What are patch tests and why are they so important?
From protecting your customers to avoiding claims against your business, doing a patch test before a treatment is often essential. Failing to do one could lose you a customer – or even put you in a tricky legal situation.
What is a patch test?
A patch test is a way of checking that your customer isn't allergic to the products you're using to treat them. Ideally, you'll use a small amount of the product to do a skin test in an innocuous place on your customer's body, for example:
- You might try some leg wax on a hair-free area, such as the wrist.
- For a hair dye patch test, you can put a small amount of dye behind your customer's ear.
- You could put some eyebrow tint on the inside of your customer's elbow.
Once you've applied the product, you'll need to wait a while before checking whether it's caused any kind of reaction.
How long does a patch test take?
However you choose to test, you normally need to wait at least 24 hours to see the side effects of a patch test – and in some cases, it'll be 48 hours. After the allocated period of time, you'll need to check for any signs of redness, itchiness or swelling.
Each product will have its own set of guidelines from the manufacturer, so make sure you read the instructions and follow them.
If the manufacturer states that a patch test is required, you don't necessarily need to do the test every time you treat your customer. It's important that you do it the first time they try a new product. It's a good idea to then repeat allergy patch tests at least every few months – just in case the manufacturer changes any ingredients.
What are the rules around patch tests?
There's no law saying that you must do a patch test before you carry out a treatment – but if the manufacturer of the product says a patch test is required and you don't do a test, most insurance companies won't cover you.
To make sure you're covered, you need to make sure you test the customer with the same substance as you'd use to treat them – even if they've signed a waiver or insist they don't need to be tested.
There are lots of products that might need a patch test, so always check the manufacturer's instructions. Products that might need a test include:
- Hair dye
- Perming lotion
- Eyebrow tint
- Eyelash tint
- Eyelash lifts
- Hair removal wax
If the test has any kind of negative reaction, and you still decide to carry out the treatment, you won't be covered. And if a customer has a bad reaction and makes a claim, that's bad news for your business.
What could happen if I don't do an allergy test?
If you don't do a test, your customer could have a serious reaction. It could just be an itchy rash or some painful localised swelling. But in extreme cases their eyes might swell up so much they can't see, they could have trouble breathing, or their skin could react so badly they're left with a permanent facial scar.
Small businesses and self-employed workers often don't have the funds available to pay out a big sum unexpectedly, and if a customer has an allergic reaction and is forced to stay off work for weeks, or they're left with a scar, those claims can cost thousands of pounds.
Money is one thing, but there's also reputational damage to think about. A bad review can lose you customers in the future. In some cases, a bad allergic reaction might even make the news. The old saying "all publicity is good publicity" won't stand if customers decide to boycott your business.
How can I avoid these issues?
Simple! If the manufacturer states a patch test is needed for their product, make sure you always patch test customers the first time they try it, and keep testing them regularly if they continue to use it. That way, your customer avoids uncomfortable reactions, and you stay covered.
There are other benefits, too. When customers know you consistently undertake patch tests, they'll trust that you're looking after their health and wellbeing. That means they'll feel in safe hands when they come in for a treatment.
Should I use a consultation form?
The purpose of a consultation form is to fully explain the risks of the treatment to your customer. It can be useful to create a consultation form to ensure customers understand what they're agreeing too, and by getting them to sign, you get confirmation that they're happy with the risks involved.
A consultation form should never be used in place of a patch test and will not limit your liability if you accidentally cause injury to a client. You still need to complete a patch test on certain products in order to qualify for insurance.
However, the consultation form can act as a written record of the patch test and can also be used to record any previous allergic reactions experienced by the client, as well as any health problems and medication they may be taking.
Do I need insurance if I dye hair or tint eyebrows?
Having insurance cover in place is a good idea – especially if you treat your customers with chemicals.
Hair and beauty treatments liability insurance will cover you in case a particular treatment causes injury or illness to your customers. Not every treatment is covered, so check what treatments we cover here.