How to Protect Your Hands at Work

Hand Eczema
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Show Some Respect for the Most Important Tools of the Trade:  Your Hands

Are Your Hands Getting the Love and Respect They Deserve?

Do you know how to protect your hands at work?  Your hands are the single most valuable tool you use in your career as a hair stylist or barber, so they deserve some tender loving care.  Taking good care of your hands is about more than avoiding pain; it is about avoiding a premature end to your career.  Taking preventative measures now to care for your hands can add years to your career – pain-free years.

Your hands face two major risks when you work as a barber or hair stylist: muscle and joint damage and chemical damage.  The good news is that both can avoided by taking proper care now.

How to Protect Your Hands at Work

While most the risk to your hands involves overuse and the damage is done slowly over years, a chemical accident will cause immediate harm that could leave you off work for a considerable time.  Most hair care professionals work with dyes, perm solutions, chemical relaxers and other chemicals that can irritate or burn the skin.  But wearing chemical resistant gloves will protect you.  Make sure the gloves you chose are designed for hair stylists and barbers to ensure that they will do their job to protect you while letting you do your job in comfort.  Ideally, wearing cotton gloves as liners inside of vinyl or nitrile gloves will provide the most protection.  Reactions can occur to preservatives in products, fragrances, perm chemicals, or paraphenylenediamine.  Individuals with a childhood history of atopic dermatitis or eczema can be more prone to occupational rashes.

Wearing barrier protective products such as “Invisible Glove” can also be of benefit if your hands are very sensitive.  If you develop itching, blisters, dryness, cracking, fissures or pain involving your hands, then medical attention might be advisable.  The longer the problem goes unattended, the more severe and stubborn it can be to get it to clear up.

Some days get incredibly busy, and it is tempting to push on without taking breaks, especially if you are self-employed.  But the short term benefit isn’t worth the long term risk.  Sure, there will be days when it can’t be avoided, but try to take breaks between clients to rest your hands.  And no, sweeping the floor is not a break!  Overuse injuries can shorten your career, so regularly skipping those short breaks now will shorten your career down the road.  Carpal tunnel syndrome can present with numbness and tingling of the hands and wrists which can lead to sharp shooting pains.

While you are taking those breaks, you can benefit your hands even more by doing some simple hand exercises.  You don’t special equipment or classes to do some basic stretches to improve flexibility and range of motion.  Start by making a fist, but don’t clench it too tightly.  Hold for a minute, then release, gently stretching your fingers out.  Place your hand flat on a table and slowly raise each finger individually, hold for a moment then lower it.  Try soaking your hands in warm water and then doing these exercises before you start work each day and before resuming after your lunch break.

Believe it or not, even your diet can play a role in protecting your hands.  Osteoarthritis is a real risk for barbers and hair stylists.  The tips above about rest and exercise will help prevent it, and so will making sure you eat a diet rich in omega 3, vitamin C and vitamin D.  Vitamin D can be a tricky one, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t see lots of sun or you don’t drink milk, which is usually fortified with vitamin D in the United States.  If you have dark skin, you need more sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D, so talk to your doctor about how to safely ensure you get the right amount.

And of course, be careful to avoid burns working with hot equipment.

Up to 10% of new cosmetology students leave the profession within the first two years due to difficulty with hand rashes and irritation, so taking proper care of your hands to avoid skin damage and overuse injuries will help you to enjoy your career now and long into the future.

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