OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS OF BEING A HAIRSTYLISTby Naomi Mannino
Everybody´s job takes a physical toll on them because of the repetitive nature of the activity, says Fitness Trainer Sarah E. Rippel, B.S., C.P.T. “It´s not good to sit all day and it´s not good to stand all day — there´s got to be some balance.” And hairstylists are particularly at risk from being on their feet all day which is a catalyst for foot pain, knee pain and even hip and low-back pain. Plus upper back and neck take the brunt of the constant looking down to the client´s head as you cut and style. Many hair dressers suffer shoulder problems, rotator cuff injuries and wrist overuse like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to the repetitive motions of the brush and the weight of the hair dryer. That´s not to mention bothersome, painful hair splinters, scissor and razor cuts and gashes, chemical rashes and burns and dermatitis from constant immersion in water. Well, help is on the way!
THE WEIGHT OF THE BLOW DRYER…
“I am an engineer by profession, but have always had mechanical inclination,” says Blair Hopper, owner of Freestyle Systems (www.freestylesystems.com), “so when my long time hairstylist friend complained of shoulder pain so severe from the weight of the blow dryer, she was thinking of leaving the business for good, I wanted to help. So I tried to create one that would hold its own weight — and that´s how I thought of the Freestylist.” It´s a hairdryer suspended from above to conquer the force of gravity so a hairstylist no longer has to lift the dryer upward and hold the weight of it. “In fact, once we designed the prototype we questioned IBS attendees in 2004 to see how widespread the problem was and found that 47% of respondents did suffer shoulder, wrist or back pain from holding the hair dryer,” says Hopper. “A typical hair dryer weighs between 16-24 ounces — as heavy as a carpenter´s hammer. Imagine styling hair with that hammer strapped to your wrist (and a busy hairstylist can do 8-10 blow-outs a day),” explains Hopper. Even hair dryer manufacturers have gotten the message and much of the new technology in hair dryers is focused on smaller, more efficient motors and a lighter weight like FHI Heat´s newest Nano Weight Pro 1900 Turbo Professional Salon Hair Dryer which weighs in around 12 ounces. Although the Freestylist looks so cool, one of its major attractions, stylists find that upper back, shoulder and wrist aches and pains from blow-drying subside within weeks of getting used to the system, “and it does take some getting used to. But we each found our own personal technique after a week or two — and that´s when we noticed the absence of shoulder pain!” says Kelli Hammond Hawkins, owner of Salon 306 in Cumming, G.A. Salon owners also say the Freestylist eliminates another snarly problem: the over-abundance of cords coming from the floor. “With the dryer cord coming from up above — it´s less dangerous and much neater overall,” says Martino A. Cartier of his self-named Salon and Spa in Sewell, N.J., who had Free stylists installed for his Tabatha´s Salon Takeover episode last September. In fact, he raved, “They´re weightless! With just a pinky resting on the barrel you can guide the blow dryer up and down — I love teaching stylists how to use them!” Many stylists are also diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the wrist from both the repetitive action of the brush during styling, the weight of the blow dryer and the action of cutting with the thumb a sore topic. “My Joelle Swivel Scissors rotate and move while I´m cutting to give my thumb more leeway instead of forcing it into an uncomfortable position for long periods of time,” says Hammond, and many other stylists agree on swivel scissors.
LONG HOURS ON YOUR FEET…
But, the number-one complaint of hairstylists is how much their feet hurt at the end of the day. “The pain starts from the ground up — travelling upwards as you shift your weight from one foot to the other, moving your hips out of alignment creating pain and injury to feet, knees and lower back,” explains fitness pro, Rippel. “ And, since the average human head weighs about eight pounds, the effects of gravity as you look downward to cut and style hair can cause headaches and neck pain especially in the muscles that run between your neck and shoulders,” explains Rippel. “When you add that to a sore shoulder from blow-drying, or a hurt low-back from long hours standing or shampooing, the pain can cascade from one part of your body to another.” Catherine Davilla, Business Development Manager for Tough Guy© International Anti-Fatigue Mats (www.toughguyintl.com) says, “That´s why we created these mats from a solid 3/4” polyurethane foam unit specifically created for static standing. It absorbs the shock and rather than standing on a no-give vinyl or rubber mat or hard floor — these mats force a slight movement of your feet that keeps the blood circulation constant instead of stagnant. You literally won´t be able to stand in the one position with your hip cocked to one side as you foil and that´s by design!” These Anti-Fatigue Mats cost from $10-$90 more per mat, but if you can eliminate some of the source of the pain starting with what you´re standing on, “It´s a good investment in your employees health.” Rippel also suggests sitting down and getting feet up off the floor, “when you have a break or lunch even if just for a few minutes! If you have errands to run, switch shoes to something more nurturing while you´re out and about.” Karie Bennett, owner and master stylist at Atelier SalonSpa in San Jose, C.A. says, “Aches and pains can be so extreme we train in ergonomics to teach proper arm height, posture and recovery strategies by circuit-training in stations to practice using tools correctly. We definitely stress the importance of a long and healthy career, something young hairstylists never think to consider!” Long work days are hazardous too, says Bennett, “I am a veteran of the 10-hour day. But one of our newest strategies is a 6-hour shorter work day and we use assistants in training to help stylists work more efficiently and lessen the strain on their bodies.” Some changes are so simple: “We discovered that putting a 6” high footstool under each sink was a no-brainer because with one foot resting on the stool, the pressure on your lower back is lessened immediately as you lean over to shampoo!” says Bennett.
WHAT´S IN YOUR SKIN?
Hairdressers unanimously mentioned hair splinters even over severe dryness from water immersion and chemical exposure. “I´ve known hairstylists that have had to leave the business because of severe skin sensitivities,” says Bennett. “Most stylists now wear gloves to work with chemicals, but hair splinters can be a painful problem in fingers or in feet and toes from hair that falls.” Be sure to examine hands and feet by pressing on them for tell-tale pain and by inspecting after a shower to spot visible hair splinters. Remove them with tweezers while skin is soft and wet, before they become infected. Hammond says she´s noticed that coloring chemicals have gotten a lot gentler in the past few years, although her hands hurt so much after perming that she simply quit doing them! A new solution: keep a salon bottle of some type of Argan Oil handy for easy moisturizing of hands or fingers before they become cracked and dry. Use it on client´s hair as a conditioning or massage treatment, a reparative treatment in the color mix and a staff skin treatment too! “And for pain,” says Kathy Morando, owner of Hello Beautiful Color Salon and Art Spa, in Tampa, F.L., “we keep Bio- Freeze and Spray Pain Away in case one of my stylists runs up and says ‘Quick! Spray Me!´ If you´re a busy hairstylist, you´re definitely going to come home with some aches and pains and usually there is some cost or learning curve with ways to minimize the pain — but it´s all worth it at the end of the day!” says Morando.