Your safety is as important to us as the beauty of your hair.
As professional Stylists and Colourists, we take Health & Safety very seriously. We will not, under any circumstances knowingly put our clients or our own safety, the condition of your hair, or the business at risk.
Additional to this, it is unfortunate that we live in a world where some people seem to be out for anything they can get. We have been subjected to a few cases where a person has maliciously tried to bring a claim against us, and it is only because we have followed the law, our insurance requirements and manufacturer’s instructions that the salon is still open today.
With so many people out there with a "where there's a blame; there's a claim" attitude, out for every penny they can get and the fines and penalties for failing to follow these laws and procedures being enough to close the whole salon down (all of us losing our jobs in the process) we ensure we do everything by the book, some of these laws and procedures may be time consuming and inconvenient, but this is our livelihood, and in times like these, we need to cover our backs.
In the past, we have been very lenient when it comes to skin testing, opting for the option which is most convenient for our clients, but with things the way they are now, we have taken a massive step to toughen up our rules and policies and ensure we will not be put in a compromised position.
What you lose in what may appear as convenience and maybe even the “PC” Health & Safety “gone mad” regime, you will most certainly gain in peace of mind and additional safety precautions. After all, we are professionals, and this is all part of delivering a professional service. Would you trust a Beautician or Lash Technician who was happy to carry out your eyebrow tint or false lash application without a patch test? Hopefully not. On top of this, there’s a lot of misunderstandings and myths around patch testing which hopefully, in this blog we can dispel for good.
Skin Tests - They Are Not Just a Waste of Time, They Are The LAW
It is a legal requirement that we perform a skin test prior to a colour application and complete all the relevant documentation. We have this obligation under Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work Act. It is not us being awkward or trying to waste your time, this is THE LAW. Failure to follow the law can result in prosecution and fines for us and serious physical and emotional harm to our clients. Risks we are just not willing to take.
As another legal obligation, we must not carry out a chemical service on clients where the condition of the hair is at risk, which is why we will always advise new colour clients or existing clients wanting a big change of colour to book in for a colour consultation prior to the day of their colour appointment. During this consultation, a strand test will be performed to ensure the service will not severely damage the hair and advise on expected results (visit our Blog page for more information on our Consultation Service), we will not carry out a colouring service if we have any doubt about the final condition and integrity of your hair. It is also during this consultation when we will usually carry out a skin allergy test.
An Allergic Reaction is a Very Serious Problem
An allergic reaction to colours, although very rare, will result in symptoms such as itching, burning, inflammation, redness and blistering to the scalp. In extreme cases, it can also lead to scarring to the scalp, hair loss or even balding. The inflammation and itching etc can also travel to other parts of the upper body such as the eyes, ears face and chest.
PPD (paraphenylenediamine) is the ingredient in almost all colouring products from permanent to coloured shampoos, and although it is only present in extremely small quantities, it is usually this chemical compound which results in an allergic reaction.
As well as the external symptoms of an allergic reaction, it can also induce chronic respiratory complications such as anaphylaxis or toxic shock, which in very severe cases can lead to coma, permanent damage or even death. It’s not something to brush off as something trivial.
There's No Excuse Not To Have a Skin Test
An allergy to hair colour, like any other allergy, can develop at any time, completely out of the blue.
It doesn't matter if you've never had a colour done before or you're a salon regular.
It makes no difference if you have used shop bought "box dyes" or always had your hair coloured professionally.
It doesn't matter if you are having a change of colour or just having your monthly root retouch.
An allergic reaction can happen at any time to anyone. The excuse of "I've always had my hair coloured and never had a problem" does not excuse the need for a skin test – if anything, it increases your need, as just like any other allergen, the more exposure to the product you have had, the more likely you are to become allergic.
And, just like any other allergen, certain situations and body changes have also shown to increase your risk of developing an allergy, such as times of stress, pregnancy, hormone imbalances or certain medication, and this isn’t just with hair colour, it’s with anything. This is how some people can wake up one morning and be allergic to nuts, develop hay fever or can’t use their favourite skin cream anymore because they have developed an allergy to one of the ingredients.
Steer Clear of Henna
If you have ever had a henna tattoo, even if it was years ago (especially "Black" henna which is not only illegal but isn't actually henna), you might be at more risk of a reaction due to the high levels of PPD contained in the product. Many henna products used (especially abroad and at "seaside tents") contain far more than the legal maximum of PPD. This over exposure can lead to you developing an allergy overnight, even if no symptoms of a reaction are visible and prevent you from ever having a hair colour done for the rest of your life.
