There are a wide variety of hair straightening and relaxer products used at salons, often designed for specific treatments, for example, Japanese / Yuko hair straightening, and Brazilian blow dry straightening. Every hair relaxer product contains different chemical ingredients, many of which can damage the hair and burn skin on the scalp if they are applied incorrectly, or if the treatment is unsuitable for a person’s hair or skin type in the first place. Other treatments utilise heated flat straightening irons, which can also cause burn injuries if the stylist handling them commits an error.
A high standard of safety should be expected as chemicals such as sodium hydroxide are used. Corrosive chemicals are contained in many stronger hair relaxers, and is the reason why hair stylists apply protective petroleum-based cream to the scalp prior to a hair straightening treatment, to protect sensitive skin from damage. If they fail to apply the base cream properly, or if the straightening solution is left in the hair too long, the hair may become excessively dried out and prone to breakage (known as over-processed hair), otherwise skin on the scalp may be burnt, potentially causing red, dry and itchy skin, as well as blistering, hair loss and scarring.
It should have been. To minimise the risk of such injuries, a hair strand test should be performed on new customers 48 hours prior to a hair straightening procedure, to determine the strength, structure and elasticity of an individual’s hair, and the level of chemical treatment that it can withstand. The main ingredient in Brazilian straightening solutions is formaldehyde, a possible trigger of allergic reactions, and where this chemical is to be used, a medical consultation and skin patch test may be necessary. The professional judgment of the hair stylist is therefore of critical importance in preventing injuries and adverse reactions of whatever type.
It depends on how and who carried out the treatment. Both heated flat straightening irons, and hair relaxers containing toxic chemicals, can be highly dangerous in the hands of a poorly trained or inexperienced hair stylist. Salon customers have a legal right to expect that their straightening treatment will be carried out in a reasonably competent fashion, and where this is not the case, and their hair and / or skin is damaged as a result, they will have strong grounds for making a compensation claim against the salon or stylist in question.
Hair relaxer solutions contain various potent chemicals that are used to straighten curly hair, but which also pose a number of health risks, particularly in terms of the damage they can do to the hair’s structure. This is usually the result of over-processing, when for whatever reason, the relaxer product is left in an individual’s hair for too long, leaving it dry, brittle and prone to breakage. Hair relaxers can also cause serious damage to the skin on the scalp. In both cases, this is normally (but not always) due to the most caustic ingredient contained in the most commonly used hair relaxer products, namely sodium hydroxide.
Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the chemical ingredient in relaxers that is used to break down the bonds inside every hair strand and fibre, thereby allowing the hair to be straightened. This powerful alkaline chemical raises the hair’s pH level and works by weakening strands in the process of reshaping and straightening them. The application of strong hair relaxer products containing sodium hydroxide can cause the hair strands to become excessively dry and brittle, potentially leading the breakage and hair loss. This depends entirely on a person’s hair type and structure, which is the reason why salons should always carry out hair strand tests on new clients at least 48 hours before their first straightening treatment.
The main danger of sodium hydroxide is therefore its sheer strength; the chemical fumes can cause temporary or even permanent respiratory problems, while it is also used in industrial cleaning products and is powerful enough to burn through the skin if applied directly. This is why hair relaxer products have the potential to cause skin damage, redness, chemical burns and scarring if applied incorrectly. Apart from the dangers of lye-based relaxers (in which the main ingredient is sodium hydroxide), there are also risks associated with the use of ‘no-lye’ relaxers, in which the active ingredient is usually either calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide. Although no-lye relaxers are milder than lye-based alternatives, they can also dry the hair out excessively due to the buildup of calcium in the hair.
Various other chemicals contained in hair relaxer products also pose their own unique risks, including endrocine disrupters, which can interfere with the body’s production of hormones and potentially cause long-term or permanent disorders and medical conditions. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of hair salons to ensure that the relaxer products they use are safe for individual clients. Get in touch with our beauty treatment solicitors today if you wish to discuss an injury caused by a hair straightening treatment at a salon.
Brazilian blow dry hair straightening treatments have become hugely popular in recent years, due to the long-lasting results and overall improvement in the condition of the hair that the procedure achieves. However, the dangers of Brazilian blow dry treatments have been recognised worldwide, with the EU having issued a specific warning against the use of four Brazilian blow dry brands: Brazilian Blowout, Coppola, Global Keratin and KeraStraight. Lack of regulation of the hairdressing industry in the UK however means that these, and similarly dangerous products, are still in use at hundreds of salons across the country.
The main ingredient used in Brazilian blow dry straightening solutions is formaldehyde, a gas that is used to bind the natural protein keratin to the hair strands. Formaldehyde can trigger allergic reactions in a minority of people, and this is the most often reported complication following Brazilian blow dry treatments. Even products which claim to be 'formaldehyde free' may cause adverse reactions, as many contain the chemical methylene glycol or formaldehyde dissolved in water, which may still emit the gas.
The symptoms of allergic reactions following Brazilian blow dry treatments range from moderate, to very severe and potentially life-threatening. Swelling in the airways to the lungs can cause breathing difficulties, potentially leading to asphyxiation. Damage to the scalp and hair may include blistering on the skin and hair loss. The chemical may also penetrate and damage hair follicles to the extent that future hair growth is inhibited for a lengthy period, or even permanently. Further symptoms of adverse reactions include headaches, nausea, dizziness and a burning sensation in the eyes.
