Cross contamination in waxing - what you must know.
Pauline Sharman is a renowned sugaring expert and international training manager  for Pharo sugaring at Brand Value Ltd.
Not too long ago, a leading beauty supplier introduced ‘Captain Contamination’ to the industry - an ugly little cartoon character that could be seen swimming around in wax pots and being squashed onto a hairy limb by a roll-on applicator.
The Captain’s role was to highlight the potential dangers of cross-contamination when waxing and whilst it was undoubtedly a marketing tool designed to promote (and potentially scare therapists into buying) a new product, it has certainly helped raise awareness of this major health hazard that can afflict professional waxing. But to what extent can any waxing system truly eliminate the chance of cross-contamination?
When considering the issue of cross contamination, it is important to remember that the therapist’s attitude towards hygiene plays a very important, if not THE most important, role in minimising the risk of cross contamination. No waxing system in isolation has the ability to eliminate the risk of cross contamination, and the following is a minimal checklist of what a therapist needs to do:
• wear protective gloves throughout the treatment
• wash hands with an antibacterial wash before and after touching the client’s skin
• wear new gloves before touching the skin ensure that other items used (such as transfer pots, scissors and tweezers) have been properly sterilised.
If the therapist fails to carry out the basic precautions listed above, then the client may be at an increased risk of cross-contamination, regardless of how ‘foolproof’ the waxing system is claimed to be.
Different waxing systems:
Today, there is a wide and almost bewildering range of waxing systems available to the professional beauty therapist, all offering a unique attribute that apparently sets them apart from the rest. However, pretty packaging and marketing aside, the majority of these waxing systems fall into two basic categories: the ‘wax pot’ or the ‘wax cartridge’.
When using a standard wax pot system, the wax is taken from a pot and applied to the client with the use of disposable spatulas. This method is one of the most traditional and widely tried and tested waxing methods known to the beauty industry.  However, in recent years, the ‘trusty’ wax pot has received some bad publicity in terms of cross-contamination, as Ian Watson from Environmental Health (City of Westminster) is on record as saying:
“A survey within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets found that a quarter of the wax samples taken from 16 salons contained hair, blood, raised colony counts (bacteria) as well as pseudomonas species -all of which could potentially lead to cross contamination.”
It didn’t take environmental health officers long to determine the root of the problem: poor practice. The beauty therapists working at the salons in question had been re-dipping used (contaminated) spatulas back into the wax pot - an un-hygienic practise at the best of times, but especially so when treating underarm or bikini areas that are prone to bleeding and bacteria.
What you must ensure when using the Pot system:
• Spatulas are never re-dipped into the wax pot after use [eg after the spatula has come into contact with the client’s or therapist’s skin. A new spatula should be used every time more wax is required]
• Splashes or spillages of wax are cleaned up immediately after treatment, and the wax heater and transfer pots are disinfected
• Hot wax is not sieved and re-heated
• Wax strips are treated as clinical waste and are not left around the salon.
This process can become quite expensive in terms of the cost of spatulas and the costs of time involved in cleaning before and after a treatment. To reduce costs while still minimising risks, it is becoming almost standard practice for therapists to transfer just enough wax as is required for the treatment from a larger pot into smaller sterile pots. This allows the therapist to use a spatula more than once on an individual client, and prevent double dipping, providing that any wax remaining in the smaller pot is disposed of after treatment.
Transferring wax between pots can be messy and a possible reason why therapists may be prone to take shortcuts. Sugar wax, with its lower temperature, is a good alternative, as it makes transferring a breeze and being water soluble, any inadvertent spills are easily cleaned up using only water.
The wax pot/ spatula method remains a safe and very effective means of removing unwanted hair, providing that the therapist is particular about hygienic practice.
The wax cartridge:
Most wax cartridge systems comprise of hand-held units that have one of two types of applicator heads:
• a roller head (which is replaceable or disposable), or;
• a wide, flat nozzle or similar (which is usually disposable).
Whether or not wax can pass from the client’s skin back into the wax cartridge during the course of a treatment remains a hot topic of debate. Some beauty suppliers claim that their product’s applicator heads have a built-in mechanism that prevents any ‘flow-back’ (ie wax cannot flow back into the cartridge once it has been expelled). However there is a fundamental question that needs to be asked: Can contamination (not just wax) flow back into the cartridge?
Ask yourself this question – if the wax can flow out of the cartridge, there is a liquid path for those little gremlin bacteria to swim back into the cartridge. Despite any marketing claims, it remains the salon’s liability alone if things go bad and cross contamination sets in.
Best practice always requires the use a new wax cartridge and a new applicator head for each client.  Whilst this approach might seem a little uneconomical, therapists should bear in mind that the cost of wax cartridges and applicator heads is minimal, and that their client’s health is priceless. Alternatively mark the cartridge with the name of the client and store it safely away until their next treatment.

In an attempt to balance cost and responsibility, salons can consider the possibility of reusing roller heads. Another driver for this is the growing commitment to becoming more environmentally-friendly and not filling landfills with plastic. However typical waxes are rosin and paraffin-based, so cleaning and reusing roller heads is to all purposes impractical.
Being water soluble, sugar waxing helps with cleaning the roller head as it is as simple as running it under a hot tap and rolling it out on a clean towel.
Providing good after-care advice:
There are far more recorded cases of post waxing infection caused by poor after- care than that which can (if ever) be attributed to cross contamination. It is extremely important for therapists to provide their client with written after-care advice.
Clients should be asked to sign a section of their consultation form to acknowledge they have received an after-care leaflet, and that they have read and understood the content. Therapists should stress to their clients that if they do not carry through the aftercare advice given, they may develop a skin infection/ reaction.
If you want examples of how an after-care leaflet should be laid out, copies of Pharo Sugaring’s leaflet can be obtained by emailing and asking for a free ‘after-care instructions for waxing’.
Some final points …
When it comes to cross contamination, challenge what you’re told when you hear marketing claims such as ‘the ONLY system’ or ‘completely eliminates’.
Focus on best salon practices. Some therapists believe that the odd oversight will not matter, because micro-organisms are unlikely to survive in the wax environment. This is not necessarily the case.
Remember “the working temperature of wax is normally in the range of 20-50°C, which is the ideal range for bacterial growth.”
Sugar is known to have extremely high resistance to the growth of bacteria which is why it was used as an antiseptic and to stop bleeding in days gone by. A sugar wax is likely to have significantly more resistance to bacteria colonies propagating than a standard hot or strip wax.
ANY system that dispenses a continuous flow of wax provides a path for bacteria residing on the skin to flow back into the cartridge. Systems that use a nozzle rather than a roller may in fact be at increased risk of transferring even dead surface skin back into the cartridge as the wax is ‘scraped’ rather than gently rolled onto the skin.
NO waxing system can ‘eliminate’ the risk of cross-infection. Any product or technique is only as good as the practices surrounding the treatment.
Pauline Sharman is a certified beauty therapist with more than 20 years’ experience in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.  She is passionate about training and equipping therapists with the best practices in the industry.




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