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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


Looks like people should be discouraged from using hair dye. Like a lot of cosmetic procedures that the fashion and beauty business [and its associated media] promotes and profits from there are serious potential risks and possible long-term consequences. ‘Celebrities’ might be able to afford to have corrective treatment [the evidence is that it doesn’t last a lifetime] but impressionable people are at risk from the commercialisation of our appearance. This is a societal problem that won’t be reversed by the Hair Council’s suggestion – in fact, the opposite could occur.


Here is a model risk assessment from the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/hairdressers.pdf

This includes the following point: “Staff to perform skin allergy tests as per manufacturers’ instructions 48 hours before treatment.”

I must apologise to Sophie for saying that we cannot expect a hairdresser to do this. It occurs to me that this may be a recommendation for colourants designed for home use.

Off topic, but I am disappointed that the HSE document makes no mention of PAT testing of plug-in electrical items, only routine visual inspection.


That’s an interesting document. I should be surprised if many hairdressing establishments have such comprehensive documented risk assessments and the example is only a ‘baseline’ – i.e. firms should dilgently consider all risks and potential hazards specific to their operations and assess accordingly. Obviously a copy should be made available for all staff and, ideally, they should participate in its composition.

On colouring and related treatments, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect the customer to be aware of their own sensitivity to different applications. In many cases it will be impractical for an allergy test to be carried out by the salon two days or more before the hairdressing appointment; indeed, I am sure many requests for colour treatment are spur-of-the-moment decisions or in response to suggestions from the hairdresser [product placement features heavily in salon presentation I have noticed]. From my fairly limited perusal of the women’s magazines that come into our house I would say that they are quite responsible in stating the risks of different treatments in their editorial or advisory articles. Whether readers take much notice is another matter and the magazines are stuffed with glamorous adverts for hair products. What they never say, of course, is “you probably look really good just as you are”.

On electrical safety, the omission of reference to the need for portable appliance testing is a serious deficiency in the model risk assessment. A specific concern with hairdressing premises is that electrical sockets are usually very close to taps and sinks.

I notice from its website that the Hair Council was set up by Act of Parliament in 1964 and that the Council enables hairdressers to apply to become State Registered. It continues “while state registration is mandatory for doctors, nurses, dentists and several other professions, hairdressers can register voluntarily”. I must say this is the first time I have heard of “state registered hairdressers” or “state registered barbers”. I also notice that the website has a handy “find an SRH” feature that pinpoints those individuals who are state registered and gives their practising address details. At one of the salons my wife has used recently, all the hairdressers are state registered and the same applies at their other branches, yet this does not seem to be well publicised. She rarely goes to the same establishment more than three times as she usually becomes dissatisfied with the cutting and styling expertise. I expect for many customers, convenience and price are the key criteria for selecting a hairdresser and recommendations from family and friends.


As you say, John, the risk assessments have to cover the relevant operations. If your shop did not currently offer hair colouring but might do so in future it would be worth covering that in risk assessments. Employees should sign to confirm that they have read and will comply with the provisions of the risk assessments, which should be reviewed annually. Many volunteers operate in the same way, and I am currently revising risk assessments for the main volunteer activity of a charity I work for. 🙁 I make the risk assessments, insurance documents and volunteers’ training certificates available for anyone to inspect. It’s a pity that my previous hairdresser has retired because I don’t think he would have minded telling me how he coped with safety and other legal matters.

I’ve often noticed how near mains sockets are to taps and sinks in hairdressers’ shops. In a UK domestic bathroom, all that is allowed is a low current shaver socket protected by an isolation transformer.


Here is an article on allergies to hair dyes, in The Hairdresser magazine. See page 10: http://www.haircouncil.org.uk/magazine/pdf/hdressr51.pdf


I would suggest that anyone applying chemical treatments should be properly trained in their use, with a formal assessment and certificate to show competency, as they can cause severe damage to hair and skin. However I would have thought that the hairdresser’s insurance would require them to take such precautions. But I’m not in favour of regulation. What would happen to all those who visit your home to give a short back and sides? I favour free enterprise, but done responsibly.


I agree with appropriate training and assessment, to protect both the staff and the public. As someone pops in for a trim periodically, I assume that the risks are negligible.

