Cosmetology and Infection Control: What You Need to Know

As a cosmetologist, infection control can never be far from your mind, as the responsibility for protecting yourself and your clients from a host of harmful, pathogenic bacteria rests on your shoulders.

Sure, it’s not the most pleasant topic covered during your cosmetology education testing, but it is critically important. After all, your health, the health of your clients, and the success of your future cosmetology career depend on it.

Here’s what you—and every cosmetology student—need to know about infection control in the salon environment:

Infection Control 101

We all understand the need for a medical or dental office to maintain sterile equipment and supplies, yet many of us are unaware that salon owners and cosmetologists must also meet the same standards. A clean and sanitary salon, and disinfected tools not only safeguard you and your clients but also ensures compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.

Infectious material transferred from one person to another can result in skin infections and blood poisoning, and so can unsanitary implements, likes combs, nail files, and shears. This is because implements act as a vehicle, allowing pathogenic organisms, like microbes and germs, to be transmitted between people. Although much of the bacteria found on surfaces are benign, there are a number of organisms that have the potential to wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims:

  • Staphylococci: Presence in skin abscesses, pustules, and boils
  • Streptococci: Found in blood poisoning
  • Diplococci: Cause pneumonia
  • Gonococci: Cause gonorrhea
  • Meningococci: Cause meningitis
  • Bacilli: Produce such diseases as tetanus, influenza, diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis

These types of bacteria can—and do—easily enter the body a number of ways: through the mouth by food, liquids or items placed in the mouth; through the nose and mouth when breathing; through the eyes by dirty hands or items like unclean contact lenses; and through breaks or wounds in the skin.

Cosmetology and Infection Control: What Cosmetology Students Need to Know

Chemical agents like liquid disinfectants remain the most common (and arguably the most practical) method of infection control in salons. Antiseptic solutions may be used in many instances, but they are not as strong as disinfectant solutions. Antiseptics are often chosen over disinfectants when used on the skin.

Common antiseptics used in a salon environment include:

  • Alcohol: 50 to 60 percent solution when used on the skin
  • Tincture of iodine: 2 percent serves as a good skin antiseptic
  • Hydrogen peroxide: 3 to 5 percent solution used for minor wounds

Disinfectants are much stronger; therefore, they are used to destroy bacteria and prevent their multiplication. Many salons use germicides—chemical agents designed to kill bacteria.

Because of the strength of germicides, it is advised not to use these agents when placed on the skin. The most commonly used germicides in salon environments come with brand names like Barbicide, Lucas-Cide, and Mar-V-Cide.

Disinfecting combs and brushes usually requires them to be submerged in a soapy water solution,  10 percent of which would be formalin, ammonia or another approved disinfectant. Brushes and combs must be immersed for about 20 minutes and then rinsed with water. Metallic implements, such as shears, can be cleaned using a wet disinfectant (25 percent formalin or other type of disinfectant).

Ammonium compounds are also effective disinfectants, with a 1:1000 parts solution commonly used to disinfect implements. Most immersion times range between 2 and 5 minutes, depending on the strength of the solution.

All EPA-registered liquid disinfectants (Learn more about EPA-registered disinfectants):

  • Must have the words “bacterial, fungicidal, and virucidal” on the label
  • Must be mixed, used, stored, and disposed of according to manufacturer’s label instructions
  • Must be prepared fresh every day and replaced immediately when the solution becomes visibly contaminated
  • Are ineffective when proper cleaning is not performed before use
  • Require complete immersion of the tool for at least 10 minutes

Other appropriate salon disinfectants include:

  • 10 percent bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water)
  • Isopropyl alcohol – 70-90 percent solution
  • Ethyl alcohol – 70-90 percent solution

Infection Control Protocols and Your State’s Administrative Code

Your state regulatory agencies, such as the Board of Cosmetology and Board of Health, and federal agencies, such as OSHA and the EPA, protect the public’s health within a salon setting through the implementation of specific laws and regulations. Further, you may be subject to additional regulations regarding infection control protocols through your local jurisdiction. You must be familiar with these regulations at all times.

For example, according to the Tennessee State Board of Cosmetology, salons in Tennessee must have at least one wet disinfectant, one ultraviolet sanitizer, and one dry disinfectant with a fumigant or sanitary compartment. Therefore, Tennessee cosmetologists must be trained to use all three of these infection control methods.

Similarly, in Washington State, cosmetologists are required to clean and disinfect all tools and implements after each client. Approved methods of infection control include complete immersion or spray with an EPA-registered disinfectant solution; a steam sterilizer registered and listed with the FDA; or a dry heat sterilizer, registered and listed with the FDA. Further, cosmetologists must keep all cleaned and disinfected tools and implements in a closed container or UV sterilizer.

Cosmetology programs include in-depth training in sanitation, disinfection and infection control. Your state regulatory agency will test your knowledge of infection control procedures through a written and/or practical examination. You may also be required to take and pass a state jurisprudence examination related to specific state laws and regulations.

For example, cosmetology graduates in Florida are required to take and pass a two-part examination consisting of a written theory examination and written clinical examination. The written theory examination includes a section on general safety and sanitation procedures that accounts for 34 percent of the exam content.

Likewise, the California National Cosmetology Written Examination and the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology written examination (used in 29 states) tests a candidate’s knowledge of:

  • Infection control
  • Bacteria/viruses/parasites
  • Sanitation
  • Disinfection
  • Sterilization
  • Federal regulations (OSHA guidelines, EPA, FDA, Universal Precautions)

Many states also require cosmetologists to complete continuing education related to infection control as a condition of license renewal. For example, in Texas, cosmetologists must complete at least four hours of continuing education during each licensure cycle, one hour of which must be in a topic related to infection control.

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