Patch testing - is it important?

It is such a simple thing to do but why do so many therapists not understand the importance of patch testing, or bother to carry one out on their clients, asks Marie-Louise Coster.

In the last few weeks I have witnessed on social media, fully qualified therapists posting that patch tests are not required for eye lash tinting or extensions as long as you sign a disclaimer.

Regardless of what you may have been told by previous employers, or other beauty therapists, disclaimers are not legally binding documents and your insurance will not be valid even with a signed disclaimer. Ultimately if the client has a reaction you will be negligent due to poor practice as you will have willingly carried out the treatment whilst knowing that you should have carried out a patch test.

In the case that a client reacts and makes a claim against you, insurers will pay compensation but depending on who you are insured with, may either choose not to re-insure you when your renewal is due – making it difficult for you to obtain insurance generally – alternatively they may increase your premiums dramatically, not to mention the effect it will have on your business reputation, all because you didn't carry out a patch test that takes just minutes. It just beggars belief that the simple procedure of a patch test is not being treated with the importance it deserves.

These pictures were provided to me by a client of mine who reacted to an eye lash tint (performed at a different salon). The reaction was so bad, and her eyes were so swollen, that she could not open them for several weeks, and doctors advised her she may never see again. Thankfully she is fine now but you must agree that seeing these pictures makes you realise (if evidence was needed) that a patch test is essential, because nothing is worth jeopardising your eyesight for.

Patch testing must be carried out 24 – 48 hours prior to the client having a tinting treatment. There is absolutely no exception for this. It doesn't matter if the client has previously had a tinting treatment at another salon or with another therapist – a patch test MUST take place in your business prior to the treatment.

It is also important to point out that just because the client has had a patch test with you it doesn't mean that it will last forever. In order to develop an allergy, you have to be exposed to the product or ingredient, the more you are exposed to it the more likely you are to develop an allergy. With this in mind, the patch test must be repeated regularly – at least every six months – as is suggested in the Habia guidelines.

It would be my suggestion that as a standard practice you patch test every client you have on a six-monthly cycle when they are in with you for their treatments, that way if ever they want a tinting treatment you will know whether or not you can do it. You must also carry out patch tests on everyone if you change the tinting products that you are using, or the manufacturer changes the composition of the ingredients. Just because someone has not reacted to one tint it doesn't mean that they won't react to another brand, or the updated version.

Here is a quick reminder on how to carry out a patch test:

Mix a small amount of tint with 3 – 4 drops of tint developer or hydrogen peroxide (3% 10 volume) into a smooth paste.

  • Apply some of the mixture either behind the client's ear or in the crook of the elbow. You may opt for behind the ear so as it can't be seen.
  • Allow to dry and explain to the client what would happen if she were to experience a reaction i.e. redness, itching, burning. If the client does experience a reaction advise her to clean the area and apply cooling products such as Aloe Vera to soothe the area.
  • Leave the product on the skin for a minimum of 24 – 48 hours.
  • Remember to carry out a full consultation and complete a record card with details of the patch test.
  • Repeat the patch test every six months, minimum.
  • Adopt best practice, be a professional and ensure that you work to industry guidelines; that way you will establish a long and well- respected business.

When a new client calls for the first time requesting a tint, I insist they have a patch test 48 hours before the treatment. I also have this printed on all of my price lists and also on my website so as there can be no confusion and all clients are aware.

In the event that a client questions my method of insisting upon a patch test and is not keen on visiting the salon for the test (usually because they have never been made to have a patch test before), I just politely explain it is for their safety and comfort. In the end they will appreciate it and respect the thorough procedures of the salon and its high standards. If you are mobile, fit the patch test in at a time that you are in the area, and also a time that is convenient to the client, or if you have a receptionist you could teach them how to carry out the patch test making it more convenient for the client as she can pop in anytime.

If you are worried that you will lose clients (as is an excuse I have heard many times) by insisting upon a patch test, all I can say is I would rather take such precautions and have the peace of mind that my business will not have a poor reputation, than take the risk and stand the chance of being sued, losing my business and my reputation overnight all because I didn't carry out a 2-minute patch test. Sadly, this industry is becoming awash with sloppy standards, don't be one of these therapists, if we all work professionally and follow correct protocol we can raise standards together.

Marie-Louise Coster is a Beauty Therapist, Trainer and Business Consultant, with over 20 years' experience in the industry. All About Mi Beauty & Holistic Training School is ABT-accredited.