Hairdressers and hairstylists offer personal beauty services such as hair shampooing, conditions, cutting, and styling. They are required to be licensed by the state and may perform other ancillary services such as manicures, pedicures, and facials. Most hairdressers work in a professional setting called a salon, parlor, or studio. They see a number of clients each day for haircuts and styling. By all means of observation, this would seem to be a low-risk job in a non-hazardous environment. Besides the occasional scissors mishap, it doesn’t seem any more dangerous than working in an office. However, the truth is that hairdressers have been subject to a hidden danger for decades — asbestos.
It has recently come to light that hairdressers have been subject to asbestos exposure practically since beauty salons went electric in the early 20th century. This occupation has seen a high incidence of asbestos-related respiratory disease, and while exposure has diminished since asbestos laws were passed in the 1980s, it has not been totally eliminated.
Asbestos and Hairdressing
The major factor that contributed to the exposure of asbestos to hairdressers was the electric blow dryer. Because electric hair dryers have heating elements that reach high temperatures, they require insulation to protect the heat from escaping to other parts of the hairdryer, possibly exposing electrical wires and creating a hot exterior that could produce burns on touch. Until the 1980s, the most commonly used insulation against heat and fire was asbestos. Asbestos was not only inexpensive and abundant, but it was very efficient at heat insulation.
Asbestos was originally used in the large hood drying machines that were so popular in the 1950s through the 1970s, but it was also used in small handheld hairdryers. Recognizing the danger, most manufacturers stopped using asbestos insulation in their hairdryers before the laws were passed. This doesn’t mean that salons immediately stopped using the hairdryers they already had. In some instances, older salons may still be using asbestos-containing hairdryers.
Although those working in construction and other industrial jobs are subjected to higher quantities of asbestos than hairdressers, the exposure hairdressers get is highly concentrated. Because the asbestos is coming out of the hair dryer, it is being blown directly into the air in the vicinity of the hairdresser. In some cases, this could force asbestos fibers directly into the respiratory systems of hairdressers every day. Additionally, the dust created by hood dryers doesn’t just disappear. It can stay in the salon and recirculate through the air.