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17 December 2021
Posted by in Hair

Hair and beauty patch tests guide

With several clients visiting your hair or beauty salon each day, the last thing you want is for them to gain an allergic reaction to the product you’re using. To avoid this happening, it’s important you have a strict allergy patch test protocol in place in your salon or freelance business, especially with the number of reports of people gaining allergies after contracting COVID-19.

If you don’t carry out a patch test and your client gains a reaction, you could be fined. With the amount potentially running into thousands of pounds, this could be a disaster for your hair and beauty business. Follow our guide now all about patch testing so you know all the appropriate protocols to take before your client’s visit.

Why do I need to patch test clients?

If you’re a hairdresser, patch testing before using a hair colour is a legal requirement under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. If you’re a beauty therapist, you also need to patch test your clients before certain treatments.

Failure to do this could mean your insurance is invalid and leave you personally liable for damages. If you’re concerned about protocols from a certain manufacturer, or the National Hairdressing and Barbering Federation not meeting your insurer’s guidelines, you have two options:

  • Change your insurer
  • Change your protocol

Along with a patch test, you also need to ask clients about any symptoms that could mean they shouldn’t have the hair or beauty service.

How often should I patch test hair clients?

With a rise in clients experiencing allergic reactions to hair dye after contracting COVID-19, it is now compulsory to perform a patch test at least 48 hours before any colour treatment. If you have a client who wants to switch to another shade or brand, or a different colour service on their return, you need to make sure they are in line with your insurer guidelines and regular protocols.

If you have a client due for a cut and colour service that hasn’t done their patch test, you could perform a ‘cut and consult’. This involves giving your client their haircut followed by an in-depth colour consultation. This way they can book the correct colour service with you around a week after their appointment, and still have their patch test based on your normal protocol.

Do I need to patch test hair clients if the colour is PPD-free?

Yes. Even though some hair dyes are PPD-free, they still contain PTD and Resorcinol. Your client can develop an allergy to almost any ingredient (not only colourants/pigments) and are more vulnerable to them if they’ve contracted COVID-19. Even if a formula doesn’t contain PPD, you will still need to carry out a regular patch test.

What if my client has used a box dye before their appointment?

If you think that your client may have attempted an at-home colour, you need to pay special attention. Some of these box colours contain metal salts which can react badly with permanent/oxidative colour. This can’t be checked with a patch test, but the hairdresser would need to perform a test strand on the client’s hair to be on the safe side.

How to do a hair strand test

Step One

Mix 10ml colour and 10ml of the desired developer, or the manufacturer’s recommended ratio.

Step Two

Apply to a small section of the hair using foil to isolate the strand.

Step Three

Process for the full time, then rinse and shampoo.

Can I send clients patch tests to do at home?

There are MHRA approved services available to let your clients test themselves legally at home. This involves your client taking a quiz on an app, which will determine if they need a skin test based on the brand and colour service they want for their appointment. Once they receive their quiz results, your client can purchase their patch test and upload their results onto the app for your business to access. These one-time tests can be valid for one to two years, but they must perform another one any time they want to switch to another colour brand or service.

Before you accept the results of any at-home patch test services, you will need to check with your insurer if you are allowed to use them. This is because some insurance companies won’t cover you unless you carry out the patch test in person.

How often should I patch test beauty clients?

According to BABTAC, you should carry out a patch test on clients before any treatment. The patch test should be done at least 24 hours before the treatment, rising to 48 hours or earlier if your client has diabetes or any other special circumstances. It’s important that you follow your training and the manufacturer's instructions for patch testing. You also need to patch test if:

  • Your client has had a change in their medical history, or if they’ve been pregnant or gone through the menopause
  • There’s been a change in the product you’re using
  • It’s been more than 12 months since their last treatment
  • The product manufacturer recommends carrying out a patch test more often.

Which beauty treatments need a patch test?

BABTAC recommend that you carry out a patch test before any of the following beauty treatments:

  • Eyelash tint
  • Eyebrow tint
  • Lash extensions
  • Eyelash perming
  • Spray tanning
  • Laser and IPL treatments
  • Semi-permanent make-up
  • Some peel treatments


This article is a guide only. Check with the product manufacturer for specific advice about patch tests.

Shop all the professional hair and beauty essentials for your salon or freelance business at Salon Services, and stay up to date with the latest trends on our Beauty Talk blog.
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