Be allergy aware with Debbie Digby

April 21, 2022

It’s ‘Allergy Awareness Week’ next week (25th April – 1st May) so here Debbie Digby, salon owner, educator and CEO of Passion4Hair gives you the low down on common symptoms and what to look out for when caring for your clients.

What can you do to help people who may suffer with allergies and sensitivities? Allergy UK estimate that 1 in 4 people will be affected at some point in their life. Allergies are much more common in children, which means for the hair industry the problems will exacerbate as children grow up and into fashion, how they look and how they groom. Having the skill to be able to advise and offer solutions for safe services and hair home maintenance is not only the professional approach, it is also a lucrative one. Research shows that consumers are willing to pay more for professional advice and services – plus awareness of ingredients and interest in natural, solution-based products is at an all time high. 

An allergy is a disease of the immune system which is caused by the body’s reaction to a food or substance. Reactions vary but can be life threatening; for example, allergies to PPD can present themselves as mild sensitivity producing itching and redness or severe by evoking an immune system response which can result in anaphylactic shock. The latter is rare but life threatening. This is why caution and safe practices are imperative for a professional stylist. Always follow manufacturer instructions and if in doubt seek support and advice. It is always better safe than sorry – work closely with your colour house and product suppliers. Attend education and study technical guides thoroughly, learn about the ingredients in the products you use, this will increase your professionalism and bring great value to your clients. 

Common symptoms of allergies to look out for are:

Red Itchy Rash

To be clear, there are some products we use whose effect could cause redness (scalp treatments) or itching (scalp bleach) but if this is the case there will be a caution in the manufacturer’s instructions. Any symptoms experienced that are not expected are likely the result of an allergic reaction. If you are using or recommending products that may cause redness or itching as an effect of use, you could do a patch test on the client’s arm so they are prepared and do not mistake what is expected as a reaction and panic. 

Symptoms of eczema or asthma 

If you have a client with these symptoms proceed with caution, it could be an indicator of sensitivity to products. If in doubt do a patch test by placing a little product on the arm and monitor for contraindications.

Red, itchy or watery eyes – runny or blocked nose

Whilst these symptoms are not contraindications to hair services or products, they are a clue to allergies. With careful and knowledgeable selection of products you may be able to contribute to keeping the client in the ‘safe zone.’ For example, by using colour with no added PPD you could be reducing exposure, therefor preventing problems in the future. 

Sneezing and/or coughing

Early warning signs that they body is not happy with a food or substance can be sneezing or coughing. I first discovered my intolerance to milk by noticing every time I consumed it, I sneezed.

If you have a client experiencing nausea, overheating, dizziness, feeling faint or breathlessness, this could be an immune system response and medical assistance should be sought. If in doubt call 111, the NHS helpline. Often food or other allergies are producing symptoms needing our attention because the affects are showing up on the scalp, face or neck. Whilst a hairdresser cannot change what is happening inside the body, we can help manage what is happening topically. Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp and for a client looking for solutions, a knowledgeable stylist giving effective advice could literally improve their life. 

These actions are all it takes:


“What concerns do you have with your hair and scalp?” 


Look for signs of underlying problems. Be proficient and confident in talking about conditions and referring your client to their GP, Dermatologist or Trichologist.


Whilst you are not a doctor, you do have advice and recommendations that can alleviate symptoms. Become an expert on the products you use and recommend. 

When chemists formulate high performance products, they usually publish comprehensive study material for the user, be sure to read it. New technologies are providing amazing solutions for our industry, it is up to us to seek the best for our purpose and integrate them into our business. 

One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic is the hairdresser has been elevated. Ride the wave of the heightened value placed on our expertise by setting aside some time to study and develop your knowledge and skill. One of the things I love about the hair industry is a stylist can earn more next week than they did last week and I believe this is achieved by ongoing learning and developing.

Debbie Digby is CEO of Passion4hair whose academy in Milton Keynes offers education for all levels of development from Apprentice to Salon Owner and Master Stylist. View Passion4hair education and events here.