February 2, 2024

The Importance of Patch Testing

The Importance of Patch Testing

If you offer any kind of colour service in your salon, you need to have a patch testing policy in place. Patch testing is an essential part of running a salon that will help to save you from any liability in the event your customer has an allergic reaction. By patch testing every customer regularly, you can minimise the risk of allergic reactions and protect your business from liability.

In this guide, we will offer a comprehensive overview of the importance of patch testing and how you can easily implement this in your salon policy so there is no confusion.

Why is patch testing required?

Patch testing involves placing a small amount of the colour treatment chemicals on the skin in a hidden location (usually on the neck or behind the ear) to determine if the customer is allergic to the ingredients used. It’s necessary for treatments like hair dying and eyebrow tinting. The chemical individuals are most commonly allergic to is called paraphenylenediamine.

Patch testing should be carried out at least 48 hours before their appointment. This will allow plenty of time for the patch to produce an allergic reaction, if it is going to do so. Patch testing is a legal requirement for salons providing hair dying services, so it’s important to have a clear policy in place to remain compliant.

How often should you patch test?

How often should you patch test?

It is recommended that you should patch test all new customers to your salon, even if they tell you they have been patch tested elsewhere recently. The reason is that the formulation of chemicals can be different between salons, so you don’t want to risk applying a new formulation.

After this, you should then patch test every 6 months, or any time you change salon products. This is one reason that it makes sense to choose your salon products and then stick with them. Unless they are causing you a problem, try to keep things consistent.

Keeping accurate customer records of their last patch test is essential. This is why good salon software with the capability to create customer profiles is essential. It will allow you to keep track of the outcome of the patch test, the formulation used, and the date. You can then set a reminder to test again before they book any further services.

What could happen if you don’t patch test?

What could happen if you don’t patch test?

If you don’t patch test and the customer develops an allergic reaction to the ingredients, you will be liable and you could face legal action if the customer chooses to sue. Your public liability insurance will not cover your legal expenses, so you could face bankruptcy as a result.

It’s simply not worth the risk of failing to patch test. Likewise, it’s not worth the risk of believing the customer if they tell you that they have had a patch test elsewhere or that they don’t need one.

Customers can develop an allergy to the compounds in hair dye at any time, and a past tolerance for these chemicals does not mean that they will always have the same reaction.

How should you communicate this with customers?

How should you communicate this with customers?

Your patch testing policy needs to be made clear to the customer before they are allowed to book any hair dye service. If you use online booking, you can give them the option to book their patch test in advance of their main appointment.

You can also use email and text marketing to remind customers that they need to book a patch test before their next appointment. If you change your formulation or their patch test expires, you can invite them to renew their patch test. They don’t have to have an appointment for these services booked, but you can encourage them to renew it so they can streamline the process before their next appointment.

Your patch testing policy needs to be clearly communicated on your website and in your salon. Explain the reason you have this policy and why customers are not allowed to opt out. While it might be frustrating for customers who believe they are not allergic to anything, it’s simply not worth the risk associated with allowing them to bypass your salon policy.

While patch testing helps to protect customers from potential allergic reactions, it’s really about protecting your business from liability if you fail to test. Your entire business is worth more than a single customer’s appointment. If they state they are going to go elsewhere to avoid the testing process, rest assured they will face the same policy and procedures everywhere.

Patching testing anyway

Patch testing anyway

Some salons will patch test customers during their appointment so they have the patch test on file. However, this is only effective if you are able to confirm the results of the patch test. For example, if a customer visits for an eyebrow shape and you upsell this service to an eyebrow tint, you can apply the patch test during their initial appointment and then ask them to return no sooner than 48 hours for their follow-up treatment.

How to identify a positive patch test

A positive patch test where the customer is allergic to the ingredients will be raised, red and itchy. Most patch test allergic reactions will disappear after 3-4 days, so it’s important to confirm the results in this time. In more extreme cases, the patch test may produce blistering that lasts for weeks. 

A negative patch test will show no redness and it might even be difficult to identify where you applied the patch test. Only a negative test result will enable the customer to move forward with any dye services. Remember that the amount of chemical used in a patch test is very small compared to how much is used in a regular dye service. If the customer shows even the smallest signs of an allergic reaction, such as mild redness, you can assume they will have a more extreme reaction to the full service. Make sure you are protecting your customers by making your policy clear and non-negotiable.

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