Hairdressers, barbers and other salon workers perform a variety of services, ranging from haircuts and dye jobs to manicures and cosmetology services. These services can put them in contact with hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, ammonia, toluene and even asbestos fibers. Exposure to asbestos can lead to several dangerous diagnoses, including malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2016 more than 673,000 people were employed as barbers, hairdressers or cosmetologists in the United States, and half of them were self-employed. For many of these workers, the threat of coming into contact with asbestos dust is low, but some hairdressers work in salons that utilize older products that could contain dangerous levels of the toxin.
How Are Hairdressers at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Until the late 1970s, both commercial and home hand-held hair dryers contained asbestos. Hooded hair dryers often contained asbestos linings near the heating element to serve as a heat shield, and the mineral was similarly used in home hair dryers.
During this time period, the vast majority of hair dryers used contained asbestos, including products made by 11 major manufacturers. These companies generated an estimated 90% of all hair dryer sales each year, meaning millions of people were potentially exposing themselves to airborne asbestos fibers generated by their hair dryer’s blower. With such high asbestos usage, hair stylists, barbers and others in the industry who used these products could face occupational exposure, as their faces were likely in close proximity to the air generated by the hair dryers.
- Estheticians/Skincare specialists
In 1979, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health published a study that tested 30 hair dryers, including commercial and personal ones, to determine how much asbestos was released during use. The results ranged from 0 to .11 structures/cm3, which is above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible exposure limit. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit is only .1 fibers/cm3 over an eight-hour time-weighted average.
Also in 1979, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) accepted voluntary corrective actions from the 11 manufacturers to remove the asbestos from their products or issue refunds to people who bought the items. While most of the companies suggested the hair dryers did not pose a health hazard, several companies had already stopped producing asbestos-containing products years before. Regardless of their responses to the CPSC, the following manufacturers all used asbestos in their hair dryers at one time.
- Conair Corp.
- General Electric Co.
- Gillette Co.
- J.C. Penney Co.
- Korvettes, Inc.
- Montgomery Ward
- Norelco (North American Philips Corp.)
- Schick, Inc.
- Scovill Manufacturing Corp. (Hamilton Beach, Dominion)
- Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Dozens of hair dryer models made by the manufacturers above have been known to contain asbestos, and some models may still be in use today. Among them include several models of the Hand Held Pro Pistol made by General Electric, three Styler Dryer models manufactured by Norelco, and certain Professionaire products made by Sunbeam.
Style Stream 070, Pistol Power 0991, Dial 'N Dry 140V, Pro Style 065, Jr. Pro 066, and Thermo Styler 067.
Dominion Division of Scovill Manufacturing
3806Y Portable Hair Dryer, 3806P Portable Hair Dryer, 1841 Comb & Dry Hair Dresser, 3840 1000 Watt Gun Type Hair Dryer and 3850 Comb & Dry Hair Brush.
General Electric Company
Hand Held Pro Pistol (PRO-l/5105-013-Power Pro), Pro Pistol (PRO-2/5108-005-Super Pro), Pro Pistol (PRO-3/5107-01l-Pistol Pro), Pro Pistol (PRO-4/5109-00l-Pro Dryer), Pro Pistol (PRO-5/5110-013-Power Pro), Pro Pistol (any PRO-6-Super Pro Dryer), Pro Pistol (PRO-10/5115-013-Power Turbo), Pro Pistol (**PRO-11/5116-005-Super Turbo), Power Brush (PB-l/5113-005-Power Brush), Styling Dryer (SD-112-Styling Dryer), Styling Dryer (SD-4/5101-013-Styling Dryer), Styling Comb (STC-l/lA-Styling Comb) and Styling Comb (STC-2-Mist Styling Comb).
The Gillette Company
Max THD-2, Max Plus THD-2A, Max for Men HD-3, Max HD-4, Supermax HD-5, and Maxhatter AD-6 Bonnet Dryer.
Hamilton Beach Division of Scovill Manufacturing
458 Portable Hair Dryer with Mist Groomer attachment, 422 portable version of 479, 423 Groomer III Englishtown, 480 Pro 1200 Watt Hair Dryer, 434B Female Groomer with case, 433 Male Groomer with case, 432 Hot Comb, 479 Deluxe Blower Styler, and 425 Blower Styler.
064-1050A 1000 watt pro dryer, 064-1121 1000 watt rotary styler dryer, 064-1145 and 064-1146 1200 watt pro dryer, 064-1180 1400 watt pro dryer, 064-1190 1200 watt adjustable pro dryer, 064-1186 1200 watt pro dryer, 1200 adjustable pro dryer, 1210 Treasury and the 1213 Thrift model.
