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Going to the hairdressers is a wonderfully relaxing and exciting experience for most people. Working as a hairdresser means you make people the best-looking version of themselves and can be hugely rewarding. As well as being an expert stylist, you do need to know all about hairdressing chemicals.
Salon owners are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and customers. Anyone who works in a hair salon also needs to know about health and safety. Whether you run or work in a salon, COSHH and hairdressing chemical knowledge is paramount.
The hairdressing industry is worth around £6 billion per year, with 250,000 people employed in hairdressers and barbers. That’s a lot of people who need to understand about COSHH in their workplace. With that need in mind, we’re going to explore:
- The meaning and background of COSHH.
- The types of hairdressing chemicals you need to be aware of.
- Different health and safety considerations in a hairdressing salon.
- How hazardous substances can affect you and your clients.
- How hazardous chemicals in salons can harm your health.
- Ways that risks can be mitigated with PPE.
- Ways that risks can be mitigated with PPE.
Giving you confidence that you’re doing right by you, your workmates, and your clients.
What is COSHH?
The acronym COSHH stands for “control of substances hazardous to health”. Any chemical that’s used in a work setting needs to be assessed in terms of health and safety.
COSHH doesn’t mean that hairdressing chemicals can’t be used. Rather, you need to make sure that you control chemicals properly and understand the hazards. To do this, every chemical in a salon needs to be:
- Assessed to understand the potential health hazards.
- Considered for how to stop it causing harm.
- Controlled so that any potential harm is reduced.
- Checked on to ensure the measures are being used.
- Planned for in case of emergencies.
Along with these responsibilities, salon owners need to give clear information, instructions, and training to employees as well as have the appropriate monitoring of chemicals in place.
It’s estimated that 13,000 deaths per year are associated with chemicals or dust encountered at work. This clearly shows that mitigating risks in relation to hairdressing chemicals in your salon will have a big impact on your employees.
What are hazardous chemicals in a hairdressing setting?
When you started out on your career as a hairdresser, you probably didn’t think there’d be a lot of risk involved. Whilst not as dangerous as construction or manufacturing, there are risks that you need to be aware of as a hairdresser.
If you work in a salon, think about your trolley, mirror area, and storerooms. If you’re a self-employed or mobile hairdresser, think about everything you carry around in your bag each day.
As a hairdresser, you’ll regularly be using chemicals like:
- Styling products.
- Shampoo and conditioner.
- Perming fluid.
- Straightening treatments.
And a whole bunch more. Many of these chemicals will be harmless, like styling wax or hair mousse. However, there is the potential for any of them to cause harm if not controlled and handled properly.
These, and other substances associated with your work in a hair salon, fall under a few general categories. We’ll list them here, with some examples, but be sure that you fully assess your salon or work situation to know which apply to you:
- Liquids includes shampoo and conditioner, sprays, mists, and other treatments that come as a liquid.
- Dust can come from powdered hydrogen peroxide that you use or other hair dyes. Dust produced from cut hair and dead skin from customers’ scalps are also a risk.
- Vapours can form during chemical reactions, either when mixing up a treatment or colour, or when a client’s treatment develops such as a perm.
- Gases can come from aerosols like hairspray and other styling and treating procedures.
- Fumes are strong smelling vapours and gases, such as the ammonia smell from bleaching hair to the bug spray you use to control ants in the summer.
It’s not just about the products you use on your customers. In the process of keeping your salon shipshape, you’ll be using polish, disinfectants, alcohol, and other cleaning chemicals. These all need to be assessed and controlled, too.
Hair salon health and safety
COSHH isn’t the only important element of health and safety that needs to be considered in a salon or barbers. Health and safety in general is everyone’s responsibility; “not my job” isn’t an excuse.
Every business needs to have a health and safety assessment regularly. There’s no set time limit, but someone in your salon should do a thorough check whenever anything changes, whether that’s new products being used or a furniture shift about.
Risk assessments in a hairdresser salon need to be undertaken for the following issues:
- Fire safety – fire risk for different elements of the business need to be understood, such as electrical or chemical fires. Be sure to have the right fire extinguishers in place, safe exits that are clearly signposted, and staff up to date with fire safety training.
- COSHH – understand the types of chemicals you’re using, what first aid kit you need available – be sure they’re labelled correctly, and stored in line with guidelines. We have a complete guide to carrying out a COSHH assessment you can refer to.
- Legionella – a bacteria that can breed in complex plumbing systems, it’s an issue that hair salons need to be aware of. Assess the risk and carry out appropriate maintenance when required.
- Manual handling – your team may need to be moving seating, stock, and appliances around the salon. You need to assess the risks and make sure that any staff that do “lifting and shifting” are appropriately trained.
- Lone working – small salons may have times when a team member is working alone and the appropriate assessments and training need to be done to meet health and safety requirements.
- Slips, trips, and falls – with water and hair on the floor, slips are a very real possibility. Salon owners need to assess where all the risks may be and work on mitigating them, for example with regular mopping and brushing.
- Electrical safety – wash basins and wet hair mixed with hairdryers and straighteners can cause a hazard. Check out the potential for mixing water with electrics as well as testing every item in your salon.
What are the main routes of entry for hazardous substances?
When you’re working on the COSHH assessment for your hair salon, you need to understand how each chemical can potentially harm a worker or a customer. There are different entry routes for hairdresser chemicals and there’ll be different ways to control the risks that come with them.