One of the main reasons we have legislation to to protect the public is that free enterprise has a long-standing reputation for lack of responsibility.


The last thing we want in the hair styling business is the heavy hand of government. I would not be in favour of statutory regulation or even a compulsory registration scheme. It implies a bureaucracy that would become a burden on the industry reflected in the prices charged to customers for very little obvious benefit. If local authorities were empowered to do it, and to charge a fee to ensure it was not subsidised by council tax-payers, I could imagine the annual fee for inspection, verification of qualifications, enforcement, certification, and administration could be in the hundreds of pounds. The government has reduced the non-domestic rates for small businesses because they claimed to be suffering badly in the recession and our high streets were losing many of heir traditional shops; I cannot believe hairdressers would welcome another overhead of this kind and all its attendant impositions. Sally Styles says that hairdressers and barbers are the backbone of our high streets so she should be careful what she wishes for.

If such an idea gained momentum, should barbers who generally only do men’s haircuts and the occasional wet shave have to be regulated to the same extent as hairdressing salons that carry out dyeing, bleaching and colouring procedures? In any case, are the products used for such treatments not the same as those available to buy over the counter for people to use at home? Indeed there is probably more risk of a mishap by somebody doing their own hair treatment through a misuse or over-use of the product. People blow-dry their own hair everyday in their own homes and I suspect there are very few accidents.

The real skill in hairdressing is in cutting to a style; regulation won’t improve the results. Salons that employ fully-trained hairdressers with good cutting skills can advertise the fact on their front windows [I am surprised they don’t]. One salon in Norwich calls itself the ‘Crop Shop’ – low prices, no appointments, always busy; there’s a market for that, so why try to disrupt it? I believe customers, especially women, are pretty good at sussing out the best places to get their hair done at the price level and to the style they desire.

The hairdressing trade already has to comply with the Health & Safety at Work etc Act [and all its derivatives], and with a general duty of care and the use of reasonable skill and competence [due to become enshrined in the new Consumer Rights Act from October 2015]. I cannot see what regulation would add to consumer protection. Sally believes it is necessary “to drive out cowboys” from the industry. I am not convinced there are many or that it wouldn’t actually stop the dedicated, mature and highly-experienced hairdressers from earning a decent living and giving customers the kind of supportive service that they want.

I hope this idea falls to the floor and is swept up with all the other clippings


Is this eleven days late in publication?

At my age a quick razor blade comb suffices to trim my few remaining greys.


I think there is such a difference between barbers and hairdressers as to make the lumping them together fundamentally flawed. My gut reaction is that I do not want another layer of bureaucracy surrounding what is fundamentally a very simple operation.

The question of hairdressers offering other services involving chemicals and bleaches may seem potentially more risky but whether it is a worth getting excited about it seems moot.

I can certainly recommend that there be a Trading Standards central organisation to look at some of the hocus-pocus treatments offered at some hairdressers [and at rehab places]. However arguably that like a good placebo if people feel better for watching water around their feet go rusty so be it.

One does not wish to sound cynical about the Hair Council but as it does not appear to have any membership details on its site one wonders what desire exists in the industry for regulation.

I am aware that in the US States they do have restrictions on who can operate in salons to the extent a hair extension specialist was not allowed to practice as she had not done all the modules relating to other treatments to be registered to work. AFAIR she came from California and was forbidden from working in Arizona. This may seem extreme but it is an example of regulation.


I expect the trade body, the National Hairdressers Federation, is more relevant to firms than the Hair Council. It’s aim is “to help members build successful, profitable and sustainable businesses. We do that by providing membership services including 24/7 access to free employment law advice, free employment contracts, Apprenticeship contracts and chair renting agreements, a packed programme of events, competitions and artistic activities, discounts and savings as well as campaigning on issues which affect our members and their businesses such as the National Minimum Wage, the high street, tax and VAT, Apprenticeship standards and funding.” It can even get music performance liences for its members at discounted rates!

Rochelle says:
30 October 2016

Being regulated makes no difference, it’s all down to that individual who is standing there doing your hair, how skilled and bothered they are about doing a good job, also remember us hairdressers stand sometimes 12 hour day, work while sick as we r self employed , so sound like some customers want a hairdressing robot!!! Clients don’t have a clue what stress and pressure this job is like , trying to earn a living when customers don’t want to pay for a skill, that in my opinion is up there with all much more highly paid traded, people assume us hairdresser are thick as two short planks,


You are working with some potentially dangerous chemicals and regulation is vital.

