By Lahja Nashuuta
Windhoek- The barbershop and hair salon business is booming in Namibia. It is not only the source of livelihood for many Namibians, but also a popular grooming place for most men and boys.
They religiously visit their favourites barbershops to have their hair cut and beard trimmed.
They share electric clippers, trimmers, blushes and other accessories used at barbershops and beauty salons. But how safe is this practice? Medical experts say it is not safe and advise people to take their own clippers to barbershops.
The Hair and Skin Research Laboratory at the University of Cape Town in South Africa conducted a study in 2016 on the safety of clippers at township barbershops in Cape Town. It found that people who use public barbershops are at a high risk of contracting blood-borne infections and viruses such as Hepatitis B and HIV through sharing of clippers.
And Dr Roxanne De Silva, a dermatologist and owner of Roxanne de Silva Skin Institute in Windhoek have agreed with the findings of the study that was led by Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo.
“I do not mean to create panic as there is no proof or a registered case of a person infected through sharing of hair trimmers in Namibia. However, based on the study by Hair and Skin Research Laboratory at the University of Cape Town in South Africa there is need to be cautious when visiting public barbershops or beauty salons,” says Dr De Silva.
Dermatology is a branch of medical science that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of various ailments associated with skin, hair, and nails.
Although most barbers clean and sanitise their equipment after every job, De Silva stressed that it is not done in an approved way. Many barbers used methylated spirits that have no antiviral properties while some use pure water.
She emphasised that methylated spirit does not kill viruses. However, there are specific antiviral sprays, bactericidal, virucidal, mycobactericidal and fungicidal that are safe to use as they contain a fast-acting intermediate-level disinfectant.
“All these products are available in Namibian pharmacies. However, most of the barbers and salons are unaware of such products and continue using methyl spirits that do not kill viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B, neither they are 100% effective in destroying bacteria and fungus,” she said.
Furthermore, Dr De Silva advises that it is important for Namibia to come up with national guidelines on health and safety for beauty and hairstyling businesses to ensure that they are operating in a safe environment and that they reduce any risks to their clients.
There is also a need for local studies and future investigations into potential HIV and Hepatitis B transmission through clean-shave haircuts, she added.
Meanwhile, local barbers are sceptical about the concern raised by Dr De Silva and other medical experts. They claim there is no local evidence of people who contracted diseases by sharing hair clippers.
Barbers like Andonya Sakalia, who owns a township barbershop in Katutura’s Havana settlement in Windhoek, have called on experts to conduct more studies before issuing public warnings, which he fears might cause panic.
“It is unfair to discourage people from using public barbershops, as the majority of Namibian youth survive from barbershops and salons. I always sterilise my machine (clipper) before I cut the next person and I have never received any complaint [from any one] who said he has contracted hair dandruff or rashes after cutting his hair,” says the self-employed barber.
Inside his barbershop on the side of the road – a clipper, pair of scissors, and a smoother are hanging on the nail hanging from a poll, with aftershave cream, methylated spirit on a small table, and a mirror hanging on one side.
Sakalia says he does not have a problem with people bringing their own hair clippers to his barbershop. But those that do not own hair clippers should not be scared of health risks as all his clippers are sterilised regularly.
Sharing the same sentiment is Joe Paulus, who operates from the Soweto Market.
“Yes, there are those that carry their own clippers to the barbershops, especially parents of children under the age of 10. But most of the people prefer using our clippers and since I have been here for more than eight years, I never received a complaint about anybody acquiring an infection after cutting his hair,” Paulus says.
Paulus, however, confesses that he is not aware that methylated spirit does not kill virus and bacteria.
He says there is a need to sensitise barbers on health implications caused by sharing the hair clippers and that those that have information such as dermatologists need to work hand in hand with health authorities to advice on what products work well for the public health safety.
Dr De Silva also raised the issue of buying beauty creams and health products in streets without a doctor’s prescription.
She lamented that: “Counterfeit products are harmful and can even be fatal. In most cases, those products can be either useless to highly dangerous. They often contain the wrong level of active ingredient – too little, too much or none at all – or an active ingredient intended for a different purpose.
In all these scenarios, the person taking the counterfeit medicine is putting their health, even their lives at risk.”