Want a salon colour? 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? We ask stylists why it’s so important, and what you can do to avoid any potential reactions

A bad reaction to hair colour can crop up at any point – often when you least expect it. Whether you’ve had your hair coloured for years or you’re a colour newbie, with skin sensitivities on the rise it’s crucial to be aware of the dangers.

“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 aren’t 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 low-down. Tests should be conducted at least 48 hours before your appointment, and no more than five days before.

If you’re under 16 then hair colour is a no-go, thanks to the PPD and other chemicals they 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. If any colourist is willing to colour the hair of someone under 16 then you should run a mile!

Colourist and owner of Cardiff’s CHAIR Salons, Casey Coleman, created his Patch Test Party initiative to make sure that testing was at the front of everyone’s minds. “I decided to research salons across the country and see who was offering regular skin tests,” he recounts. “The amount of big named chains that would offer the same day colour without patch testing was disappointingly high. At least 50 per cent of salons don’t regularly skin test, but part of that is down to the education of when to re-skin test.”

Casey highlights four scenarios in which you should definitely schedule a fresh skin test before your next colour appointment:

  1. If you’re changing your base colour by two shades; the jump is enough to justify a fresh test as the chemicals will be stronger.
  2. If you haven’t had colour or been skin tested within 12 weeks.
  3. If you’re new to the salon or brand of colour being used.
  4. If you have recently had semi-permanent or henna tattooing. As henna often contains high levels of PPD it can cause you to become more sensitive to PPD in hair colour, even ones you have safely had before.

We’re eroding our inherent immunity to possible allergens thanks to over-use of germ-busting cleaning products, so 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.”