Beryl says:
31 October 2016

No………… having had more than one disastrous hairdressing experience in the past I made a decision to cut my own hair years ago and still continue to do so. I did visit a local hairdresser on one occasion when I fell and broke my shoulder and was charged a pound a minute for the privilege. I never returned.


Here is advice from Which? for anyone who is unhappy with the services of a hairdresser: http://local.which.co.uk/advice/haircut_hairdressing_bad_how_to_complain_hairdresser

It would be useful to have this advice on the website of the Hair Council.

Adele says:
14 May 2015

Does anyone know a private hairdresser in the Penryn/Falmouth in Cornwall That they could recommend?
Many thanks.


ALC says:
27 July 2015

When finding a new hairdresser, rather than ask what their qualifications are, ask how much experience they have had, especially if you are having any kind of chemical treatment. I done my training abroad. After a hundred or so hours of theory, I put in thousands of hours of hands on training all day, every day for almost 2 years but hold no qualifications in this country. I have, in the past worked in both women’s salons and barber shops alike, and been a manager in both. My friend on the other hand, done a night course for a year, two evenings a week, worked on training heads and a handful of models and is fully qualified in the UK. She has no experience and has never even rolled a perm. Some of the people I have interviewed for jobs who were ‘qualified’ were absolutely awful at cutting. And although I realise we all have to start somewhere, A piece of paper doesn’t always mean they are good or capable of the procedure you want, it means they know the basics and that’s about it. Go by recommendation, ask to see a portfolio of work, go by word of mouth. A good reputation goes a long way.

Rochelle says:
30 October 2016

Recommendations r the best advertisement, and if a hairdresser thats been cutting hair long enough is not fully booked day after day, week after week, then customers ASK yourself why??????

Julie says:
16 December 2015

I share this experience as it show how bad people attitudes are out there generally and in the ‘service sector-where they can never be wronged when they are at fault! If I was to relate all the bad experiences I encounter out there,I wouldn’t have the time of day- but it does get you down
I’ve just had a bad experience at one of hairdressers in a town in North Wales who didn’t cut layers in my hair yesterday and charged me £15. I called into another hairdresser prior for an opinion and she also noted they had not cut my hair properly.

The manager abusively shut the door on me and falsely accused me of being rude and I was undeservedly very polite towards her when explaining and showing her my hair which had not been cut/ layered, which I had requested and you shouldn’t even have to ask if it’s a good quality hairdresser. I showed them the layers that hadn’t been cut and she just lyingly said she did cut layers when she evidently had not.
However the manager and other staff just (prejudicially) kept making excuses for her and even outrageously said I shouldn’t have been talking about hair color, which was nothing to do with her associate’s incompetence in not cutting my hair professionally. I had only explained about the fact I would be colouring my own hair with a quality branded packet shortly rather than having highlights, and of her own accord she showed me a sample, but pointed out the wrong colour which was a very dark black after she cut a bit off my fringe and the ends of the back, and that is why she was so quick. I observed that she did not cut all my layers as a good hairdresser has done for me at other hairdressers and it not easy to find a good hairdresser.

I was treat with much disdain from all the staff right from the start and I took my voice recorder as I knew what their disposition would be like, with them being nasty and trying to blame me for their shoddy service and turning their noses up at me. I wasn’t going to bother going back to explain, but I will have to pay again now to get my hair cut and see if I can seek a good quality one in another town which I will have to pay extra for bus fares.

Rochelle says:
30 October 2016

Why did you not say anything about the haircut before paying and leaving the Salon ?

Rochelle says:
30 October 2016

A lot of these comments back my blood boil!!! You all want to try being a hairdresser!!!!! You wouldn’t last one day . Clients get a skin test in my salon always before a chemical service but if the client had a reaction and did not tell me how is that my fault, you would not believe the lenghs that customers would go to for a colour. I’ve even been asked to apply shop bought colours on before obviously this would invalidate my salon insurance , so does applying chemicals to client with out an incompatibility test or consensus form. Just one thing about getting a bad haircut what do people expect if they just go any old where to get there hair cut, a good hairdresser is worth there weight in gold and it’s about time clients treat us skilled ones with more respect! I.e. Booking appointments in advance , and loyalty. And if u can get fitted in at the drop of a hat that should say it all if a hairdresser has availability!!!!!!!!!

