Are "razor combs" safe in hair salons?
March 8, 2015 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I just had a haircut today, and I told my hairstylist not to use the "razor comb" because anything to do with razors in a public area make me nervous, especially with things like HIV and Hepatitis going around. Well, she used it anyway and brushed the back of my neck with it to trim off the fine hairs. I found out afterwards that she doesn't speak good English, so she didn't know what I was saying.

Will a "razor comb" be a risk for anything like HIV? It's a comb that has a razor between the teeth of the comb, but I am not sure if it actually cuts the skin. It was just lying on the table, and not soaked in that blue disinfecting solution barbers usually keep their tools in. I thought the work area would be sanitary, but she just leaves scissors and combs on a towel.

If anyone doesn't know, they can google "razor comb" with the quotations marks and see what it looks like in the image search results. I would appreciate any opinions from hairstylists who actually use this tool for trimming hair. The back of my neck feels like it has been scrapped and I see some kind of rash.
posted by pieceofcake to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any open cuts? If not, there is almost a 0% chance that you could contract any blood-borne illness.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:29 PM on March 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

I get a little rash there, too, when they do that. It's just irritation and goes away shortly.
posted by harrietthespy at 1:31 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

As someone who used to have an obsessive phobia of HIV, I've learnt that it can't survive in oxygen for any significant time. It has to be passed within a body or a syringe. Unless you rubbed freshly bled HIV-infected blood into an open wound, it's impossible to transmit like that.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 1:33 PM on March 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

Even if that comb were used to slice Magic Johnson's throat the virus isn't going to survive long on a dry razor in open air.

The comb is used on hair, to cut hair. The razory part is all up in the comb. The only thing that touched your neck was the comb teeth, not the razor itself.

There is such an infinitesimal risk here that I'm more concerned about you anxiety-ing yourself into a case of hives than anything that could have come from the razor comb.
posted by phunniemee at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2015 [50 favorites]

For what it's worth, I used to teach HIV/AIDS prevention in Kenya where the infection rate was estimated at up to 25% of the population. I got my hair cut regularly by local hairdressers and many male Peace Corps volunteers had their beards and the backs of their necks shaved with razors. I am fairly confident that there are no known cases, globally, where HIV ever been transmitted from customer to customer at a barber or hair salon.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2015 [30 favorites]

but I am not sure if it actually cuts the skin.

Cutting the skin has not been a part of any barber's practice for about two hundred years.

It may not have been sitting in Barbicide because the blades are replaceable. I think the best practice is to add a fresh blade in front of the customer, but it may have been prepped before you got there. If that blade had been used on another customer, I do think that is unsanitary but I agree with the other posters that it is not likely you were exposed to a blood-borne illness.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

There is definitely some concern (esp around Hep B/C)

Veterans and Barbers have higher levels of Hep C, possibly due to shared razor use

8% of barbers' shared razors have Hep B (in Turkey)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

8% of barbers' shared razors have Hep B (in Turkey)

A note: if you have this level of concern about hep B, you should get vaccinated.
posted by phunniemee at 2:13 PM on March 8, 2015 [39 favorites]

My haircutter always uses a new blade.
posted by rhizome at 2:21 PM on March 8, 2015

8% of barbers' shared razors have Hep B (in Turkey)

That's a barber's razor, where the blade comes into direct contact with the skin and cuts are likely. With a razor comb, however, the blade never touches the skin.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:23 PM on March 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

FirstMateKate & phunniemee are noting the most salient point: the razor in a razor comb NEVER comes into contact with skin.

Here's one picture where you can see why this is the case. The tines of the comb extend well past the razor blade. I'm not sure what the irritation on your neck is, but it's not from the razor part of the razor comb.

If you don't feel the salon had good hygiene, go elsewhere, but please try to relax about bloodborne illness from a razorcomb.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:34 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, razor and razor comb are two completely different things. The razor in a razor comb cannot touch the skin.
posted by Hillsbillie at 3:55 PM on March 8, 2015

Tanizaki: Cutting the skin has not been a part of any barber's practice for about two hundred years.
False. Many people have been accidentally nicked by barber's clippers, scissors, and razors. (Source: I'm far short of 200 years old.)
posted by IAmBroom at 6:03 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite], a web site on HIV, has an "Ask the Experts" forum where this topic is frequently addressed. You can get some expert advice there.
posted by reren at 6:11 PM on March 8, 2015

I'd say the risk of a blood-bourne pathogen is, as others have said, low. The greater risk from non-disinfected barber combs is from dandruff-causing microorganisms.

My guess is the rash is razor burn from a not-brand-new blade being used on dry hair.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:07 PM on March 8, 2015

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