Hair extensions have mushroomed in popularity in recent years, partly due to the number of celebrity role models wearing them, and the fact that they can be used to achieve a wide range of cosmetic effects. Extensions can be made of human or synthetic hair, and are bonded to natural strands using an adhesive agent, that is then heated to seal them in place. Hair extensions can sometimes cause extensive damage to the hair and scalp, as well as traction alopecia and baldness. As with all hair styling treatments, much rests on the quality of the salon, and the competence of the stylist carrying out the procedure.
Lack of regulation of the hairdressing industry in the UK means that too often, unqualified and unskilled stylists are applying hair extensions at salons. Hair extensions may be misapplied by a stylist, or the extensions themselves may be of poor quality. The adhesive agent used to seal the extensions to the natural hair can also cause breakage if it is incorrectly applied or if too much is used.
Where a treatment is botched or the necessary pre-treatment assessment is not carried out, a stylist’s errors can cause hair loss, patches of baldness, scalp irritation, skin damage and scarring. Costly correction treatments may be required, as well as growth tablets and special shampoos. Injuries of this kind can have a detrimental effect on a person's physical appearance, causing distress and embarrassment for an extended period of time.
Salons are responsible for properly assessing the suitability of a client’s hair to support hair extensions, and for applying or bonding the extensions in a safe and effective manner. Given the different techniques used to apply hair extensions, and the varying skill of both stylists and salons, each case of hair or scalp damage caused by extensions has its own unique characteristics.
Sometimes, the chemicals contained in hair extensions glue can trigger an adverse reaction that damages the hair and skin on the scalp. To prevent this, a skin patch test carried out some days prior to a hair extensions appointment should pinpoint any pre-existing allergies which make the treatment inadvisable.
Various celebrities have suffered hair loss and developed patches of baldness due to their long term use of hair extensions, including Naomi Campbell and Britney Spears. A common scenario is where the extensions used are too heavy for the natural hair to support them, meaning that the weight pulls the natural hair out from the follicles resulting in breakage and hair loss.
In serious cases, the follicles can become permanently damaged and hair will not regrow, a condition known as traction alopecia. If a hair stylist has failed to identify this disorder, and carried on using the same hair extensions demonstrating disregard for the state of a client’s hair, it will often be possible to sue them and claim personal injury compensation.
The solvent that is used to apply or bond artificial hair extensions to the natural hair contains various chemicals with the capacity to cause various problems, the most serious of which is an allergic reaction with uncertain and potentially very serious consequences. Latex (or soluble latex antigen to be precise) and rubber are two of the main ingredients contained in hair glue, and both are common triggers of allergic reactions. Although latex is present in various everyday items such as elastic bands, gym wear, bandages and paint, it is not widely known that people can develop an allergy to it over time from repeated exposure, a process called sensitization. Once sensitized, a person may develop symptoms within minutes of coming into contact with latex, including hives, itching, breathing difficulties, or even anaphylaxis - a potentially life-threatening condition.
Hair bonding glue has been cited as the probable cause of a number of deaths in recent years, including the tragic case of Atasha Graham, who collapsed after a night out clubbing after suffering a massive allergic reaction which Home Office pathologist Dr. Michael Heath told the inquest was most likely caused by hair extension glue entering her bloodstream through sweat from dancing, causing a chain reaction resulting in anaphylactic shock. Dr. Heath told the court that ‘I’ve seen cases where people using solvent to apply hair extensions has actually caused anaphylactic shock’, and estimated that as many as 10-20 people a year in the UK die from allergic reactions to hair bonding glue. This startling statistic emphasises the need for women to be extremely cautious regarding the hair adhesive products they use, as well as the danger of sudden sensitization from repeated exposure to the chemicals contained in hair glue.
Apart from the risk of an allergic reaction to hair extension glue, the strength of the adhesive can also cause problems. There have been a number of reports of hairdressers using industrial-strength glues to bond artificial hair, which poses serious health risks including hair loss, long-term skin damage and disfiguration.
