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React and Adapt

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.

After discovering that at least 50 per cent of high street salons don’t regularly skin test, colourist Casey Coleman has taken up the cause with aplomb. He founded the #PatchTestParty initiative to make sure that colourists up and down the country are educating both their staff and clients properly.

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.
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.”