Hairdressers Have 'Excess Risk' of Contact Allergies

Brandon May

November 03, 2022

When compared with the general population, hairdressers experience an excess risk of contact allergy linked to hair cosmetic ingredients, a systematic review suggests.

"Research has shown that up to 70% of hairdressers suffer from work-related skin damage, mostly hand dermatitis, at some point during their career," write Wolfgang Uter of Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg and co-authors. In general, they write, occupational skin diseases such as hand dermatitis represent up to 35% of reported occupational diseases. The study was published online October 17 in Contact Dermatitis.

Wet work and skin contact with detergents and hairdressing chemicals are top risk factors for developing occupational skin disease in this population, according to the researchers.

To further understand the burden of occupational contact allergy in hairdressers, the investigators gathered evidence published since 2000 on contact allergies to hair cosmetic chemicals. They searched the literature for nine substances selected beforehand by experts and stakeholders. The researchers also examined the prevalence of sensitization between hairdressers and other individuals given skin patch tests.

Substance by Substance

Common potentially sensitizing cosmetic ingredients reported across studies included p-phenylenediamine (PPD), persulfates (mostly ammonium persulfate [APS]), glyceryl thioglycolate (GMTG), and ammonium thioglycolate (ATG).

In a pooled analysis, the overall prevalence of contact allergy to PPD was 4.3% in consecutively patch-tested patients, but in hairdressers specifically, the overall prevalence of contact allergy to this ingredient was 28.6%, reviewers reported.

The pooled prevalence of contact allergy to APS was 5.5% in consumers and 17.2% in hairdressers. In other review studies, contact allergy risks to APS, GMTG, and ATG were also elevated in hairdressers compared with all controls.

The calculated relative risk (RR) of contact allergy to PPD was approximately 5.4 higher for hairdressers, while the RR for ATG sensitization was 3.4 in hairdressers compared with consumers.

Commenting on these findings, James A. Yiannias, MD, a professor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Phoenix, told Medscape Medical News in an email that many providers and patients are concerned only about hair dye molecules such as PPD and aminophenol, as well as permanent, wave and straightening chemicals such as GMTG.

"Although these are common allergens in hairdressers, allergens such as fragrances and some preservatives found in daily hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners, and hairsprays are also common causes of contact dermatitis," said Yiannias, who wasn’t involved in the research.

Consequences of Exposure

Yiannias explained that progressive worsening of the dermatitis can occur with ongoing allergen exposure and, if not properly mitigated, can lead to bigger issues. "Initial nuisances of mild irritation and hyperkeratosis can evolve to a state of fissuring with the risk of bleeding and significant pain," he said.

But once severe and untreated dermatitis occurs, Yiannias said that hairdressers "may need to change careers" or at least face short- or long-term unemployment.

The researchers suggest reducing exposure to the allergen is key for prevention of symptoms, adding that adequate guidance on the safe use of new products is needed. Also, the researchers suggested that vocational schools should more rigorously implement education for hairdressers that addresses how to protect the skin appropriately at work.

"Hairdressers are taught during their training to be cautious about allergen exposure by avoiding touching high-risk ingredients such as hair dyes," Yiannias added. "However, in practice, this is very difficult since the wearing of gloves can impair the tactile sensations that hairdressers often feel is essential in performing their job."

The study received no industry funding. Yiannias reports no relevant financial relationships.

Contact Dermatitis. Published online October 17, 2022. Full text

Brandon May is a freelance medical journalist who has written more than 2100 articles for medical publications in the United States and the UK. Twitter: @brandonmilesmay

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