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Cosmetologists, which include hairdressers, skin estheticians, barbers and nail technicians, face a broad spectrum of hazards in their jobs. The International Labour Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, notes that 30 percent of the chemicals used by cosmetologists qualify as toxic substances. Equally hazardous to their mental health is the need to determine what the client wants, even when she does not know herself, and make it happen.
Hazardous Chemicals and Substances
Cosmetologists use, inhale and absorb hazardous chemicals every day, all day. Nail technicians breathe solvents such as formaldehyde in polish and acetone in nail polish remover. They file acrylic nails, sending the resultant dust into the air around them. Hairdressers handle and breathe fumes from tinting, bleaching and styling products. Chemical relaxers, permanent wave solutions and hair sprays also pose danger to eyes, skin and lungs. Heavy, prolonged and/or frequent exposure to these substances encourages the development of asthma, contact allergies and inflammation of the skin, termed dermatitis. Even water becomes dangerous, because it increases the skin’s rate of absorption two to three-fold. Wearing gloves, barrier cream and face masks reduces exposure.
Cosmetologists use hot curling irons and sharp instruments, and minor injuries occur. A scissor nicks the hairdresser, breaking the skin. That hand works in the client’s hair, touches clothing and handles the phone. Without proper hygiene, treatment and covering such injuries promptly, the nick becomes infected. Continued exposure to airborne germs and to moisture can exacerbate the infection and lead to lost work time. The cosmetologist must inspect clients visually and practice proper sanitation of work areas, tools and supplies to avoid passing infections or infestations, such as lice, from one client to another. In a job characterized by interaction with many different people, exposure to colds, stomach viruses and other diseases transmitted through the air or through touch becomes an everyday hazard.
Long periods of repetitive motions stress body parts. Cosmetologists need to practice good posture, move ergonomically and use properly designed equipment to minimize the effects of these stresses. The cosmetology profession lends itself to the creation of chronic problems, such as bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves and varicose veins. Shock-absorbing floor mats, adjustable chairs, sharp scissors, support hose and proper techniques for hand and wrist movements go a long way toward preventing these injuries.
Since a person’s self-image links so closely to his physical appearance, the cosmetologist deals with every client’s emotions, which by definition are not logical or objective. Interpreting client wishes and fulfilling possibly unrealistic expectations compound the stress of the work itself and the pressure of meeting deadlines. Unless such stress is addressed -- in a healthy manner -- the potential for burnout exists. Workplace tension can result from interaction between coworkers, as well.
Additional hazards for beauty salon, barber shop and spa workers include inadequate ventilation, locked or unmarked fire exits, overloaded electrical circuits, crowded, dirty workspaces and spills left untended on floors, promoting slips and falls. These hazards result from poor housekeeping and/or management. Left unaddressed, they create a potentially dangerous workplace.
Based in Texas, Catherine Hudgins began writing medical, technical, real-estate, travel and pet-care articles in 2000. Her articles have appeared in magazines such as “Food & Leisure," “MDNews,” and “CollegeBound." Hudgins received her Bachelor of Arts in fine art and Spanish from Trinity University.