The lowdown on skin testing and keeping clients safe

What exactly are the rules around skin testing and what’s the most efficient way to go about it? We asked the experts

Skin testing is more important than ever as allergies are rising and, after Covid’s impact on sensitivities, it’s important for salons to test all colour clients.

Plus, if you don’t carry out a skin test on clients and they do have a reaction, you could end up with a hefty fine.

To ensure it doesn’t get to this stage, a protocol for skin testing needs to be in place. But how do salons ensure they do this efficiently, keep records, and keep themselves and their clients safe?

We spoke to some of the UK’s top colourists to find out exactly what the rules are around skin testing and how to best tackle the admin side of things in your own salon. 

Skin testing: what are the rules? 

It’s your responsibility as a colourist to carry out a patch test on the client under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. If you don’t, and they do on to have a reaction, you could be fined. With the amount potentially amounting to thousands of pounds, this could be a real blow to your business. But it’s a risk that’s easily minimised with the right protocol in place. 

“There’s a lot of confusion over skin testing and what rules to cover,” Debbie Digby, Founder and CEO of Passion4hair told us. “Ultimately if a client has an allergic reaction you need to be completely confident that you have done everything necessary to safeguard against this.

“If you’re going to blob test, then you need to keep full records and you need to ensure the timings are all correct, and that in a court of law you can produce all the evidence you need to show you have followed the correct procedure.” Along with a patch test, you also need to ask clients about any symptoms that could mean they shouldn’t have the hair or beauty service.

“No patch test – no appointment!” says an ambassador for Vanity Doll Salon. “It is extremely dangerous to provide a colour service without one, your client’s health and hair should be your number one priority.”

@passion4hair                                                                                            @vanitydollsalon

When a new skin test is required

There are so many different factors that can result in increased skin sensitivity – covid, pregnancy and dyeing hair at home are just a few. “Our stylists are also super vigilant as to when a new skin test is required for example if a guest is pregnant or has maybe coloured their hair at home between visits,” Brian Leo McCallum of ROAR Hair and Beauty explains. An ambassador from Vanity Doll Salon echos that sentiment, telling us, “Regular clientele must receive a new test every 6 months, as our bodies can change and reactions can develop over time.”

And the aftermath of Covid-19 has added a new risk when it comes to skin sensitivity, as colourist Verity Ollerenshaw explains. “All clients, new and also regular, should have their skin tested again after having covid to follow insurance and industry standards.”

Paco Paco Latorre, creative director of Live True London, unpacks this further: “After Covid, we could see that clients that never show any kind of allergies to the usual brands were having allergic reactions after Covid; skin irritation, peeling, and in some cases inflammation and severe allergy. Always ask the client if anything has changed or if they have had Covid since their last appointment.”

Tips on organising a skin test before colouring 

Efficiency is key
“When it comes to skin testing salons now really need to be efficient with their skin testing policies,” colourist Jack Kilpatrick tells us. “I would use your front of house team and salon software program to make sure that every client that needs to be tested is.

“The team need to look at who is due in and contact any new clients. If you have an online booking system try to make sure it has a pop up that says when booking colour that you will need a skin test 48 hours prior to the appointment.”

Check the brand’s policy
“KH Hair has been carrying out skin testing for many years. One of the first things to do is find out what your product companies’ testing guidelines are and mirror their policy,” explains Darren Messias, managing director of KH Hair Group.

Be organised with timings
“The key to successful colour work is a consultation so get the client to come in a few days earlier for the consultation and skin test at the same time,” colourist Anne Veck told us. That way you make sure you’re booking the right amount of time for the service required. If a client has a problem with skin testing, or a thorough consultation beforehand, she or he is not the right client for you.”

Keep a record
“Regarding keeping records, these days all reputable salons use one of the several excellent off the shelf client database/till software systems,” Anne Veck continued. “These make it easy to keep full records of all clients’ details, including allergy testing. Don’t forget, though, that under GDPR, this information is classed as a medical record and you must have the individual’s permission to retain it. If you don’t you will need to skin test each and every time they have a colour service.”

How to do a hair strand test 

Step one
Mix 10ml colour and 10ml of the desired developer, or the manufacturer’s recommended ratio.

Step two
Apply to a small section of the hair using foil to isolate the strand.

Step three
Process for the full time, then rinse out and shampoo.

The future of skin testing

It’s clear that skin testing is an integral part of any colour appointment and a solid protocol means it needn’t be a hassle, but could we see the process becoming more efficient in time? 

“Could the future of skin testing be something far more sophisticated?” asks Debbie Digby. “Systems like Colourstart takes the stress of testing away. It allows clients to test at home, and upload their pictures to the Colourstart portal – this means all of the record-keeping is available at the touch of a button. It places responsibility on the client to carry out the skin test and means you are fully insured through Colourstart’s insurance in the event of an allergic reaction. For me, this is the most comprehensive and accurate way of testing.”

Brian has also found innovative new software is a big help when it comes to skin testing. “Our software provider Zenoti created a custom patch test form for us so we can continually record and update each guest’s skin test with every colour application,” he explains.

“It also has a part where the stylist and guest each sign to confirm the patch test has been carried out and the guest understands the facts about having their hair coloured. Less of a disclaimer and more health and safety information for the guest. It makes them feel safe in the fact that we have carried out a full AAT and been transparent with them.”

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