Objective: Occupational skin changes in hairdressers are very common. Morbidity, however, has not yet been quantified precisely.
Methods: A cohort of 2,352 hairdressing apprentices (of the 2,570 invited to participate, i.e., 91.5% response) was prospectively followed for the duration of their vocational training (3 years) by three examinations. Three waves (years) were recruited in 1992, 1993, and 1994 from 15 vocational training schools in northwestern Germany.
Results: The point prevalence of (mostly slight) irritant skin changes of the hands increased from 35.4% in the initial examination to 47.5% in the intermediate examination and to 55.1% in the final examination. Given a more conservative definition of a case of "hand dermatitis," these estimates were 12.9%, 23.5%, and 23.9%, respectively. Altogether, 34.3 and 15.2 cases of "skin changes (any degree)" and "hand dermatitis," respectively, in 100 person-years were observed during the study period. The incidence rate, i.e., the number of newly diseased study participants in relation to the person-time at risk contributed, decreased in the course of the study. The proportion of dropouts until final follow-up was 51.8%.
Conclusion: The present results appear to lie in a range with those found in other, much smaller cohort studies. However, comparison of the results is hampered either by the lack of a clear definition or by a different definition of "person-time at risk" or "a case of hand dermatitis." As compared with an external control group of office apprentices, the incidence was several times higher in hairdressing apprentices, which points to the high risk for skin damage in this occupation.