Almost half of the UK's hairdressers and barbers are suffering from a serious skin complaint caused by their work, health inspectors have claimed.
Hairdressers suffer because their hands are often wet
The local authorities' health watchdog, Lacors, says about 50,000 workers have dermatitis - a painful skin complaint that can cause swelling and blistering.
Lacors says the condition is brought on by exposure to water and chemicals such as peroxides, shampoos and soaps.
The disease causes 230,000 working days a year to be lost, inspectors claim.
Geoffrey Theobald, chairman of Lacors, said the disease was a threat to people's health and their careers.
"Staff who contract the disease often have to leave the profession and find other work," he said.
"Dermatitis can be irreversible and because of the widespread nature of the condition it is often incorrectly regarded as an acceptable occupational hazard."
He said employers must be fully aware of the preventative measures they should be putting into place.
"Tough action will be taken against employers and businesses who fail to comply with health and safety standards," he said.
Several local councils in London and the south-east of England are launching a "twin campaign of education and enforcement".
They are also urging employees to protect themselves by following safe working practices.
Hairdressers can avoid problems if they wear rubber gloves while they are washing hair or handling chemicals, the councils say.
The British Skin Foundation's Nina Goad pointed out that the condition, once contracted, can remain chronic.
"Preventative measures include protective clothing and use of emollient creams," she said.
"Making sure chemicals are used in accordance with the manufacturer's guidelines is also crucial."