By Gerald W. Deas, M.D. MPH
In 2002, Hollywood released “Barbershop,” a comedy set in the ‘hood that showed all of the inside jokes, commentary and exchanges that happen in barbershops all over the country. But, what this film failed to show is some of the dangers and health risks that also come from some neighborhood barbershops.
Too many barbershops, particularly in our neighborhoods, are filthy. And too many people are afraid to say anything. They will sit in those chairs while the barber is shaving their head while blowing the hair out, blowing all kinds of germs into those clippers and then putting it right back in their patron’s head.
I’ve known people to get ring worms from a barbershop. And, have you ever seen a man who has red, pus-filled bumps that start from the bottom of his head and seem to be eating away at his scalp? The bumps come from staphylococcus which gets into the scalp and spreads. It’s a bacterial infection which comes from a barber who doesn’t put hygiene first.
Everyone who goes to a barber should bring his or her own comb and brush and insist on sterile tools, razor, clippers, etc.
I worked in a barbershop on Wall Street as a kid. It was a barbershop that catered to a white-only clientele. Every man who came into that shop got a sterilized brush and comb in a package that I had to give out. At the end of the day, I had to wash and sterilize the combs and brushes and package them for the next day.
Why don’t more black barbershops do things like this to protect the health of their patrons? It’s such a simple and cheap thing to do. How much would it cost to buy 50 combs and 50 brushes and everyone gets their own sterilized comb and brush when they come in?
Barbers who are not careful with their cleanliness can be responsible for the spread of the AIDS virus as well. Barbers, like surgeons, use very sharp instruments and can easily transfer blood from one person to the next.
I have seen barbers preparing to shave someone, sharpen the razor on a black leather strap on the side of their chair. They will take the razor out of a sterile solution but then scrape it along a strap that has never been cleaned. They will start to shave the person and every so often sharpen the blade on that strap. That strap has dirty hair and blood on it from other customers and it never gets sterilized. So a sterile razor becomes contaminated with each sharpening of the blade. That barber strap is loaded with germs and he has picked up all of them back onto the blade and then proceeded to shave someone. That’s very dangerous.
A barber can nick you with his razor and if the AIDS virus or any virus or bacteria is present on that strap, it can be transmitted to others.
So, be very careful going to the barbershop. It isn’t all fun and games.