doi: 10.1111/cod.12016. Epub 2013 Apr 16. PMID: 23586498.

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