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Is the person cutting your hair qualified?

Hair cut

Every day thousands of us have our hair cut by a hairdresser or barber. But have you ever asked whether they have the professional qualifications to do so? Sally from the Hair Council argues there needs to be regulation.

Even though they handle specialist equipment and chemicals, the person who cuts, colours or blow-dries your hair does not need any qualifications to do so.

What’s more, there’s no formal mechanism to make a complaint about a hairdresser, which means accidents and incidences of poor service often go unreported.

Fortunately, the vast majority of hairdressers and barbers in the UK possess the skills and training to undertake these tasks professionally. However, there’s nothing to stop someone without the training and skills setting up a hairdressing salon or barber shop.

Regulating hairdressers

It seems crazy to me that the likes of dental hygienists, chiropractors, podiatrists, taxi drivers and plumbers must be regulated to protect the public, yet hairdressers and barbers can operate without regulation. I believe it’s high time that changed.

I work in the Hair Council and we’re leading a campaign across the UK to regulate the industry and to support and recognise the contribution made by those hairdressers and barbers that have trained and obtained their qualifications.

The hair industry contributes £6.2bn a year to the economy and employs around 250,000 people across 55,000 businesses. Hairdressers and barbers are the backbone of our high streets and they deserve recognition for the professional services they provide and their economic contribution in local areas.

Is your hairdresser qualified?

I think all hairdressers and barbers operating in salons should be qualified to do so and registered, so that you’re better protected if something goes wrong. This will drive out cowboys, drive up standards, and ultimately protect us all.

Do you know if your hairdresser or barber is qualified? Have you ever had a bad experience with a hairdresser? Do you support regulation?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the CEO of the Hair Council, Sally Styles. All opinions expressed here are Sally’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Until recently I had always been reasonably satisfied with hairdressers I used. When my hairdresser retired I went elsewhere and was disappointed by the workmanship of another hairdresser. Then I found a young man who did a very good job but was very aggressive, waving his arms around for some reason I could not understand. It felt like he was pulling the hair out rather than cutting it. One of his colleagues manages to do as good a job without this nonsense.

Sorry, but I’m not keen on the Hair Council’s website. I cannot see anything warning consumers about the potential dangers of chemicals used in hairdressing. I appreciate that like other trade bodies it is mainly there to support those working in the industry but having advertising links does little to impress me.

I will continue to take my chances and if someone does a poor job they will not see me again. If the worst happens, my hair will grow again, and I’m far more concerned about having a good dentist and doctor.


I do not know how prevalent the practice is, but many local authorities have made byelaws making it an offence to operate a hairdressing or barber’s establishment without a licence and they carry out inspections to check that the arrangements are safe and that they satisfy health and environmental requirements. Maybe this only applies in metropolitan areas. It probably does not include any checks on the qualifications or competence of the practitioners.

There is no reason why the Hair Council or any other body cannot set up a registration scheme that requires hairdressers and barbers in membership to have a minimum qualification, together with a complaints procedure and a disciplinary code. There are hairdressing NVQ’s and plenty of training courses so the groundwork is there. It would probably have to be a voluntary scheme, although non-registration could have commercial implications as it is a highly competitive business and customers might be more likely to be drawn to the “approved” establishments. However, on the other hand, given the cut-throat (!) nature of the trade, there would probably be resistance on the part of firms [and especially solo practitioners] to paying an annual membership fee that would cover the high cost of regulating the industry. Most hairdressers in salons seem not to be employees but they rent a chair by the week and transfer to other premises as and when it suits them – frequently taking their “own” customers with them. Keeping an eye on these shifting sands would be quite daunting for any regulatory body.

Incidentally, plumbers are not required to be registered [unless they do gas plumbing] or to have any specific ulaifications. More to point, even people who work in the catering industry do not have to have any qualifications apart from a food hygiene certificate which is very basic and which even I could probably achieve without formal instruction.

I have no idea whether myexcellent Italian hairdresser has any formal qualifications. He has been practising for over forty-five years and has been looking after my mop very satisfactorily for over ten years. He has only just raised his prices for the first time in four years and he teaches the younger hairdressers who serve in his establishment how to do a good job, so even if he is not avialable I know I will still get a good haircut. It’s the only place I know where I can enjoy a good conversation about holidays that doesn’t waste any of my time [one of the other “chairs” is permanently set on the soccer channel so I try to avoid that one!].


I do think that every hairdresser should be operating under licence for the reasons you mention. Employees and customers deserve to know that shops of all types are operating in a safe and environmentally responsible way.


Neither the county nor district council in my area have any licensing scheme for hairdressers and nor does Norwich City Council in whose area there must be hundreds of establishments. It seems to be confined to conurbations and probably dates back to when there were some fairly unsavoury operations and activities taking place in such premises. I expect the making of byelaws is a fairly cumbersome legal procedure that smaller authorities do not have the resources to embark on, nor do they have large environmental health or trading standards services that can take on the inspection and enforcement functions. More likely is that they just don’t regard it as necessary for the reasons that J N has amply exemplified below.

Of course, if barbers went back to some of their more historical practices, or engaged in tattooing, body-piercing or acupuncture, then their premises would certainly need to be licensed. Some local councils don’t even license premises providing massage and other special treatments so hairdressing must be deemed a low risk activity where the biggest customer concern is not liking what they’ve paid a lot of money for.

J N says:
12 April 2015

Is there actual harm being done by feral unregulated hairdressers? The dental hygienists, chiropractors, podiatrists, taxi drivers and plumbers who are regulated are people who can do substantial harm to people or property, so regulation is reasonable.

A bad haircut is not a threat to people, property, or society. It’s not permanent. There is nothing stopping customers who are interested in qualifications from asking hairdressers what qualifications they have. It has never occurred to me to ask, because it makes no difference to me whether someone learned their skill from going to a college or watching Great-Aunt Susie cut hair in her kitchen and then practicing on their little brother.

If the various chemical treatments hairdressers do are causing actual harm, say, severe scalp burns that leave customers disfigured, or diseases being spread through combs, then I would be open to discussion of regulation. I believe hairdressing has been unregulated for hundreds of years. Where is the evidence of harm?

There is no point in regulating for the sake of regulating. Useless regulation makes it more difficult to run a business without providing benefit to the public.


Bad hair cuts have never killed anyone (we can all look at our old photos and laugh at the fact that we are the living proofs of this), but massive allergic reactions to hair dye have killed from time to time.

I’m not certain that being college or Auntie Susie-trained makes a difference if hairdressers don’t test customers for allergic reactions, which isn’t a difficult process that you don’t have to learn in college but does take a couple of days to complete. In my experience, it just isn’t carried out unless you ask for it yourself. Unfortunately there is evidence of harm caused by hair dye in many medical records, although deaths are rare.

What sort of regulation are we talking about, one that would include systematic and mandatory allergy tests before any hairdresser applied hair dye? What would the argument be against that if it avoided death, or at best a bad rash, or something in between such as a swollen face and completely closed eyelids? Also, it isn’t because you didn’t have an allergic reaction the last time that you won’t get one this time. And if I were a hairdresser maybe I would welcome the cover provided by such a regulation?


It’s rare that I disagree with you, but a restaurant does not test customers for nut allergies, which are better known than allergies to hair dyes, so is it reasonable to expect a hairdresser to test for allergies to hair dyes?

I think it would be appropriate for the hairdresser to inform the customer of known allergens and other possible risks of chemical treatments.


Here is a brief introduction to concerns about hair dyes: http://www.allergyuk.org/skin-allergy/reactions-to-hair-dye