In a recent well-publicised case, a woman used Gorilla Glue, a high strength household adhesive, to attach her hair extensions. She experienced tightness, headaches and scalp burns from the bonding glue, which a surgeon was able to later remove with considerable difficulty using a special solution to break down the glue in a procedure lasting four hours. In a similar case, an Australian woman was forced to shave her head after a hairdresser used Gorilla Glue to keep her hair extensions in place.
Very strong adhesives like Gorilla Glue can be impossible to remove when used on the hair, and can also cause painful burns, damage to skin pores and hair follicles, and (inevitably) hair loss. Acetone will often not be powerful enough to break down and remove strong bonding glue, and may itself cause scalp burns, meaning the only option left is to shave off the hair. This commonly leads to feelings of disfigurement, self-consciousness and loss of confidence.
With no regulations or industry standards obliging hairdressers to use certain strengths or types of glue to bond hair extensions, clients should check when using a new salon or stylist that the adhesive is not industrial strength, and can be easily removed using a standard hair extension glue remover.
Case Study 1
Ms J wanted to look her best for her sister’s wedding and went to the hairdressers to have a set of hair extensions put in. She was pleased with the results, despite the fact that her scalp was itchy following the treatment, which the stylist assured her was normal. Later the same day, however, Ms J felt a painful burning sensation on her scalp. Her eyes were swollen, and weeping blisters appeared on the top of her head. The hair extensions began to fall out, along with her natural hair, and Ms J went to see her GP in considerable distress, who diagnosed an allergic reaction, most likely caused by the adhesive glue used to attach the extensions to the hair roots.
Ms J was forced to wear a wig to her sister’s wedding and was deeply upset by the whole situation. She instructed Bartletts Solicitors to begin a compensation claim against the salon on her behalf. The crucial factor was that the salon had failed to carry out a skin patch test on Ms J, which should have been conducted 24-48 hours before the treatment. Skin patch tests are intended to identify pre-existing allergies, and the failure to carry out a skin patch test on Ms J had directly caused her negative reaction to the adhesive glue. The salon had therefore failed to carry out Ms J’s treatment with reasonable care and skill. Their insurers admitted liability almost immediately, and Ms J received £7,250 in compensation for her injuries.
Case Study 2
Ms R decided to book a micro ring hair extensions treatment at a local salon, after hearing that the procedure was quicker, easier, and safer overall than using adhesive bonding agents to apply extensions. In fact, Ms R’s hair had been weakened by previous treatments, and the hair salon should have detected the fact that her hair was not strong enough at that moment in time to handle hair extensions of any sort. No hair strand test was carried out, that should have identified the damaged state and weakness of her natural hair. Despite being told that the micro ring extensions would last for four months, Ms R noticed that she was losing an excessive amount of natural hair strands with the extensions on a daily basis after just two weeks. Within a month she had bald patches on her scalp, and had to have the micro ring extensions removed by a different hairdresser.
Ms R contacted our hairdressing accidents legal team for advice on her predicament, and we later assisted her in bringing a claim against the hair salon and its insurers. We wrote to them, arguing that their failure to carry out a hair strand test, or properly evaluate the condition of our client’s hair, had resulted in an unsuitable micro ring extensions treatment being performed on her, that had added excessive stress to her scalp and had pulled out hair roots. The metal micro rings themselves were found to be cheap imports of inferior quality, and this may also have contributed to Ms R’s hair loss. The salon had failed to use a reasonable amount of care and skill when dealing with Ms R as a customer, and in doing so had acted negligently. We were able to win an admission of liability from the salon’s insurers, with our client later receiving a cheque for £3,000 in compensation.
If you have been injured by a hair extensions treatment or by the prolonged use of extensions on the advice of your stylist, contact our specialist female solicitors today for free, confidential and sympathetic advice. Our experience and expertise in this area of law means we will be able to win the best possible compensation settlement for you.