Background information

The hairdressing sector in Europe employs more than one million people across 400.000 hairdressing salons, receiving 350 million potential customers. Hairdressing (and barbering) services, together with beauty treatment - The Hair and Beauty sector as it is called, form the personal services sector. Over the last years the sector has gone through a great deal of changes. The most important developments will be briefly described in this part of the application. Sources:

  • ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’
  •  European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014 (ISBN: 978-92-9240-278-5).
  • Rabobank, cijfers en trends, February 2015, The Netherlands)
  • Special issue of Speijlet (Nov. 2009)
  • Magazine of the Danish Hairdressers & Beauticians Union

Hair and Beauty companies, operate in a market that is currently undergoing extensive development. This development shows itself both on the supply side (new players, new forms of enterprise, increase in number of self-employed, supply chain organizations, increased competition, etc.) and on the demand side (changing customer needs, (consumers) trends, price trends, etc.).

Sector description

In the sector:

  • Small and micro businesses are predominant
  • Majority of the workforce is female (over 80%)
  • Many of them work part-time and stay in the sector for only short periods of time
  • Relatively high proportion of self-employed workers (42%)
  • Young workforce. About 80 % of recruits are aged under 26 and 56 % are under 19.
  • People working in the sector have commonly mid-range qualifications
  • Low communication and sharing between the different companies. They don´t have a high level of interaction.
  • Sometimes hairdressing salons are combined with beauty salons.


  • Growing amount of entrepreneurs working at home and a growing amount of budget salons;
  • More attention to perception, customized service and flexibility, for example business hours;
  • Through workshops and master classes more attention to new talent;
  • CSR (products and daily operations);
  • Due to the significant improvement of mass-market products for home use, new niche markets are expanding: services with beauty and nail care, make-up and tanning beds, but also combinations with lifestyle and fashion.

Opportunities and threats in the sector

Research in the Netherlands showed the following opportunities and threats:

  • Attracting and retaining good staff (stylists) is difficult, despite the large number students in the schools;
  • Reduce untimely exit of the staff from H&B would increase the profitability of the investments in vocational training for young hairdressers. (source: ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’ - 2014).)
  • More attention to the productivity of staff leads to a better return.
  • Stimulating entrepreneurship through e.g. chair hire, can contribute;
  • A clear and recognizable choice for the operation of a specific target group is important.
  • As a specialist or by customized service can be distinguished;
  • Commercial formulas that are active efforts to expand their market share;
  • Combinations of delivering services that fit together like Hair, Beauty and Fashion:
  • Collaboration with fashion shops and workshops for customers;
  • Customer loyalty through the use of social media and also do offers on this channel (fixed) relationships;
  • Additional revenue can be generated by giving workshops on skin and hair care, makeup and hair styling.
  • Work-related sickness, allergies and asthma for instance; The cost of work-related skin diseases has been estimated to be about five billion euros a year in the EU alone (source: ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’ - 2014).)


Due to the crisis since 2008, the consumer goes less often and spends less money at the hairdresser. Consumers remain cautious with their spending and therefore postpones a visit to the hairdresser longer, chooses less extensive treatments and spends less on its products.
The number of hairdressers is increasing, whilst the number of haircuts drops. This leads to a stronger local competition.
If the economy improves, people will go to the hairdresser more often and spend more on treatments and products.

Entrepreneurs with staff will have to make obvious choices in (financial) policy for enhancing the operating results. This group has a lot of problems with the new initiatives and competition from freelancers.
Hairdressers often have more affinity with knowledge, then with the other aspects of the business. Attention to labour, health and safety, environment, marketing, location, service and services are crucial for successful entrepreneurship. (Rabobank, cijfers en trends, February 2015, The Netherlands)

Big influence of fashion bloggers on customer´s decisions and demands. Innovation Research in The Netherlands (EIM, De meest innovatieve sector van Nederland) shows that the Hair and Beauty sector is located at bottom (position 45) of the rankings of 58 sectors is in the case of innovation. Innovation can be defined as the deliberate release of new products, services, business processes and / or distribution in any company, focused on improving results.

Health and safety

A visit to a hair and beauty salon is usually associated with anticipations of being cared for in a relaxed environment. However, few clients are conscious of the fact that the hairdressing salon can pose serious risks to those working long and uninterrupted hours, with water, chemicals, noise etc. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has recognized that hairdressers are exposed to serious occupational health risks and that improving working conditions must be a major priority. Health and safety problems in the sector result in absences, lower productivity and untimely exit from the sector (source: ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’ - 2014).
The aspect of the consequences of poor H&S in the industry is not described in the rationale.