If you have ever had or recently had any henna tattoos or permanent make-up, we must skin test as your risk on a reaction may be greater, as you may have developed an allergy without realising it. If you have ever had a reaction to skin tattoos (including henna) or permanent make-up, your risk of a reaction is also greater and we will not be able to carry out a colouring service.
For more information about the problems associated with Henna and so called Black Henna, please read our Not so innocent now are you Henna? Blog.
"I don't need a Skin Test for Highlights" - it's a Myth
Some salons will not insist on skin testing for an "Off Scalp" application such as highlights, with the theory that if the product is not touching the scalp, there’s no chance of a reaction. This is a myth and a completely unreliable method of safeguarding.
Firstly, no matter how qualified, competent and experienced your colourist may be, there is still always a risk that a foil may be knocked or pulled (whether that be by your colourist, the assistant when sitting you at the backwash or yourself accidently knocking them while trying to put your glasses on or moving hair out of your face) and the product may "bleed" onto the scalp. Again, a risk not worth taking.
Also, it may sound obvious, but those foils still need to be rinsed and shampooed at the backwash, a process that will naturally see the product come into contact with your scalp, thus creating a risk of a reaction no matter what we do. No matter how “flushed” with water or how careful the removal of your foils is, the product WILL at some point, touch your scalp.
And finally, it is very rare these days that we will carry out a foil highlighting service without a toner, at the very least a Silver shampoo. Both products (even the shampoo) contain the same colour pigments which causes the reaction. Without a skin test, we would be unable to use either, therefore affecting the results we wish to achieve and preventing you from ever attaining the kind of blondes that are the most popular.
Albeit there is no official way to test if you will have an allergic reaction to Bleach, we can perform a sensitivity test where a small amount of the mixed lightener is applied behind your ear or in the inside corner of your elbow.
Everyone experiences different reactions to hair lightener, some sit through the entire service without so much as a tingle, others may find the lifting process unbearable with even the lowest strength developers. Although it is completely normal to experience some tingling, mild stinging and even a slight redness of the scalp during lightening, being in agony and a blistering scalp is not.
Unfortunately, although a sensitivity test may be able to give you an idea how comfortable you will be throughout the service, there is no sure fire way to predict in advance how you personally will react on the day, unlike a patch test for hair colour. As a rule, if you are suffering from an itchy or tight scalp, have any open cuts/abrasions on your scalp, or any skin disorder around the scalp, hairline or neck, we would strongly advise avoiding a bleach application.
Colour Start Patches Don't Stand Up in Court
Some salons use a product called "Colour Start" (we actually trialled them a few years back), a handy little skin test we could post out to clients before their colour appointment so they could skin test themselves at home.
In theory, this product was a great idea; it didn't involve a client calling into the salon 48 hours before their service and they were really easy to use, you just applied it like those little temporary tattoos you used to get in sweets.
However, the reason why we don't use them is that they are not worth the cellophane they are wrapped in. Our insurers, our manufacturers and the law clearly states that a skin test must be carried out using the products we intend to use during the service.
Although Colour Start patches contained PPD, it is not an actual colour and it is not used as part of a service. You could have no reaction to the Colour Start patch yet still have a reaction to the actual colour product, and as we have not followed our insurance policy, our manufacturers instruction or the law, we wouldn't have a leg to stand on in court.
"Can't I Just Sign a Disclaimer?" - No, Not at All, Another Myth
Some salons will also ask clients who refuse to have a skin test to sign a disclaimer saying they refused and want to go ahead with the colouring service anyway, we even get clients asking to sign a disclaimer just so they won’t have to have one!
This is yet another myth, a disclaimer, no matter how well it is written or how amendment a client is about signing it is not worth the bit of paper it is printed on. It does not stand up in court and means absolutely nothing.
From a legal perspective, it is us, the qualified professionals who understand the risks and potential harm of the product (basically saying “we should know better), a client does not (again this is from a legal point of view not ours!). By not carrying out a skin test, we are breaking the law, voiding our insurance and going against our industry training and manufacturer’s instructions, no disclaimer is going to get around that, no matter whose signature is on the bit of paper.