Case Study 1
Ms H was having her hair straightened in advance of a holiday, when the stylist carrying out the treatment dropped the extremely hot hair straightening iron that she was using directly onto Ms H’s forehead, badly burning her skin. Ms H later stated that the hair stylist seemed nervous and distracted during the procedure, and was not fully paying attention to what she was doing. Ms H was given some aloe vera gel to apply from the salon’s first aid kit, and the manager apologised, telling Ms H that the stylist was a trainee and was only in her first week of work at the hairdressers, so blaming her carelessness and the resulting accident on her inexperience. Ms H’s burn injury began to weep and blister in the days and weeks afterwards, spoiling her holiday and causing her ongoing pain and deep embarrassment over her appearance.
Ms H got in touch with our team of female lawyers having read about our experience with similar cases to her own online, and we agreed to take on her personal injury claim against the hair salon on a no win no fee basis. We maintained that the salon’s proprietors were responsible for the actions of their employee, and that if the trainee stylist had been paying proper attention, she would not have dropped the straightening iron onto Ms H’s forehead. This represented a negligent failure on the part of both the stylist and the salon, as Ms H’s straightening treatment had not been carried out in a reasonably competent manner. We were able to negotiate a compensation settlement of £2,750 for the pain and suffering Ms H had endured, the loss of enjoyment of her holiday, as well the emotional distress caused by the prominent burn mark on her forehead.
Case Study 2
Ms L had an appointment for a hair straightening treatment at a local branch of a well-known national chain of hairdressing salons. The stylist carrying out the procedure failed to properly apply base cream to Ms L’s hairline and the nape of her neck before applying the relaxer. Base cream is a petroleum jelly, designed to protect the skin from being burnt by sodium hydroxide, a key ingredient in many stronger hair relaxers. Ms L suffered chemical burns to her forehead and neck. The salon gave her some soothing aloe vera cream, but these areas of Ms L’s skin were still red, inflamed and painful for at least 8 weeks afterwards. She also experienced acute embarrassment regarding her appearance following the incident, and was forced to wear scarves on her head most of the time, to disguise the prominent burn marks.
Ms L contacted Bartletts, having read about our experience in handling no win no fee claims for burns caused by hair straightening treatments. We wrote to the owners of the hair salon, arguing that, given the relatively strong relaxer solution that they used on our client’s hair, it was particularly important that a protective base cream was properly applied to the necessary areas of skin beforehand. The stylist did not base Ms L’s hairline and neck thoroughly, and this had allowed the chemical sodium hydroxide, contained in the relaxer solution, to burn the skin. This represented a failure to exercise reasonable care and skill, on the part of both the stylist and salon, amounting to negligence. We were able to obtain an admission of liability from the salon owner’s insurers, and a few months after having instructed us, Ms L received a cheque for £3,250 in compensation.
Case Study 3
Ms A visited a hair salon for a Yuko hair straightening system, a treatment that physically alters the structure of hair strands by applying intense heat from a flat iron. When her hair was rinsed and blow dried, she noticed that it appeared to be excessively dried out and frizzy. Later when she was combing her hair at home, Ms A noticed that hair strands were breaking and clumps of hair were falling out. She was left with patches of baldness and severely damaged hair that forced her to cut off about 4 inches all over her head. She was upset and distressed by the state of her hair, particularly as her job involved high profile meetings with clients. Ms A complained to the hair salon that carried out the Yuko hair straightening treatment, but failed to receive an adequate response, and subsequently decided to seek legal advice.
After consulting our specialist female lawyers, Ms A decided to proceed with a no win no fee claim against the hair salon and its owners. We wrote to the latter, arguing that the ingredients used in the Yuko hair straightening solution were obviously too strong for our client’s hair type, and this weakness should have been detected by a hair strand test a day or two prior to Ms A’s appointment. In fact, no such test had been carried out, despite Ms A having fine, thinning hair, that was obviously susceptible to chemical damage. The hair salon has therefore acted negligently in allowing Ms A to go ahead with the procedure in the first place. After further correspondence between ourselves and the salon’s insurers we were able to win an admission of liability, with our client receiving a cheque for £2,750 in compensation for the Yuko straightening hair damage she had suffered.
Case Study 4
We recently helped a lady claim compensation for dry and damaged hair, after a stylist at a salon used a relaxer product on her that was too strong for her hair type. Ms B was having her hair straightened in advance of a friend’s wedding, and after a consultation with the stylist decided to go ahead with a lye hair relaxing treatment. The salon had carried out a hair strand test prior to the procedure, but this had failed to reveal the fact that Ms B’s hair had been significantly weakened by previous straightening treatments. After the relaxer product was removed, Ms B’s hair was dry, frizzy and brittle. She subsequently experienced significant breakage and hair loss which was later confirmed as having been caused by sodium hydroxide, the corrosive main ingredient in the hair relaxer product used.
Ms B complained multiple times to the hair salon, but failed to obtain a meaningful or satisfactory response, and decided to seek legal advice. We went on to represent Ms B in a claim for damages against the salon, and contacted its owners, pointing out that the lye relaxer product used was obviously far too strong for Ms B’s hair type given the devastating effect it had, despite the relaxer being removed from her hair after the time period recommended in the product instructions. The stylist and salon had failed to carry out the hair strand test on Ms B in a competent manner, and this had resulted in an excessively strong and corrosive solution being applied to fragile hair that could not support it. We were able to reach a settlement with the hair salon’s insurers, and our client received a total of £3,650 in compensation for her dry and damaged hair, and both the physical and emotional pain and suffering she had been put through.