Susan says:
14 December 2016

I have had problems with my hair after the last two haircuts, which were bad to say the least, I got my money back from the so called professionals, finding a good hairdresser is getting to be harder than ever the reviews on quite a few of my local salons are far from inspiring, and I am not alone, the hair council gives the public no constructive help on anything anyway.


Having read these comments, I felt I needed to share my experience. I live in London where there are hundreds if not thousands of salons. I have yet to find one I’d be willing to go back to if I don’t want to pay over £100 for a cut. The fact that hairdressers in the UK don’t need any qualification is something I have suspected for a long time. I can tell in the first few seconds if the hairdresser has had training or not, just by the way they approach the job and then the time they take to complete it. The way they divide the hair for cutting or when they just randomly grab strands of your hair and start cutting etc. I always end up with a style I did not ask for, even when I brought pictures. I find it hard to believe that “the vast majority of hairdressers and barbers in the UK possess the skills and training to undertake these tasks professionally”. I used to travel abroad for work and had my haircuts done in Brussels. The experience could not be more different . I never needed appontments, went to high-street salons and never paid more than £25-30 for a perfect, stylish, professional haircut done very efficiently in less than 20 minutes. These hairdressers simply knew what they were doing unlike the ones in London. I now cut my own hair (yes, it can be done, look on Youtube) and only occasionally have the back sorted out or trimmed. It’s saved me hundreds of pounds with the result not much worse than visiting a salon. I also used to be overcharged. E.g. when booking a discounted standby appointment, I was charged 50% , but of a senior stylist’s price which she clearly wasn’t. When they make a mistake cutting your hair, they can always style it so you don’t notice until you wash your hair again and try to style it yourself. And this is one of the reasons why I hadn’t complained. We are all too shy and polite to complain and I was always so frustrated and disappointed that I couldn’t wait to leave and never come back again.

Latoya says:
2 May 2017

The qualified hairdressers are crap…plain and simple.

Hairdressing is a born talent Not a brought skill


I would agree Latoya, hairdressing is a talent you are either born with or you try hard to develop . I am lucky I have an excellent mens hairdressing shop using all the old methods and puts complete concentration and style into every cut, even shaving your eyebrows, shaving your ear hair , a first class job . One apprentice male lasted a year but packed up because he wasnt being paid what his wife thought he should be paid , never realizing that its a long term apprenticeship . The owner runs a college of hairdressing and just to show I am even handed in my criticism of males/females the colleges top apprentice was a female and so she got a job at his shop . I have to say she is EXCELLENT not cutting hair from a female point of view -ie-get it done quick and then onto REAL hair cutting for women which I found in many “unisex hairdressers ” . No this female thinks like a male and understands how men think and is very easy to talk to , feel at ease with and best of all her hair cutting is about as good as her boss . so there ! I am praising a female to the sky,s .
[Sorry, Duncan. Your comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Al1ce says:
10 June 2017

It’s a disgrace,I took my son to a barbers the guy was Asian worked for himself, I was quite nervous because he was telling me never to take him to an English barbers again an he was cutting his hair in an unusual way, then decided to set fire to my son’s hair, and burnt him, IV heard of this technique but not done that way, he didn’t even ask or warn, just did it, I reported him to the council who said there is no regulation to take action only to ask him to to go over his risk factors, u should of seen his hair I had to take him to another barber to fix it, and he was given an antibiotic cream for his scalp , I can’t believe he can get away with it.


Alice -Nor should he, anybody setting fire to a young boy/girls hair should be arrested and charged , see a lawyer, I can guess why the council did nothing but does that mean you can get away with murder if you want ? Its physical assault .

K kara says:
3 February 2018

A hair salon I know is advertising the that a ember if there’s there staff I see a full year qualified colour technician , when in fact she isn’t at all, it’s wrong to be doing this as for a customer it said very misleading , what can be done ??