Stop barbershop infections – top tips from trichologist Tracey Walker
No barber wants to see a client receive bad service, and that includes health and hygiene as well as quality cuts. Of course, in the busy environment of a working shop it can be easy to let standards slip. That’s why I invited former hairdresser and trichologist Tracey Walker to share some information and advice that will help you keep your shop safe and clean.
But first thing’s first… what exactly does a trichologist do?
“Trichologists diagnoses and treat hair loss and scalp disorders. We are almost a specialised type of dermatologist, but we only deal with the scalp and hair. We’re not medically qualified, but we are medically trained in the areas where we need to be.”
So, this means that trichologists can help with scalp and hair issues or conditions. Tracey is also part of the Institute of Trichologists, set up by doctors, hairdressers and scientists to help build awareness and offer training. What better person to have in the interview chair?
Common conditions to look out for
Tracey kicked things off by telling me about the most common conditions that might affect clients after a visit to the barbershop:
- Bacterial infections in general, and specifically impetigo. This is highly contagious, and often seen around the mouth or on the upper lip – so particularly relevant when a client comes in for a shave. Look for symptoms that are “almost like a crusting of the skin”.This happens when bacteria in the nose drips down onto the upper lip and becomes pathogenic. It may just look like regular dry skin, and could be passed on by a barber not washing their hands or sanitising tools.
- Fungal infections. These are particularly common in children, and easy to spread from person to person, either on your tools or on your hands. One common fungal infection is ringworm, which my just look like a patch of dry scaly skin on the scalp and is easily misdiagnosed as flaky skin or dandruff. Tracey points out that it is “easily transferred from person to person on tools such as brushes.
- Folliculitis. This is particularly common in young black men, as it is caused by the way in which afro hair regrows after a very short haircut. Unlike the other conditions, this isn’t contagious, however it certainly can affect people visiting the barbershop:“We do see it a lot when people have had very short haircuts, or had their heads shaved. What happens there is that when the hair is shaved, and it goes slightly lower than the scalp’s surface, then when it grows is starts to bend up and scratches or tickles the scalp. It’s very itchy, so the client can start scratching and cause secondary infection.”So how could you safeguard against this? “Avoid any scratching, or excess scratching to the scalp. So keep the scalp healthy, use the right shampoo for the scalp type. If the scalp is itchy then there are lotions that can calm it. And if someone comes in suffering from folliculitis and they have quite a short hair cut then encourage people to grow their hair a little longer”.
As always, then, prevention is the best cure! Tracey also points out that the scalp is just like the rest of your skin – so, for instance, if it’s dry then you’ll need to moisturise it.
I decided to follow up by getting Tracey’s take on some specific barbershop scenarios, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. So, without further ado, here is some in depth info to help you keep clients safe in specific situations.
Scenario one: A guy with long hair comes into your barbershop for a quick trim. You put the cloak on him and then spray his hair damp. Water starts to drip down the guy’s neck and collect at the collar.
“This may not cause an immediate problem if the person is healthy, but what we have to keep in mind is that somebody’s susceptibility to infection will increase if there are open wounds. So, for example, if somebody has eczema that affects the back of the neck, or psoriasis, then bacterial infection will get into those open wounds, and that’s what we call a secondary infection.”
This could also affect very old or very young clients, or people on medications such as immunosuppressants. Not cleaning the gown could also increase risk.
Tracey recommends: Use a necktie, or work with one use, disposable gowns.
Scenario two: A client comes in for a skin fade. You get them settled in the chair and then set to work… down with the brush, up with the clipper, down with the brush, up with the clipper and so on.
Tracey’s first thought is that brushing the hair vigorously is rarely a good thing – it causes so much damage, both to the hair itself and the scalp. “Once the skin is abrased, and the top layer of the skin is taken off, then bacteria and fungus can actually get into the skin, and get down to the deeper layer”. This can cause the types of infection that we discussed before, especially if things aren’t cleaned properly.
Tracey recommends: Proper sanitisation! “It’s alright to have a barbicide jar, but what I’ve seen is that after using a comb people will just put it straight in. That’s no good, you have to clean it first. Putting it in water is not going to remove that oil and dirt. You have to clean it first with a detergent, then rinse it, then put it in the barbicide jar with fresh barbicide”.
Scenario three: You’re giving a client a hot towel shave, using a towel that was cleaned in a domestic washing machine and a blade that was used on a previous client. You’re also using a barber brush that was rinsed with hot water.
- Many of the issues we’ve discussed would apply here – such as bacterial or fungal infections being passed on via the equipment.
- If the towel has been boil washed then that will offer good protection, but a standard wash cycle won’t sterilise equipment.
- Water on its own isn’t sufficient. Equipment needs to be washed with detergent and, ideally, sterilised too. You can sterilise the brush by dipping just the bristles in barbicide. It’s also fine to use Milton sterilising fluid, which is commonly used for sterilising baby equipment, especially if you want something slightly gentler.
So many useful tips packed into this interview! Mostly, though, it all comes down to keeping things clean – and that means washing your hands properly as well as sterilising tools. Look out for part two of this interview, where I’ll share some more quickfire tips from Tracey, and hopefully give you all the information you need to put the tips you’ve read here into action.
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