Equality law - Hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Any organisation providing a service

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England

      England

    • |
    • Scotland

      Scotland

    • |
    • Wales

      Wales

Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public.

This includes hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons, spas and manicure services among others. This ranges from sole traders who visit people in their own homes to large national chains.

It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, a free haircut provided to people willing to be models, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.

First, use the list in What equality law means for your business when you’re providing goods, facilities or services to the public to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as a business providing goods, facilities or services to the public. (no link provided)

Particular issues for you to think about are:

  • whether, if you want to, you can provide services for people with a particular protected characteristic, or separate services for men and women, or a service for only men or only women
  • access to washbasins, changing rooms, treatment rooms and other facilities
  • whether you can put conditions on who uses your services, based on people’s protected characteristics.

If you normally supply services only for people with a particular protected characteristic (such as gay men or lesbians), you can carry on providing the service the same way.

You can refuse to provide the service to someone who does not have that characteristic if you reasonably think it is impracticable for you to provide them with the service.

For example:

A hairdresser provides African Caribbean hairdressing services. Equality law does not force the hairdresser to provide European-style hairdressing services. However, if a white European woman asks for her hair to be styled in a way that the hairdresser would provide to an African Caribbean woman, such as braiding, the hairdresser cannot refuse to do this unless the hairdresser reasonably believes it would be impracticable. However, if the hairdresser is asked to cut or style other people's hair in a way that they would provide to a Black Caribbean woman, such as braiding, the hairdresser should do this unless they think it would not be practicable for them to do so, for example, because of the length or nature of the person's hair.

You can also target your advertising or marketing at a group with particular protected characteristics, so long as you do not suggest you will not serve people with a particular characteristic (unless one of the exceptions applies). You can read more about advertising and marketing.

If you run a beauty-related business and want to provide separate services for men and women or a single-sex service for men or women only, then you need to be able to objectively justify providing your service in this way. You must meet other conditions as well, such as that a joint service would be less effective, or that men’s needs and women’s needs are different. Read more about exceptions.

For example:

A beauty therapist who operates on her own and provides massages in clients’ own homes only provides this service to women. She believes the restriction is objectively justified and it also involves physical contact between the client and herself, which is something she has a reasonable objection to. It is likely that the provision of the service in this way will come within the exception.

You can read more about this in the Core guidance section.

You need to consider what reasonable adjustments are needed to remove barriers to disabled people in using your services. This is not necessarily about physical features at your premises; you could adapt the way you provide your services.

For example:

A beauty salon usually carries out a facial for clients by asking them to lie on a high bed in a treatment room. A client who is a disabled person with a mobility impairment would not be able to get up onto the high bed. The salon decides that it will consider alternative ways of carrying out its services as a reasonable adjustment, such as carrying out the facial for a client sitting in a chair or lying on a lower couch if this is available. It advertises on its marketing material that it will make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, showing that it has thought in advance about the need for reasonable adjustments, rather than waiting for an individual client to ask to access the service.

  • You must also avoid discriminating against transsexual people in accessing your services or using your facilities. Treat a transsexual person as belonging to the sex in which the transsexual person presents (as opposed to the physical sex they were born with) unless you can objectively justify treating them differently.  Where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of their preferred gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender unless there are strong reasons not to do so. Make sure you and your staff take care to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice, as this may lead to unlawful discrimination.

Where someone has a gender recognition certificate they should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes.

  • Health and safety and disabled people: Make sure that any action taken in relation to health or safety is proportionate to the risk. Disabled people are entitled to make the same choices and to take the same risks within the same limits as other people. Health and safety law does not require you as a service provider to remove all conceivable risk, but to ensure that risk is properly appreciated, understood and managed. Don't make assumptions; instead, assess the person's situation, and consider reasonable adjustments to reduce any risks, your duty not to discriminate and, where appropriate, the disabled person’s own views. There must be a balance between protecting against the risk and restricting disabled people from access to services.

For example:

A spa refuses to allow disabled people who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer to have aromatherapy massages. This is because the spa owner understands there is uncertainty about the interaction of aromatherapy oils and the drugs used in chemotherapy. A disabled person who is affected by the refusal says this is indirect discrimination because it stops her and other disabled people in the same position receiving the service. Provided the spa owner can objectively justify the refusal, this will not be unlawful discrimination because of disability. However, a reasonable adjustment might be to offer a similar massage using unscented oil instead.

  • Health and safety and pregnancy: A service provider can refuse to provide a service to a pregnant woman, or set conditions on the service, because they reasonably believe that providing the service in the usual way would create a risk to the woman's health or safety, and they would do the same thing in relation to a person with a different physical condition.

For example:

A beauty salon states that some of its treatments are unsuitable for pregnant women and people with high blood pressure or heart conditions. Provided it reasonably believes that providing these treatments would create a risk to a pregnant woman’s health and safety, the refusal would probably come within this exception.

Last updated: 29 Jun 2016

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.

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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.