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Reactions are a potential side effect when you’re dealing with hair colour – these are strong chemicals we’re talking about! So why are so many colourists still not carrying out allergy tests?

It might not happen that often, but a bad reaction to hair colour will crop up at some point – often when you least expect it. It can be a long-term colour client or a new face, but with skin sensitivities on the rise it’s crucial to keep up-to-date records and implement clear testing policies.

“Allergy alert tests are vital to protect clients and to guard against potentially expensive legal action if something goes wrong,” says Hilary Hall, chief executive of the NHF/NBF. Allergy tests should be conducted at least 48 hours before their appointment, and no more than five days before. It’s also crucial to double-check the age of younger clients, as under-16s should not have any colour containing PPD or other chemicals – the standard advice from both colour brands and the NHF/NBF. If you’re struggling to placate a pushy parent or moody teen, be sure to explain the reasoning behind this: the younger someone is when they use hair colour, the higher the chances are that they will develop allergies to these products later in life. Not to mention that you must comply with the instructions of your products, otherwise your insurance will be invalid.

Remember also that it’s a team effort – from front desk to stylist to management, everyone needs to know what the plan on patch tests is to make sure clients don’t slip through the cracks. PAINTER Casey Coleman’s Patch Test Party initiative was designed exactly for this, to make sure that is front and centre in staff’s mind. “I decided to research salons across the country and see who was offering regular skin tests,” he recounts. “The amount of big named chains that would offer the same day colour without patch testing was disappointingly high. At least 50 per cent of salons don’t regularly skin test, but part of that is down to the education of when to re-skin test.”

Casey highlights four scenarios in which you should definitely schedule a fresh skin test for a client:

  1. If the client is changing their base colour by two shades. The jump is enough to justify a fresh test as the colour will be stronger.
  2. If the client hasn’t had colour or been skin tested within 12 weeks.
  3. If the client is new to the salon and brand of colour you are using – or if you’ve changed brands since their last test.
  4. If the client has recently had semi-permanent or henna tattooing. As henna often contains high levels of PPD it can cause clients to become more sensitive to PPD in hair colour, even ones they have safely used before.

Allergic responses aren’t just limited to the blown-out anaphylactic responses you see in tabloid newspapers either. From migraines to rashes elsewhere on the body, be sure to properly educate your client on response signs to look for.

Tasha Stevens, colour director at Jamie Stevens Hair in London, notes the mandatory consultation process 48 hours pre-appointment as a crucial step to check the viability of any planned change as well. “We also run compatibility and elasticity tests check the hair for strength and to determine if any metallic salts are present within the hair, which let us know if it’s safe to proceed. It can actually be quite a frustrating process for us as hairdressers, as not all clients understand how important these tests are but for us, it has to be safety first!”

Gina Conway, winner of Most Wanted Best New Salon, is another salon owner who insists on mandatory consultation skin tests. “It was a difficult decision to enforce at first,” she notes, “because you do lose some clients that don’t understand and won’t wait and go elsewhere. As a company, we feel that by making it a policy we are kept to a higher ethical standard as we have the guests’ health and well-being at heart. For those companies that do not do this, I feel they are letting their clients down chasing the pound.”

Educating your clients of the specifics often helps to eliminate disgruntled responses and demonstrates your expertise and duty of care for them. “We spend so long training as hairdressers that sometimes we forget that we are the professionals. If you are applying the colour, you are responsible,” Casey adds.

The increased usage of germ-busting cleaning products means that we’re eroding our inherent immunity to possible allergens, which means you’re likely to find increasing numbers of reactions. “As hairdressers, we forget how dangerous colouring can actually be,” adds Casey. “Sure, patch testing sounds boring and monotonous, but it’s necessary. This is why I have created #PatchTestParty, to put a fun spin on something that seems so dull.”

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Colour