The Ugandan government recently announced several regulatory measures for beauty salons. In Kampala, the Ugandan capital, officials visited numerous beauty salons to warn the owners that they now need to follow rules in their business. "We have been told that in the future, opening a salon would require a certificate in hairdressing and cosmetology," says Florence Adyeri, who runs a small salon in Nansana, six miles west of Kampala.
Kampala officials' actions have upset many in the city as well as the rest of Uganda. Besides threatening a multi-billion shilling beauty industry, the new regulations will affect several women who earn a livelihood running low-cost, poorly maintained salons.
A recent study by the Makerere University says 80 per cent businesswomen in small scale businesses are either in the cosmetics trade or they run salons. A big concern for many Ugandan women is that the regulations will work against their livelihood.
Adyeri has completed only seven years of formal education. A divorcee with six children, she invested in a salon and now manages to feed her family with the income she gets from her parlour. For women like her, the new restrictions could only mean shutting shop.
Earlier, Adyeri invested about $300 to build her salon. But with the new restrictions, she would have to invest $700 in the business.
Regulations against beauty salons are just the tip of the iceberg. The government's immediate concern is the damage the salons are causing by using/promoting harmful beauty products and doing business in unhygienic conditions. During their rounds, the officials now check whether the owners have enough water and adequate number of clean towels.
Increasingly, beauty parlours have started reporting accidents: customers have complained of severe infections and even permanent skin damage. Gertrude Nakyejwe has still not recovered from her visit to the beauty parlour in 2004.
"After I applied a lotion on my face my face swelled up. Later, the hair gel made me lose most of my hair." Nakyejwe was hospitalised and the salon was forced to foot part of the bill. Even after a year, her hair has not started growing.
In Kampala's Mulago Hospital, the country's biggest, 20 per cent of the serious skin burns are due to improper application of beauty products. One of the reasons for this is that salon owners, mostly illiterate women, can't read instructions given on the product for those who can, don't bother to study the skin types of the clients.
A more serious challenge for the government is how to implement a ban on harmful beauty products. The Ministry of Trade and Industry, along with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and Uganda Revenue Authority is trying to evolve a strategy.
"We want to work on a formulation of regulations that will bring a total ban (on harmful products)," says Gyaviira Musoke from the UNBS.
Earlier, in 1989, the government tried to implement a similar regulation, but was hampered by the liberalisation wave. In 2003, the government tried to put some import restrictions on beauty products but it failed again.
Indeed, compared to many other African countries, Uganda lags behind in evolving legal restrictions on import of beauty products.—News Network