Trichocare talks to hundreds of hairdressers each week about hair dye patch testing.

The company directly supports more than 3,000 salons and helps answer a broad range of patch testing questions. Managing Director and Trichologist, Brian Plunkett MIT, has used his experience to draw up the top FAQs of UK salons and tells RAW what every hairdresser should really
know about patch testing.

Send any unanswered questions to:

Is testing 100% reliable?
No test will ever claim to be 100% reliable, nor should they ever claim to be! Whether a pregnancy test or food allergy test – they all have certain tolerances. But, when salons patch test they balance their exposure to hazard and risk. By testing, salons are considerably reducing the chances of an allergic reaction in the salon and are commercially safeguarding their business through carrying out their duty of care. The worst decision any salon can make is not to patch test.

How often should I test?
Industry guidelines currently state that a patch test must be carried out each and every time on each and every client 48 hours prior to each permanent hair colour application.

Do I have to test regular clients who have always had the same

Yes. You are not born with an allergy to hair dye; this is developed through repeat exposure (commonly, black Henna tattoos containing high levels of PPD can speed this process up). Any one can become allergic to PPD (and its close derivatives) at any time, although many hairdressers don’t believe or understand that this can happen but it does, there’s plenty of evidence.

A questionnaire has been proposed by manufacturers in response to growing pressure from the UK salon industry to do something about patch testing, How does this change things?

I am pleased the issue of patch testing has been grasped by the industry. With this level of scrutiny, it’s more important than ever before to patch test.

Which method of testing should I use?
There are currently two methods of patch testing available. The traditional method of placing a “blob” of dye behind the ear or a standard generic test. Both methods are now recognised to be of equal validity. Use of either demonstrates that a hairdresser has adequately carried out his/her duty of care. The NHF, FHBF and the Health and Safety recognise both methods.

I want to use a Generic test but I’m not sure what protection I get if I do?
Generic tests such as Colourstart provide salons with a replacement of cover provided by hair dye manufacturers through a £1 million product guarantee. This gives complete peace of mind for any hairdresser using the product. So a hairdresser is free to choose which of the two methods they prefer to use…

Actually, Generic testing offers even more protection than manufacturers! To illustrate this, what about the client that has a colour 48 hours after the salon is closed? A blob test in this instance is impossible! So this colour treatment has no protection at all. Given that most salons are still shut at least one day of the week, say Sunday, this means every colour conducted on Tuesday by that salon using the blob test is entirely at the salons own risk. But with Generic testing salons can patch test every client and be fully insured for every colour, double protection.

Is patch testing a legal requirement?
Yes. Salons have an obligation to patch test their customers under Section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work Act. Failure to patch test has lead to prosecution and fines in the past.

Why are some salons still getting away with not testing and doing walk-in colours? – It’s not fair.
Their days are numbered! All legislation is now tightening up considerably as has been evidenced by the successful prosecution of a Salon in the West Country for not conducting a precautionary skin test; the financial penalties can be heavy if anything goes wrong!

I use an organic permanent hair colour that only contains natural products. Can this still cause an allergic reaction?
It most certainly can! There is no such thing as a permanent hair colour that will remove the risk of allergy. If there were, most s salons would be using it! Some ‘organic’ colours contain no resorcinol or ammonia, but will always contain a primary intermediary that has the potential to cause Type IV allergic reactions – such as PPD or its derivatives.

What are the risks of a client having a reaction?
The exact figures for incidence of hair dye allergy vary widely as incidence is not widely monitored and data is not centrally reported. Therefore the exact figure depends which scientific paper you read.

On the one-hand, some studies quote more than 30,000 per million, on the other, the CTPA (the organisation representing cosmetic manufacturers) quotes 1 in a million figure. The true figure will be somewhere in between and we are working to answer this question and have commissioned a study using data we gathered over the past 3 years through having Colourstart on the market.

Why is allergy to hair dye increasing?
Some chemicals in hair dye are regarded as strong sensitisers. In other words the more you are exposed to them, the more likely you are of developing an allergy. Increase exposure leads to increased allergy (British Medical Journal Feb 2007).

Is there any alternative to patch testing for allergy to hair dye?
While there is a danger of allergy to hair dye, there needs to be a way of mitigating risk. Although there is talk of using a questionnaire instead of a patch test, the only way to stop patch testing is to make a safe colour. The current thinking on a safe alterative is gene therapy! That’s a long way off and far from being proven safe.

Does a disclaimer work if I can’t patch test?
Your liability is not removed by having a piece of paper... It’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.

Did you know?
In the only study of its kind, 6% of hairdressers in the Netherlands were found to have an allergy to hair dye.

Did you know?
There are 50 million hair colour treatments in UK salons each year, another 50 million treatments are conducted at home

Did you know?
Hair dye treatments contribute 68% to the turnover of UK salons.

Brian Plunkett MIT
Director of Trichocare
fb Like what your reading post this page to your facebook account