We know that many get sick from working in the industry:

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has recognised that hairdressers are exposed to serious occupational health risks and that improving working conditions must be a major priority (3). The cost of work-related skin diseases has been estimated to be about five billion euros a year in the EU alone (4). A United Kingdom study has reported that 70 % of hairdressers have suffered from work-related skin disorders at some point during their career (5). A Danish study compared skin diseases in the hairdressing industry with the average skin diseases in all branches of the economy. For every 10,000 workers, 57 cases were reported in the hairdressing sector against six as an average in all occupations (6). In a French study it was found that, while hairdressers represent about 1 % of the entire workforce, 20 % of the women affected by work-related asthma are hairdressers (7). The International Agency for Research on Cancer, in one of its recent monographs (2010), states that its overall evaluation for ‘occupational exposures (to chemicals) as a hairdresser or barber are probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)’ (8). It is also estimated that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are five times more prevalent among hairdressers. Health and safety problems in the sector result in absences, lower productivity and untimely exit from the sector. Untimely exit (especially among young hairdressers, i.e. those under 35 years old) has a cost to society (increased demand for social security and healthcare services) and a negative impact on the profitability of the investments in vocational training for young hairdressers.
These health problems can be challenged effectively by introducing measures which usually cost very little. For instance, the purchase and use of gloves costs only about 1 % of the average annual turnover. Installing height-adjustable rotating chairs and non-slip flooring are also low-cost interventions (source: ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’ - 2014).).

The predominance of micro businesses means that it is often a difficult audience to reach, requiring campaigns, guidance and information that are customised to meet their needs.
This is a fragmented sector, with different subsectors often displaying varying levels of representation, training and health and safety competence. However, many subsectors are moving towards increased professionalism, with businesses calling for recognised professional qualifications. Other subsectors (particularly hairdressing) have more developed vocational training that is embedded in educational establishments. (HSE, Health and Safety Executive, Beauty sector strategy 2012-15, UK)
Sustainability A research in the UK (Southampton Management School) shows that hairdressers have often played a key role in spreading information. A new study evaluates whether they could also help raise consumer awareness about the environment. Aside from therapists, hairdressers arguably get more personal with their customers than any other professional – and therefore may be able to influence their behaviour. In fact, billions of people regularly get haircuts and, in the process, come into contact with key environmental issues, ranging from water and energy use to toxic chemicals. The Southampton Management School's Denise Baden, who carried out the research, points out that peer-to-peer influence within established networks can be a powerful force for environmental change. "Early adopters of social innovations characteristically have more years of formal education, greater rationality, higher IQ, higher aspirations and higher status occupations than late adopters," she points out. "None of these attributes are typical of hairdressers. Therefore it is unsurprising that our pilot research found no examples of hairdressers taking the lead on sustainability innovations." In fact, the study found that the majority of hairdressers are not at all excited, at first glance, about the opportunity to become environmental champions and are unlikely to become more proactive simply as a result of receiving relevant information. The main conclusion of the research is that hairdressing colleges could do far more to embed sustainability into their training programmes. The study quotes one particular hairdresser who wrote in her feedback: "So the question for me came down to: did I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. "Taking that approach has given me more pride in my work and in my profession as a whole. I no longer feel like 'a blonde with scissors', I feel like a professional who is making a difference."

Also in The Netherlands sustainability is not yet a top priority. The policy adviser vocational education and training of the General Dutch Hairdressers Organization ‘ANKO’ in an interview said: “The issue of sustainability will be more a topic in 2 to 3 years in the companies. Only the early adapters are at the present moment introducing new issues on sustainability”. In a previous project (Green Salon, Innovation and Sustainability in the Creative Industries – Leonardo Partnership 2012-2014) entrepreneurs from Scotland with a Green Salon asked for guidelines, a roadmap, how to introduce measures on sustainability in a Green Salon.

In the Scandinavian countries a certification system is in place for Green salons. This is a ‘black and White’ system where you have to be sustainable in every aspect from utilities, to hair products and right to the coffee you serve the customer to be certified. This is difficult for new entrepreneurs and a system with a ‘step-stone-model’ would make it easier and lowers the threshold to start with sustainability. What is sustainability?
There is no universally agreed definition on what sustainability means. The original definition of sustainable development is usually considered to be: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Bruntland Report (1992)


Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
Sustainability: it is important ensure that we have and will continue to have: the water, materials, and resources, protect human health and our environment.

In this project we focus on the sustainable aspects: health & safety, environment, ingredients, energy & water, equipment, Customer experience and management (entrepreneurship).

