Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction resulting from exposure to allergens or irritants. It is a localized rash or irritation of the skin caused by a foreign substance. Contact dermatitis may take days or weeks to fade away and then only if the skin is no longer exposed to the irritant. A study of hairdressers has shown that 45% (this is approximately 50,000 cases) of hairdressers suffer from dermatitis. Dermatitis is not infectious, i.e it cannot be passed on from person to person, but it is unsightly and uncomfortable. ‘Contact dermatitis’ is a reaction of the skin coming in contact with an adverse agent and this can be an irritant or allergic reaction. Dermatitis can be diagnosed by flaking, cracking, rash and redness of the skin. Irritant contact dermatitis is local inflammation of the skin. It can remove the natural protective action of the skin so that the skin is exposed to the irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis develops in stages, first the irritant causes a sensitization to the skin. This provokes a number of immunological responses. When the skin is then re-exposed to the allergen, there may be itching, swelling, blisters and redness. Once sensitised this allergic reaction may affect the person for the rest of their life. Common causes of irritant contact dermatitis are detergents, bleach powders and emulsions, acid perms, colorant removers, and preparations that contain hydrogen peroxide solution. In addition to these chemicals simple shampooing can also cause dermatitis. This is due to frequent wetting of the hands, products defatting the skin and the water temperature. Causes of allergic contact dermatitis can be nickel, gold, poison ivy, among others. This is less common than irritant dermatitis and not prevalent in the hairdressing industry. Occupational contact dermatitis is very common in hairdressing.
Prevention of Contact Dermatitis
- Wearing disposable non latex gloves when rinsing, coloring, shampooing and bleaching. A longer length glove should be chosen, folding the cuff back to prevent water running down the arms. When removing, gloves should be peeled down from the outside and the outside of the glove not touched. Gloves must only be used once.
- Hands should be dried thoroughly after washing to prevent any residue left on them. Hands should be moisturised with a fragrance free cream. The use of E45 or other aqueous creams are beneficial as they rehydrate the skin and reduce the risk of irritant dermatitis.
- Skin should be checked regularily for any sign of dermatitis symptoms like dryness, itching, swelling and redness. This is what the industry calls a ‘health surveillance’
- Know the hazardous agents. Chemicals labeled with ‘R’ phrases indicate that they may have the potential to cause dermatitis. ‘R38’ means it is an irritant to the skin. ‘R43’ means it may cause sensitization by skin contact. ‘R66’ means repeated exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking. ‘R34’ means it causes burns. ‘R35’ causes severe burns.
In hairdressing, employers and employees need to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) and carry out a regular ‘health surveillance’ of employees. Employers need to access risk and put adequate control measures in place and ensure the proper training of staff. RIDDOR reports should be carried out to keep track, monitor and establish preventative ways of occupational contact dermatitis.