HA 22M-1200 Watt Pro Dryer, HA 2214-1400 Watt, HA 1214-1400 Watt, Model 23A - 1000 Watt Curl Brush Dryer, and Model 7047 - 1000 Watt Compact Hair Dryer.
Montgomery Ward & Company
Last five digits of model numbers 19361 all units, 19363 all units, 19367 (some have; some don't), 19368 (some have; some don't), 19369 all units, 19373 all units, 19374 all units, and 19375 all units.
HB 1700 (black), HP 2600 (green), HP 3600 (tan), and HP 3601 (tan).
North American Philips Corporation
HB-1700 Norelco 1000 (Black color), HB-2600 Styler Dryer (Green color), HB-3600 Styler Dryer (Tan color), HB-3601 Styler Dryer (Tan color), and HC-1107 Hot Comb (Brown color).
PD-1001, PD-1001-A and PD-1201.
Sears, Roebuck & Co.
These are raised numbers permanently molded into the pistol grip of these dryers - 253.6314, 253.6369, 253.6385, 253.8700, 253.8714, 253.8736, 253.8754, 253.8782, 253.8783, 253.6374, 253.6377, 253.8704, 320.6350, and 320.8706.
Northern Model 1821 (700 Watt professional dryer), Northern Model 320.6350 (700 Watt professional dryer), Northern Model 320.8706 (700 watt professional dryer), Oster Model 202 Air Jet Hair Dryer, Oster 301 Styling Dryer, Oster 302 Blo-Wave Hair Dryer, Sunbeam D-CW Professionaire, 52-9C Professionaire, 52-9K Professionaire, 52-9H Professionaire, 52-9P Professionaire, 52-125 Professionaire, and 52-9R Professionaire.
Hair dryers sold today don’t contain asbestos, but some hair stylists and other salon workers may still be using older models while working or for personal use. In 1980, the New York Times published an article estimating that of the 18 million hair dryers impacted by the voluntary recalls issued the prior year, only about three million were returned.
Asbestos released by these products has proven dangerous for some hairdressers and stylists. The Lombardy Mesothelioma Registry in Italy reported 30 cases of mesothelioma found in hairdressers from 2000 – 2009 and identified 17 of those diagnoses could be potentially linked to using asbestos-containing hair dryers.
Not only are those who use the asbestos-containing hair dryers at risk of occupational asbestos exposure, there is an additional risk for secondhand exposure. Fibers from the products could come home on the skin, hair and clothing of workers who frequently use the dryers, exposing their loved ones to the toxic mineral.
Preventing Asbestos Exposure
One way to prevent further exposure to asbestos is to remove older products that may be damaged or past their usable age from salons and the home. Products made today are much safer to use because they do not contain any asbestos. It’s also encouraged that salons and similar businesses take care to reduce all possible exposure risks, including those associated with asbestos:
- Make sure all tools and equipment are in good working order and are properly cleaned after each use.
- Ensure proper ventilation in areas where employees may come into contain with chemicals or fumes and make efforts to use safer alternatives when possible.
- When cleaning spills or handling chemicals, wear proper personal protective equipment like gloves, eye protection and aprons.
Although the risk of asbestos exposure is much lower today than it was 40 years ago, the mineral still poses a significant health threat for those using old equipment. Additionally, asbestos-related diseases have latency periods of 10 – 50 years, so those who may have suffered occupational exposure to the toxic fibers while working could still be in danger of developing a disease.
Author: Tara Strand
Senior Content WriterRead about Tara
Reviewer: Jennifer R. Lucarelli
Lawyer for Mesothelioma Victims and Their FamiliesRead about Jennifer
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Hairdresser. Updated January 2015.
Dahlgren J, Talbott P. Case report: peritoneal mesothelioma from asbestos in hairdryers. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. January 2015; 21(1):1-4. doi: 10.1179%2F2049396714Y.0000000092
Environmental Working Group. Asbestos: Think again: Millions were exposed – were you? March 2004.
Geraci CL, Baron PA, et al. Testing of hair dryers for asbestos emissions. September 1979:1-59.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Asbestos. Updated January 2014.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hair Salons: Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products.
ScienceBlogs. March 1979 Washington Post: “Some Hair Dryers Give Off Asbestos.” February 2015.
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC Accepts Corrective Actions From Major Hair Dryer Companies. May 1979.
United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Barbers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists. Updated April 2018.