The results of discussing the issues mentioned above with schools within the Hair and Beauty sector in Spain, Denmark, UK, Scotland, Malta and The Netherlands lead to the following conclusions:

  • The school does not have the (right) knowledge and education material to solve the problem(s) of sustainability in the companies. The school needs learning material to close the gap between what the school offers and the companies need to have simple adjustments to improve sustainability, for example Health & Safety measures.
  • The companies get the possibility to get knowledge / schooling on that subject of sustainability. It is necessary to be able to comply with health & safety – and environmental regulations on EU-level. Better Health & Safety and Environment in a salon, means less risks and less costs (for example reduction of the number of sick-days of employees) and thus increasing turnover.
  • Sustainability is also a way to have effective entrepreneurship in a company. It can be used as a strategic issue to give added value to customers. It can help them to be more competitive in the market.
  • The sector is working on a low ICT-level. Digitalization is hardly used. With some sort of game development it gives them a low-profile entrance to awareness & knowledge on sustainability.
  • In the sector sustainability is not on the top priority list. Research shows that the implementation of management systems of which sustainability is one, can improve company management and can lower costs. For example: less sick days, less waste, less energy consumption and water use, etc.
  • In the sector there are innovators, the so called ‘green’ entrepreneurs with ‘green salons’, with already knowledge on sustainability. These examples of ‘best practices’ can be used in education to share knowledge and experiences.

Attention needs to be on that some innovators are basing a lot on their belief and feelings – and it is our responsibility to ensure that we base on facts and knowledge.
Nevertheless, when environmental awareness education is incorporated to teaching practice, we run into plenty of difficulties as stated in the manifest of A Martinez Villar from Spain, in his thesis “Environmental Education and the professional Education for Employment: the integration of increased environmental awareness”:

  • The lack of technical education for the faculty in environmental education and administrative difficulties for its teaching (the absence of educational materials, solitude, incomprehension…)
  • Initial rejection by the students because they do not understand the “usefulness” of this awareness being included in their learning. According to the author, the receptivity of the students is related to the following factors:
     It depends upon the feeling of the group, the communicative abilities, and work of the professor that has been able to be developed.

Recent studies have demonstrated that learning based on virtual worlds obtain retention results of 70% to 80% through simulation and role play; group discussions saw 50% and conferences and dictated classes between 5% and 10%. In short, all strategies based on “playing to learn, learning by doing, and learning by discovering” are much more effective than those based on passive listening.
Age, socio-economic status, and initial education. The youngest students or those with socio economic difficulties seem to show the least initial interest of these subjects. Martinez Villar significantly highlights the low initial reception of these topics by students of hairdressing and beauty compared to other occupations related to health, teaching, or service to the community

Against this background, co-financing of this proposed project by the EU would enable the participating partners to develop knowledge and tools that can easily be implemented by schools and Hair&Beauty salons throughout Europe on an easy accessible level. Compare the potential results to deliver with the results of the EU co-finances projects named SafeHair 1.0 and 2.0 in 2010 and 2011. These projects were initiated because The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has recognised that hairdressers are exposed to serious occupational health risks and that improving working conditions must be a major priority.
Within the framework of SafeHair 1.0 (2010), a questionnaire survey was developed and conducted for the evaluation of the state of art of implementation of skin protective measures in hairdressing all over Europe, which led to the Declaration of Dresden — Common recommendation on skin protection for the hairdressing sector in Europe.

In the next step, the EU follow-up project SafeHair 2.0 (2011/2012) was launched with the aim of guiding the implementation of the accepted standards in a scientific manner. This led to the development of a modular ‘SafeHair Skin&Beauty Toolbox’ ( This toolbox contains didactical materials and information for skin protective measures for ready access in the salons and for different target groups involved in education and administration in the field of professional hairdressing (i.e. apprentices, employees, masters, salon owners, teachers, managers, administrators, professional associations, suppliers, experts and further stakeholders).

Source: ‘Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014 (ISBN: 978-92-9240-278-5).
Furthermore The National Allergy Research Center in Denmark has been involved in research and development of teaching materials targeting VET-education in hairdressing. These resources and important experts are involved in the project.

Why this project should be carried out transnationally:

Transnational there is the possibility within this project to exchange knowledge on different levels among the partner institutions.
There are countries with more advanced knowledge in specific areas where others can profit / benefit from.
There are issues that play a role at all partners and in all partner countries and that have not yet been resolved. The different qualities that are present in the different countries, we can work with and use to find solutions and to develop means of implementation to solve those issues.