I suppose it would be a bit like myself (with no medical training) telling a Doctor to just go ahead and carry out an operation or treatment which I insisted I wanted but with the Doctor knowing it was the wrong thing to do. It wouldn’t matter if I signed to say I was happy for the Doctor to do it, if things went wrong, it would still be the Doctors fault because they are one with the legal and professional obligation, everybody would simply be left asking “why did they do it in the first place if they knew it was wrong?”. In fact, when you think about it like that it would make the doctor a bit of a tool.
I’m aware that a Doctor and a Hair Colourist are worlds apart, but in a court of law the failure to follow professional obligation is the same. Any lawyer would simply point out the fact of "you knew the law, you were aware of the risks, had the training and you knew it was wrong; but you did it anyway" instantly sued, not a leg to stand on.
Professional Colour Consultation to Determine If You Need a Skin Test.
During your colour consultation, we will ask questions and view your colour history (if you are an existing client) to determine if we need to carry out a skin test 48 hours prior to your colouring appointment. These questions can also be asked over the phone at the point of booking.
They are really simple questions and ensure that we are not only following the law, our insurance policy and manufacturer’s instructions, but more importantly; safeguarding you as our client from a potentially devastating reaction.
These are the questions we ask, put simply, if you can answer NO to every question, we’re good to carry out your colouring service without a skin test.
What this means for our regular colour customers
Clearly new clients to the salon, people who haven’t had a colour before or anyone who has had any issues with a colour in the past will always need a skin test, but for our regular customers, it’s a little different and can get a bit confusing.
Basically, the rule we have to follow, is anyone who hasn’t had a colour applied within the last six weeks is in the eyes of our insurers and manufacturers “a new colour client”. If you go longer than six weeks between colour applications, we must perform a skin test before each application. If you visit the salon every 2, 3, 4, 5, or even 6 weeks (to the day, they’re very strict on this) we only need to carry out a skin test once every 12 months, which our computer system will keep an eye out for.
This may all sound a little pointless and has the potential to get a bit silly, such as in the event someone leaving 6 weeks and a day between visits will need a skin test, for the sake of a day, which could happen quite often given how busy we get and people having to book in a little later at times or if something crops up and anyone needs to postpone their appointment back a week.
The strangest thing about this law, is a regular client who is visiting every 6 weeks or less can have their skin test done during their visit, as long as we have completed the relevant documentation to abide by the law. 6 weeks and a day between visits, and the skin test needs to be done 48 hours prior to the colour application. Don’t shoot the messenger!
We always recommend 4-6 weeks between colour applications anyway, more regular for higher maintenance colours such as blondes and fashion colours, so providing you are following the recommended upkeep, you shouldn’t notice a massive change to your routine, just something to sign once a year. Lower maintenance colours such as balayage and ombre techniques require much lower maintenance, usually 9-12 weeks between visits which will result in us having to carry out a skin test before each visit.
What Happens Next If You Need a Skin Test
A skin test really doesn’t take as long as you think, and we want to make the entire process as convenient as physically possible, it’s literally a two-minute job that you don’t even have to book an appointment for. Just call in during your lunch or after work, take a seat and one of us will be with you in minutes. All the team is trained in how to perform a skin test and complete our Professional Safety Card so you won’t have to wait for any particular team member to become available.
We’ll get a small amount of colour mixed up for you, make sure that you have removed any earrings and your hair is clipped safely away from your ear. With a cotton bud, we’ll apply a small amount of colour to behind your ear, wait a minute or so for it to dry then apply a little more, and you’re good to go.
Simply leave the area alone for 48 hours, no washing, wetting, rubbing or covering.
You want to see aNEGATIVE reaction, which basically means nothing happens so we can go ahead with your colouring service.
A POSITIVE reaction will most commonly see the area become red, itchy, irritated and slightly swollen, it may only be a mild reaction but can you imagine if it was all over your scalp and hairline. More severe reactions could include intense stinging, irritation, a rash or burning sensation around the area and even blisters and sores. If you experience any of these symptoms, rinse the area immediately with lukewarm water, in severe cases, contact your doctor. Your priority here should definitely be your own wellbeing, if your reaction is severe or you are concerned in any way, contact your doctor straight away, only after looking after yourself, give us a call so we know that you have had a reaction and we can document the result. Obviously where there is a positive reaction, we will not carry out your colouring service and we would advise speaking to your doctor before considering any further colouring services.
If you are ever unsure of the result of your skin test, we are always here to help and by all means call in so that one of our Senior team can take a look for you.
If you have any questions, concerns or would like any more information about our Health and Safety policy and how we look after the wellbeing of our customers and team, please feel free to ask during your next visit or email: firstname.lastname@example.org