Up to 70 per cent of hairdressers suffer from work-related skin damage such as dermatitis at some point during their career – most cases are absolutely preventable. External agents tend mostly to come into contact with the hands and forearms, so around 95% of work-related skin diseases occur in this area. Especially younger hairdressers are at risk because they often are taking care of most of the wet works in a salon at the beginning of their careers. Their might also be a lack of awareness of the risks of dermatitis with younger and less experienced hairdressers and salon professionals.
Dermatitis – often also referred to as eczema – is a local inflammation of the skin, which can vary in severity. The early signs of dermatitis include redness, swelling, blistering, scaling/flaking, cracking and swelling. It can lead to itching, bleeding and puss formation. Dermatitis is not infectious, so it cannot be passed from one person to another but it is unsightly and uncomfortable. Also, it does not look good from a customer’s point of view. Most importantly it can even lead to the necessity to change profession.
Dermatitis in hairdressing is caused by the specific working conditions bringing the hands in contact with an outside agent or irritant substance, especially in a wet environment. Dermatitis in hairdressing is therefore often also referred to as work related contact dermatitis. There are two main types of contact dermatitis in hairdressing salons:
1. Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) is mainly caused by prolonged wet works (more than two hours per day), especially with soaps and shampoos, which take away the natural protective layers of the skin, in combination with the exposure of the unprotected skin to chemicals (hair colours, dyes, perms), biological agents (e.g. bacteria, fungi), physical agents (e.g. heat) and mechanical abrasion from tools (e.g. scissors). It is this combination of regular and repeated wet works and exposure to irritant substances, which can enter deep into the unprotected skin, which leaves hairdressers especially exposed to develop irritant contact dermatitis.
2. Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is caused when the body’s immune system reacts against a specific substance. Allergic contact dermatitis in most cases develops from irritant contact dermatitis when the exposure to even weaker irritant substances is prolonged and of a regular repetitive nature. The allergic reaction begins with a process called sensitisation. Sensitisation starts when an allergic substance penetrates the skin. This provokes a number of immunological responses. Once allergic contact dermatitis has been developed it cannot be cured anymore leading to the fact that a large number of hairdressers are forced to leave their beloved profession.
Preparations such as hydrogen peroxide solution, exothermic perms etc. and other products labelled as ‘IRRITANT’ will have the potential to cause irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). Preparations such as bleach powder and emulsion, acid perms, colorant remover and any other product which states that it ‘MAY CAUSE SKIN SENSITISATION’ will have the potential to cause allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). However, in addition to these chemicals, frequent or prolonged wet work using seemingly harmless products such as shampoos and conditioners is also a significant cause of dermatitis. This is caused by a combination of the hands being wet and the products defatting the skin, especially in warm water.