Testing Times | Pocketmags.com

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Testing Times

Regular patch testing can be a pain for salon owners and clients alike but it’s more important than ever, argues Hellen Ward

Allergy alert testing is a very necessary bane of every salon owner and therapist’s life, and it’s becoming increasingly important. Severe reactions appear to be more commonplace and there is a huge onus on the operator to get their protocols and procedures spot on, now more than ever.

Some salon owners see this as a real burden, and understandably so, but it’s a necessary headache. There are many mixed messages in the sector about what exactly the policy and protocol should be, but the onus is on the salon owner to comply. Hardly fair when the rules are so vague.

Every decent operator just wants to be compliant so that they can rest assured that they will be covered in the unlikely event there is an insurance claim. But some of the insurers themselves seem a little ambiguous about exactly what ensures that the reputable therapist is fully covered and liability-free.

The generic cover-all seems to be the age-old “follow the manufacturer’s guidelines” recommendation. But many salons I know work with dozens of brands, and use hundreds of different products, and it’s foolish to assume that they are constantly checking to see if the guidelines on the bottle or leaflet inside each product have changed or been updated. Do manufacturers always tell us? How can we be sure they do? If not, what hope do we have of being compliant?

Surprise reaction

Like all salon owners, I’ve had plenty of issues around skin testing and allergic reactions. We’ve all got our stories to tell, from a woman who reacted to a herbal hair product because she had the residue of water in her hair from a recent trip to South Africa, to the sudden reaction to eyebrow tint from another client.

Both led to lengthy and litigious admin headaches between me and my insurer. But some salons and individuals operate in the sector without any insurance at all, so we can only imagine the headache they would quite rightly face.

The problem with allergic reactions is, as we know, that they can develop from nowhere. A client can have the same product used on her hair or skin for years then suddenly react to it. Sometimes, the manufacturer has done an ingredient tweak that they haven’t made the user fully aware of, so where does this leave us? Skin testing protocol can be a can of worms and very unworkable. Most of our clients don’t actually live in Chelsea and travel in to visit us as their treat and luxury experience. Can they really be expected to come in 48 hours before every visit and wait 45 minutes (as is rumoured the new skin testing protocols will dictate) for the result then come back two days later for their appointment? The cost and inconvenience would drive them to a local salon and away from us.

The hassle of complying with procedures like this often leads people to go to less responsible salons that don’t enforce protocols or procedures and will conduct the service regardless. This is especially true when it comes to transient business and walk-in clients, resulting in a lowering of standards across the sector and a loss of business for those trying to stay compliant. I’ve never met a reputable salon owner who hasn’t had a potential new client walk out because they are trying to safeguard both themselves and their customers by sticking to the rules. The unscrupulous salon wins, the reputable salon loses.

Skin test

We’ve recently had two separate cases of severe reaction to lash extensions in the salon. The brand we use is from the US, so trying to get a call with their technical department has been difficult, to say the least, with time differences. In both instances, the company says testing is unnecessary because the product (the adhesive which caused the reaction) is applied to their hair (eyelashes) and not the skin. I beg to differ.

“There seems to be SUCH CONFUSION, and dare I say FLAGRANT MISINTERPRETATION, of what we should do to KEEP OURSELVES and OUR CLIENTS SAFE; it often feels like a minefield of RED TAPE and UNCERTAINTY„

Maybe that’s workable in the US, but under these rumoured new guidelines, I’d be nervous to use their product again without skin testing first. There seems to be such confusion, and dare I say flagrant misinterpretation, of what we should do to keep ourselves and our clients safe; it often feels like a minefield of red tape and uncertainty.

Perhaps if we were regulated as a sector, the guidelines would be far more clear cut and less open to breach. We’ve noticed that post Covid there has been a significant increase in allergic reactions to the products we use and so it’s no exaggeration to say that concrete policy is needed. Business owners in our sector are facing more than enough challenges and this added worry doesn’t help.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and co-founder of Salon Employers Association (SEA).

This article appears in May 2023

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May 2023
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