Breathing in gases is one of the most common ways to be exposed to a chemical. Gases can be released during dyeing, perming, and straightening and you can also inhale dust particles from cut hair. Other inhalation hazards include spray and aerosol products like hairspray and other serums.
Potential controls for inhalation hazards include having sufficient ventilation and wearing appropriate facemasks.
Some chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and can even enter the body through an open wound. Absorbing chemicals through your skin can happen due to long exposure like soaking your hands in a treatment chemical, or from a quick splash of hydrogen peroxide as you’re mixing a colour.
Assess the way a chemical will be used to determine if gloves, protective aprons, or other bits of kit will be needed to prevent skin absorption.
Although reasonably rare in the workplace, it’s possible for hazardous substances to be injected through a puncture wound. Lots of hairdressers share premises with beauty salons, some of which might offer Botox or fillers. Needles and other sharps will need to be effectively controlled.
Correct storage of sharps will be the best way to mitigate risk when considering potential injections.
Direct contact with chemicals can include when applying a conditioning treatment to a client or when you use cleaning materials to sanitise surfaces. Although substances can be easily washed off, they can also cause burns or irritation.
Barriers such as gloves, special clothing, and eye protection can prevent direct contact with hazardous substances.
You’d not expect your staff or customers to purposely eat or drink anything dangerous. Ensure all chemicals are properly labelled and if they need refrigerating, don’t use the same one as the team use to keep their lunch in! Touching your mouth without thinking and not washing your hands thoroughly before eating or smoking can lead you to ingest dangerous substances in your hair salon.
The use of gloves and having access to handwashing stations and guidance on proper handwashing procedures can help control this risk.
What effects do hazardous substances have on health?
The hairdressing chemicals that get used in your salon can have effects on health. These effects can be immediate, and also have more long-term effects on your team.
In the short term, incorrectly using substances in your salon could lead to chemical burns, skin irritation, or a bad cough for a little while. These are the type of effects that will usually be over quickly, and their causes should form part of your next risk assessment.
In the long term, issues such as asthma and dermatitis can occur. There are a whole range of chemicals being released as gases into your salon each day. Sometimes immediately, other times over a period of weeks or months, asthma can develop.
Asthma is when the lungs react to an allergen in the air and get inflamed. It can lead to the sufferer not being able to breathe and they would need immediate medical attention. It can be prevented by using the right PPE, ensuring adequate ventilation in the salon, and choosing products that don’t act as an irritant to your staff.
Dermatitis, or more specifically contact dermatitis, is an allergic reaction by your skin to substances that absorb into it. Around 85-95% of all workplace skin conditions are thought to be due to contact dermatitis. Generally, it will get better when the chemical producing the allergic reaction is controlled or eliminated from the work of the person suffering.
PPE in hairdressers’ salons
PPE, or personal protective equipment, is a simple way for you to control and mitigate risks when working with substances that could harm or hurt you. It’s up to you to assess the risks of each chemical or product being used in the salon and see what PPE might be needed.
Deciding what PPE to use to protect against hairdressing chemicals will be led by manufacturers’ guidelines. Refer to the packaging of everything so you can see what the ideal PPE is.
You can also use some common sense. Even if a bottle of perming fluid doesn’t mention using a face mask, if it smells strongly you may want to give your employees masks. When looking at fumes especially, remember that your worker will be right in the path to inhale them but they may not overly affect the client.
Depending on your needs you can consider using PPE such as:
- Gloves that are suitable for the task and strength of chemicals they’ll be used with.
- Aprons for tasks that include potential for splashing like applying treatments and colours.
- Facemasks, especially N95 standard, if there may be strong gases emitted from a treatment.
- Goggles or visors to protect from potential splashes whilst applying chemicals.
- Plastic shoulder capes to protect the customer’s skin, e.g. their neck, when using dyes.
It’s all well and good having the right stock of PPE, but you need to be sure that everyone uses is correctly. Make sure you offer regular training and monitoring when it comes to using PPE appropriately.
Cleaning the salon safely
Now you’ve been thinking about all the hairdressing chemicals that are used in your salon, it’s time to think about cleaning to maintain good COSHH. As well as being a good way to control hazardous substances, cleaning products themselves need to be considered for COSHH.
Make sure everything you use for cleaning your salon is appropriate for the job and correct health and safety controls are in place.
- You need to make sure that every piece of kit you use on multiple customers is sterilised, such as brushes and combs.
- Towels need to be properly washed and cleaned between uses.
- Surfaces need to be wiped clean to remove any chemical residues.
- Floors need to be swept often – cut hair can be a slip hazard – and mopped regularly.
- Shower heads and other water sources need to be disinfected on a regular schedule.
- Seating needs to be cleaned to remove product residue.
- Clean and disinfect sinks and drains daily to prevent substance build-up.
- Polish mirrors and other glass surfaces.
You should prepare a schedule of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and assign them as duties. As part of the schedule it’s useful to note the right cleaning products and the appropriate PPE to wear for each task.
As peaceful and rejuvenating as a hair salon can be, there are risks involved in working in and running one. Hairdressing chemicals like peroxide, perming and straightening fluids, and even simple hairspray need to be assessed for risk under COSHH.
It’s unavoidable to use chemicals in a hairdresser’s salon, but harm to health is easily avoided. By understanding the types of risks, making a full assessment of them, understanding the harm they can do, and what kit is available to mitigate the risks, your salon is doing the right thing by everyone who goes in.