Be Sensitive to Skincare Sensitivity in Salons & Spas

Blue summer skies are a welcome sight for salon and spa staff, and not just because they’re happy to see the sun. The return of warm weather often leads to increased customer volume, as more and more people decide they want a wax, facial or pedicure before hitting the beach or road for a vacation.

While the increased business is great for salon owners, estheticians and their colleagues, the warm weather also heats up the potential risks of some skincare products.

Some of the products used in beauty and skincare services are commonly thought to cause burns and irritation. These include certain beauty products containing chemicals such as retinol, AHAs, or hydroquinone, which may increase photosensitivity. This increased sensitivity and exposure to the sun can lead to skin damage, which (as dermatologists remind all of us) can even contribute to cancer.

Though we are not experts in skincare chemistry, we have seen claims that attest to the power of acids and other products. For example, one cosmetics manufacturer had a claim stemming from burns a customer received after using one of the company’s serums. Despite package warnings, the customer used the product without sunscreen and spent time in the sun.

In a salon or spa setting, it can be worthwhile to educate employees and customers in how skin care products increase photosensitivity. As you likely know, retinol labels recommend only using these products at night, to avoid potential sun damage. However, others say they can be used during the day if partnered with SPF.

According to a study, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which exfoliate the skin, may contribute to burns even 24 hours after usage, so utilizing sunscreen is absolutely crucial. Hydroquinonean cause serious damage to the skin if not applied carefully. Hydroquinone decreases melanin production which may make the skin more vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation, so customers must be extremely careful after using it. Lastly, several essential oils that are used in spa treatments, such as lavender or rosemary, can make skin more sensitive to the sun.

Where there is a risk of customer injury, there is a risk of liability for a salon or spa. But they can take steps to help reduce their exposure to that liability:

  • Research and review skincare products for their potential side effects and educate clients on both their benefits and drawbacks.
  • Estheticians, who often talk to clients about their skincare regimens, may find this a good time to talk about photosensitivity.
  • Limit the number of skincare services performed in one sitting, as this can decrease the risk of irritation and burns. You’ll find this in SASSI’s facial services safety tips.
  • Lastly, salon employees should be extremely careful when using heat to reduce the chance of burning or damage.

The summer is a hot season for salons, so exercising caution is absolutely critical. Reviewing the products that your salon offers can go a long way towards avoiding liability issues.

Kathy Lopez, Account Manager for SASSI, the Salon and Spa Specialty Insurance program at Brownyard Group. She can be reached at

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