Hairdressers need to pay particular attention to the hygiene of their premises, equipment, products and staff to protect customers from the risk of injury, infection and disease. While no specific regulations exist to govern hairdressing hygiene, salons are required to register with their local authority and submit to inspections by officers from the Environmental Health Department. When choosing a new salon customers should look for awards from The Hair and Beauty Industry Association (HABIA), which recognises high standards of hygiene and good health and safety practises.
Hygiene is essential for both customers and staff at hair salons, to prevent the risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals contained in products, and the transmission of infectious diseases. Salon owners should regularly assess the procedures they have in place and the products they use to minimise the risk or harm to their visitors and employees.
Research has shown that hairdressing is the second most high risk occupation in relation to the use of hazardous chemicals. The storage, use and disposal of chemicals at hair salons is governed by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). All hairdressing products must also comply with the Cosmetic Products Regulations 1978. Dangerous chemicals may affect those who breath fumes from products, or who have substances spilled on their skin or in the eye. They may also be absorbed through the skin via contact with contaminated surfaces, clothing or equipment. Many chemicals contained in hair products have a mandated Occupational Exposure Limit, emphasising the need for adequate ventilation in salons, as well as an efficient system of cleaning up spilled preparations.
All implements in use at salons that customers come into contact with must be properly cleaned and sterlised prior to use, including scissors, razors, hairbrushes and combs. A variety of infections may be transmitted at hair salons even by indirect contact, including flu, scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) and impetigo. Perhaps the most common disease transmitted at hair salons is dermatitis. This particularly affects salon staff, with research showing that 7 out of 10 stylists will contract dermatitis at some point during their careers. The risk of irritant dermatitis can be minimised by the use of protective equipment such as vinyl or nitrile gloves. Latex gloves should never be used as a significant number of people are allergic to this natural rubber. Allergic contact dermatitis is more difficult to deal with, as it can develop almost immediately following contact with a sensitising agent, including chemicals contained in hair products.
It is imperative that hair salon owners maintain their premises and equipment in a hygienic condition to keep customers safe from germs and bacteria and minimise the risk of infections, as well as to present the right image to prospective clients. The most common source of infections and diseases is the equipment used by hairdressers, including scissors, razors and clippers. Such items must be properly cleaned and sterilised every time they are used to remove any biological material like blood or bodily fluids that may not be visible to the human eye, but which may transmit infections if an unsanitary instrument penetrates the skin. While this may seem like an obvious precaution for hairdressers to take, the sheer volume of people passing through many salons on a daily basis means that maintaining the appropriate hygiene standards is an ongoing challenge.
Visitors to unsanitary hair salons risk exposure to viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even bloodborne pathogens including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. One of the most common fungal infections that may be transmitted to clients is ringworm of the scalp (also known as tinea capitis), which affects both the skin on the scalp and the hair shafts causing scaly and itchy bald patches to develop. Another major risk is impetigo, a bacterial skin infection caused by both staph and strep bacteria that results in blisters and sores developing on the scalp, as well as on the face and hands (which is one way of distinguishing the symptoms from those of tinea capitis). While both these infections are relatively simple to treat, they are both highly contagious, easily transmittable and extremely unpleasant to deal with. If you have developed ringworm of the scalp, impetigo or a different infection following a trip to a hair salon, get in touch with our female lawyers for free and confidential legal advice.
Lack of effective regulation of beauty salons, hairdressers, nail bars, body piercing studios and tattoo parlours in the UK, means that hygiene standards at such establishments vary widely. One of the major concerns this raises is the possible transmission of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C (and hepatitis B), through dirty, sharp instruments, such as scissors, razors, clippers and needles, which have not been properly sterilised prior to use. Hepatitis C is an infection and disease that can cause serious damage to the liver, preventing it from performing its normal and vital functions.
It is estimated that up to a quarter of a million people carry the hepatitis C virus in the UK, though 80% are unaware of that fact because they do not display any symptoms, which may take many years to develop.
The most common way of contracting hepatitis C is from exposure to infected blood. The virus is highly concentrated in blood, even a tiny particle of which may contain it. If a hairdresser nicks an ear with scissors, a manicurist breaks the skin with nail clippers, or a tattooist punctures the skin with a needle, the small possibility exists that bacteria and highly dangerous viruses, such as hepatitis C, may be unwittingly transmitted, as minute blood particles enter the body through the wound in the skin. In other cases, a person may have a cut or broken skin prior to a treatment, providing another possible entry point and source of infection. Head lice can also pass germs and bacteria from one person to another, yet another reason why hygiene standards at hair salons are of such paramount importance.
Human blood particles may be invisible to the human eye, and therefore the only way to make sure they are not present on instruments used during hair and beauty treatments is through an efficient system of cleaning and sterilisation. The most effective method of sterilising instruments and equipment is known as autoclaving, or high pressure steam sterilisation. Other methods include soaking sharp, metal implements in chemical germicide, and exposing them to ethylene oxide gas. Whichever method is used, the most important factor is that it achieves its objective, i.e. that any germs, bacteria and viruses present are destroyed. This is clearly not always the case however, as previous US studies have proved categorically that many sterilising solutions used at hair salons are not strong enough to eliminate resilient viruses including hepatitis C.
The importance of cleanliness in hair salons extends to the personal hygiene of salon staff. Workers must keep their hands, clothing and overalls clean, and cover any cuts or abrasions with impermeable dressings. Salon owners must provide adequate cleaning facilities for staff, and ensure that they follow health and safety procedures by using them regularly. Floor surfaces must be kept clean, and free from spilled liquids and obstacles such as power cables which may cause a customer to trip and fall. Both staff and customers have a right to expect that a salon will have taken all reasonable steps to protect them from the risk of injury and illness. Those who have been injured or contracted a disease at a hair salon should contact our specialist female solicitors for free confidential advice on whether to proceed with a claim for compensation.