Thomas B. K. Ringe, III
Chauvron S. Regis The vast majority of hair salons across America use chemicals on a daily basis when handling hair-processing products such as aerosol hairspray and mousse, hair straighteners, smoothing and relaxers, and permanent hair dye and wave products, to name a few.
Some salon owners may be unaware that various products, handled daily by their employees, contain chemical vapors such as formaldehyde, sodium hydroxide, parabens, ammonium thioglycolate, lead acetate, or Phenylenediamine. These chemicals can be harmful if not used or monitored correctly.
One of the product categories getting attention these days is the category of formaldehyde-containing products used to chemically straighten hair. The straightening services that incorporate these products are in high demand from many clients with hair that is difficult to manage, and the profit-generating services have offered a boost to stylists and salons during difficult economic times.
If your salon uses these products, it’s also important to note that you can limit formaldehyde exposure, use these products safely, and limit your salon’s liability if you follow some basic best practices.
Best Practices That May Reduce Your Salon’s Liability
1. Know which of the products you use may contain formaldehyde or create a formaldehyde exposure of any kind.
2. Be familiar with and follow all federal, state and local enviornmental, OSHA, and health requirements when using hair products containing and/or releasing formaldehyde.
3. Have a licensed environmental laboratory test the salon air periodically to ensure that formaldehyde levels are below OSHA's permissible exposure limits.
4. Post the results of the air tests in the salon within 15 days of receipt.
5. Have the air test personnel carefully document the conditions under which monitoring took place.
6. Install ventillation systems in the areas where hair-processing products are mixed and used to help keep formaldehyde levels below OSHA's permissible limits, and perform regular maintenance to make sure these systems work correctly.
7. Have in place a medical surveillance program to be conducted immediately for any employee reporting signs or symptoms of overexposure to formaldehyde.
8. List formaldehyde on salon employee safety materials if your employees handle hair-processing products containing more than 0.1%formaledhyde. Be mindful that there are products available on the U.S. market containing formaldehyde at higher levels than OSHA has deemed acceptable.
9. Educate your employees about the health effects of formaldehyde, how to use the products safely, and what personal protective equipment to wear while using the products.
10. Conduct annual training for employees exposed to 0.01 ppm of formaldehyde or greater. This training should include: where exposures happen, the signs of exposure, how to protect oneself, how to use protective equipment while mixing and applying the product, the limitations of protective equipment, how to handle spills or emergency situations and where to find more information.
11. Have your employees sign an acknowledgement that they have received this training.
12. Reduce the risk of your employees' formaldehyde exposure by using appropriate protective equipment such as nitrile gloves, face shields, chemical splash goggles, and chemical-resistant aprons.
13. When possible, require your employees to use lower heat settings on blow dryers and flat irons during the concurrent use of hair-processing products and heat.
14. Provide your employees with the correct medical attention (e.g., doctor exams) if they develop signs and symptoms of overexposure to formaldehye or are exposed to large amounts of formaldehyde during an emergency(e.g. a large spill).
15. Contact our Beauty Products Industry Practive to provide your salon with assistance in developing a successful, practical approach to these issues.