Seven infections you can contract from a barber’s

No doubt, one of the most visited places ever by men, as well as some women, is a barber’s. Depending on the type of hairstyle people keep, some visit a barber’s monthly, some weekly, some twice a week and some daily to have a haircut.

Although a barber’s is supposed to be a safe place to cut and treat your hair, it could also be a nasty, secret germ factory. You may go there germ-free and return with an infection or infections.

Perhaps, in the past, the only disease some people thought they could contract from a barber’s is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus through an infected clipper, but there are other potential infections one can get from a barber’s.

Some experts say that ideally, if you visit a barber’s and you discover that your barber or a customer they are attending to has a skin infection, then you should stay away from that barber’s and go to another to have your haircut. (Note that skin infections are easily noticeable. They are usually red, hot and swollen.)

Apart from a barber having a skin infection, experts also advise to stay away from a barber or a customer with a respiratory disease such as cough and sneezes. But if you don’t mind spending some money to treat yourself in case you catch an infection, you may decide to stay.

Meanwhile, the same rule applies to you. If you have a skin infection or flu, be empathetic to others and don’t visit a barber’s until you treat yourself. When you do this, you may be helping other people’s husbands, wives, children, or friends from contracting an infection.

Better still, if you can afford a home service with your own clipper and other instruments, don’t hesitate to do so.

In normal circumstances, preventing infection and minimising the risk of an injury at a barber’s should be part of every barber’s training.

But since this may not usually be the case, being a customer, you have to make inquiries whether your barber is fully licensed and has a good reputation.

If you feel uncomfortable choosing a barber, don’t be afraid to ask questions like: how long have they been cutting hair? Where did they learn the vocation? What are their procedures to prevent infection?

After all is said and done, the following are seven infections you can contract from a barber’s.

One of the infections one can get from a barber is the barber’s itch. It is a form of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) that develops in the beard area or scalp after you are infected by an unsterilised instrument.

According to a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, United States, Dr Joshua Zeichner, a barber’s itch occurs when the bacteria invade the hair follicles, leading to red bumps and pus pimples that may be itchy.

“If you have ever seen your barber dip their comb or a razor in a liquid solution, that is a good sign that they are properly sterilising their tools. If they don’t, you can get the barber’s itch,” Zeichner told menshealth.com.

The dermatologist added that in mild cases, a barber’s itch could be treated effectively with a topical antibiotic, while in more severe cases, it might require oral antibiotic treatment.

Zeichner described impetigo as a bacterial infection that is caused mainly by staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria.

He said, “While it is more common among younger children, you can get it at pretty much any age, and it is most commonly spread via skin-to-skin contact, clothing, or towels (something to keep in mind if you’re getting your hair washed at a barber’s).

“Patients develop yellow or honey-coloured crusts (on their skin). It is important to treat because it is highly contagious. Fortunately, it is usually easily treatable with a topical antibiotic ointment.”

According to Zeichner, tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp that can take the shape of a ringworm (red patch with scale around the perimeter) or it can look like a red flakey itchy patch.

He said, “At the barber’s, tinea capitis can spread via poorly sanitised combs or towels and in severe cases, it can lead to permanent scarring and hair loss.

“Tinea capitis often needs to be treated with an oral antifungal medication. The fungus penetrates deep into the hair follicles, so it may be difficult to treat with topical medications alone.”

According to a Lagos-based dermatologist, Mrs Chioma Okere, folliculitis is the inflammation of the hair follicle, mostly caused by bacterial infection.

“Folliculitis looks like a tiny white pimple and it is usually caused by staphylococcus bacteria, which can be transmitted through improperly sanitised combs, scissos, or razors,” she said.

Okere said like the barber’s itch, folliculitis could also cause itch.

Okere told Saturday PUNCH that while it was rare to get lice from a regular wash and cut, the possibility of contracting it still remains, adding that it was possible to be infected with lice from a comb used by someone who had the infection.

She said, “It is common in the scalp, but it also can occur in the beard. The most common symptom is significant itching in the affected area. In addition to the adult louse, it is common to find nits, which are eggs, in the hair as well.

“There are a variety of ways to treat lice, the most common of which is to apply a topical anti-lice medication to the hair to kill the infection. You also may need to have individual nits removed from the hair as well.”

You might have probably been thinking that the only way one can contract tetanus is when you step on a rusty nail. But the same can happen if your hair is cut with rusted barber tools.

According to Zeichner, tetanus is a bacterial infection that usually occurs after breaks in the skin.

“Many people often think one can get tetanus only from bacteria in the soil, but it can also be acquired from unclean rusted instruments,” he said.

If you’re getting wax while having manscaping (the trimming or removal of hair from a man’s face or body), this may be something to be wary of.

Zeichner said there had been incidents of transmission of herpes or bacterial infections through waxing. He cautioned against using a waxer that had been used on someone else.

The good news is that most of the infections above can be treated, although it is better to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Be that as it may, below are some tips on staying safe while at a barber’s:

Did you know the name of the blue liquid that some barbers dip combs in? It is called barbicide and it is essential for disinfecting tools. It is a disinfectant solution used by barbers and cosmetologists for sanitising grooming tools such as combs and hair-cutting shears.

According to Zeichner, the active ingredient in barbicide is called alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, which is an effective element for killing bacteria, fungi and viruses.

He advised ensuring that all the instruments at a barber’s are dipped into the solution before being used on one.

He said, “Some salons, spas, and barber’s may also have autoclaves or machines that sterilise instruments using high-pressure steam.

“Don’t be shy about asking if the straight blades are autoclaved or if they use an individual new blade each time – especially if you’re getting a shave.”

Zeichner advised that before going to a barber’s for a haircut, always ensure that you check your skin. If you have open cuts or wounds on your skin, cancel your appointment. The issue is you are at risk of developing an infection if the barber uses an infected tool on those particular spots on your skin.

Apparently, it is not only you who should not have open cuts or wounds when visiting the barber’s. Your barber is also not allowed to work on you if they have open cuts or wounds.

Zeichner said, “If your barber too has any open cuts or wounds on their skin, especially their hands, they could spread infections to you.”

This may go without saying, but if the barber looks dirty, it probably is and there is no crime in telling a barber why you cannot patronise them.

Zeichner said, “Unclean areas, hair clippings, rusty instruments, visible blood stains and stained towels are all red flags.”

A Lagos-based dermatologist, Mrs Bose Ojo, also warned against getting too familiar with a particular barber, especially if they are not paying attention to cleanliness.

She said, “Sometimes, some people do not want to offend a barber who they have been used to, even when they see all the red flags. It should not be so. I think your safety should be of utmost concern.

“If you want to help your barber, tell them they need to pay attention to cleanliness and get newer instruments if the ones they are using are old and rusty.”

The Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section of the Office of Public Health, Louisiana, US, recommended visiting a barber’s where there are large spaces between separating chairs.

The organisation said in an article titled, ‘Infection control at barbershops,’ that large spaces could help prevent the spread of infections quickly.

It stated, “Particularly to prevent droplet transmission, it is useful to have workstations well spaced out. Large droplets travel no further than three feet. Separating chairs would help reduce the transmission from one customer to another.”

Also advising barbers, the organisation stated, “When using hairdryers, avoid pointing the flow of hair towards you or another customer to avoid the spread of airborne infections.”