Healthy Hairdresser

Serve and Protect

Elizabeth Jakaitis | February 25, 2015 | 1:20 PM

When stylists first notice work-related body issues, often they’re located in the general upper-body region—a sore back, a stiff neck, fatigued arms or inflamed shoulders. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Hairdressers  may experience back injuries and chronic pain from prolonged standing and twisting.” But you have to stand and twist, so how can you protect yourself?

“Always give yourself room to maneuver freely, using the larger muscles. To stretch out shoulder and back muscles, lean your back against a wall, reaching arms high above your head and bend your knees." —Donna Gentile, Member, Cosmetologists Chicago Board of Directors


Current stylist education has been addressing this very question. The new Learn Aveda program, for example, draws upon the holistic teachings of Ayurveda, yoga and meditation to instruct stylists in working with “conscious intention.” By visualizing a cut from beginning to end, stylists can focus on correct body positions to help prevent or minimize stress on the body.


Great Clips provides a manual, Posture Perfect, that teaches stylists how to stand and move during every stage of a shampoo and haircut, while Pivot Point issues these “Do’s and Don’ts for Good Posture.”



  • Use the height adjustments provided on styling chairs so you can work on your client’s hair without stooping over or reaching up.
  • Keep your head up, chin level, shoulders relaxed but straight and abdomen held flat when standing.
  • Keep your feet and knees together when sitting, with feet on the floor, and sit well back in the chair.



  • Slump over a shampoo bowl. Bend forward at the waist, holding your shoulders straight.
  • Bend at the waist when lifting objects from the floor. Bend at the knees to lower your whole body.
  • Place more of your standing weight on one leg than the other. Choose positions that distribute your weight evenly.


Many individual salons, too, incorporate this proactive education.


"I try to start from the beginning with training our new stylists to stand properly and have good body position for each of the services they do,” says Lorrene Conino, owner of Salon Lorrene in Palatine, Illinois, and a member of the Cosmetologists Chicago (CC) board of directors. “Many are bending over and not positioning the guest to make their job easier. After  years of this, your parts will start to wear out!”


First step: Set your phone alarm to periodically remind you to check in with your posture, both in standing and sitting, and make adjustments as needed.


The industry’s manufacturers  are doing what they can as well to protect the stylist’s upper body. Denise Powell, director of merchandising for CosmoProf, notes three tool categories specifically designed for arm and shoulder health:


1. New automatic curling tools, such as the Farouk CHI ARC (Automatic Rotating Curler), reduce the fatigue stylists experience from turning traditional curling irons.


2. The latest ergonomic  shears allow the stylist to lessen hand and wrist movement, drop the shoulder and eliminate fatigue with adjustable finger rests.


3. Ultra-lightweight  brushes are hitting the marketplace, some with aluminum handles.


Dryer brands have been making an effort for years to decrease the weight, shorten drying time and permit a pain-free grip. Hanging dryer systems provide another option. Ask your distributor sales consultant or store professional to point out any new or best- selling items aimed to reduce strain and protect stylists.


People think of neck pain as resulting from an accident causing whiplash but, according to Spine- Health, the number one factor contributing  to neck pain is “forward” head and shoulder posture. This means that you’re slanting your neck forward, placing your head in front  of the shoulders. This head position  leads to several problems:


  • The forward  pull of the weight of the head puts stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck, contributing to degenerative disc disease and other degenerative neck problems.


  • Muscles in the upper back must overwork to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head.


  • This position is often accompanied by forward shoulders and a rounded upper back, which not only worsens the neck problem but also can cause shoulder pain. 


Symmetry is important;  rotating one side more than the other can aggravate joints and soft tissues, causing neck and back pain. Keep this in mind as you use your dominant hand to cut and style hair.


Three simple neck stretches during the day can help guard against pain. Hold each position for 15 seconds, and make sure your shoulders stay still:


1. Gently bring your chin to your chest.


2. Turn your head to the left, then the right.


3. Bring your left ear toward your left shoulder; repeat on the right side.


As with other body areas, regular exercise also can help to avoid injury. CC Secretary Karen Gordon of J Gordon Designs in Chicago says that a recently added activity, swimming, has done a lot for her. “I find that it helps to strengthen the muscles in my neck, back and shoulders,” Gordon notes. “I feel much less pain after a long day in the salon.” 


Relaxing can be as critical as exercising. CC President Denise Provenzano encourages massage therapists, nail techs and stylists, “When you are giving a guest that neck and shoulder, hand or foot  massage, take a take a mini-vacation in your mind at the same time. You will give a better massage and feel so much more relaxed yourself.”




  • Keep your back in a natural position.
  • Relax your shoulders, keeping your arms close to your sides.
  • While doing hair, bend your elbows at approximately a right angle (90 degrees).
  • Place feet comfortably apart when standing in one place, and vary your stance to relieve muscles in the lower back.
  • Use a mat around the salon chair.


  • When guiding a client to your station, make sure your chair is turned toward the aisle, and lock or hold the salon chair in position while the client sits down.
  • Adjust the hydraulic salon chair at the best height for the comfort of your back and arms.
  • Lower the chair when cutting longer interior layers.
  • To make a quick check of the cut without adjusting the chair, bend at the knees while placing your hands on the back of the chair for balance and support.
  • When the cut is finished, lower the chair, turn it toward the aisle and lock it or hold it in position while the client exits the chair.


  • Lift in a smooth, controlled motion and maintain a good grip on the object. Avoid sudden jerky movements needed to regain control of a slipping object.
  • Lift with feet shoulderwidth apart for a wide base of support. Keep one foot forward in a “staggered stance” to improve stability and balance.
  • Keep the load close to the body to minimize strain on the spine.
  • Bend at your knees, not the waist, and use your leg muscles.
  • Avoid twisting the back while carrying a load.


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