Want a salon colour post-lockdown? This is why you need a patch test first

Annoyed by a salon insisting on an allergy test ahead of booking in for a balayage? As hairdressers across the UK reopen, we ask colourists why it’s more important than ever

Annoyed by being asked to have an allergy test before your much needed salon colour? yeah, we get it. But there’s a really good reason why now, more than ever, that little swipe behind the ear is vital. Over on Instagram, Charlotte Barker, a London hairdresser, shared a video discussing a recent situation where her client reacted to colour. Despite following all of the guidelines from the brand of colour that she is using, her client had a severe reaction within minutes in the salon, and ended up in A&E. Charlotte later discovered her client had suffered badly with COVID-19.

“Allergy alert tests are vital to protect clients,” says Hilary Hall, chief executive of the National Hairdressing and Beauty Federation. Allergy tests, also known as patch tests, involve having a tiny amount of hair colour dabbed either behind the ear or in the crook of the elbow, where the skin is thin and sensitive.

Allergic responses are not just limited to the blown-out anaphylactic responses you see in tabloid newspapers either. From migraines to rashes elsewhere on the body, make sure you know what response signs to look for – your colourist should be able to give you the lowdown. Tests should be conducted at least 48 hours before your appointment, and no more than five days before.

Though this could be unrelated, colourist and owner of Cardiff’s CHAIR Salons, Casey Coleman, warns that “in such uncertain times, it’s important to consider the long-term effects of having COVID-19 and how that could impact the development or reaction to colour. The effect that COVID-19 has on our immune system can also affect our allergies.”

In Wales, Casey’s salon could reopen its doors from 13 July, but the team decided instead to use it to skin test all their clients, with more than 200 patch tests taking place, ready for future appointments. The queue snaked down the street! “This meant that we could avoid random skin tests taking place throughout the week and ensure all social distancing measures were in place. It’s also a key way to make all of our clients aware of the risks of colouring if they had previously contracted COVID-19,” Casey explains.

As we’re eroding our inherent immunity to possible allergens thanks to over-use of germ-busting cleaning products, we’re more likely than ever to have some sort of reaction. “We forget how dangerous colouring can actually be,” adds Casey. “Sure, patch testing sounds boring and monotonous, another trip to make, but it’s so necessary. This is why I created #PatchTestParty, to put a fun spin on something that seems so dull.”

Also, another warning: if you’re under 16 then hair colour is a no-go, because of the PPDs and other chemicals it can contain. The younger someone is when they use hair colour, the higher the chances are that they will develop allergies to these products later in life.