Calogero La Bella, 80, began working in the industry at 10 years old and continued to cut hair for many decades after moving to the UK from Italy aged 20.
After falling ill earlier this year Mr La Bella was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare form of lung cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos.
It has now emerged he was exposed by cleaning and maintaining handheld and over-the-head dryers while working at various salons in Yorkshire throughout his decades-long career.
In the 1970s and '80s asbestos, a carcinogenic material, was commonly used to make dryers because it is heat resistant and therefore an ideal component to use as lining.
Mr La Bella, from Bradford, West Yorks, said: "Cleaning the dryers was always a very dusty job and you would have to get rid of the dust and hair that had collected in them.
"I might have also had to replace the element or other aspects like wiring too.
"It is only in more recent years that I've come to learn that some devices made use of asbestos to prevent the dryers from catching fire."
The father-of-three, originally from Sicily, added: "Developing mesothelioma has been a huge shock and it has had a massive impact on my life.
"However, it is particularly distressing to think that the job I loved so much essentially caused it."
Mr La Bella started shaving and cutting men's hair as a child in his native Italy before moving to the UK at the age of 20 in the late 1950s.
He has worked at a number of salons in Bradford and nearby Leeds ever since, in roles which involved frequently cleaning dryers.
Last summer Mr La Bella visited doctors complaining of symptoms including fatigue and diarrhoea and was diagnosed with mesothelioma soon after.
Mesothelioma takes several decades to develop following exposure to asbestos, making it difficult in some cases to determine where exposure took place.
Following the news, the father-of-three instructed specialist asbestos-related disease law firm Irwin Mitchell to investigate how he came to develop the illness.
Legal experts concluded the cancer is likely linked to his profession but due to the historic nature of the case they were not able to take legal action against any specific employer.
However, he has since received a payment from the Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme – a specialist fund created to compensate those unable to bring a claim against either an employer or a company’s liability insurer.
Solicitor Lucy Andrews said: "While this is yet another case which highlights the devastating impact that asbestos exposure can have, it is also one which is notable for two reasons.
"So many of our cases relate to asbestos exposure in industrial environments, so this one is undoubtedly unique because of the fact that contact with the material is likely to have occurred in salons.
"Secondly, while we have been unable to pursue a claim against a specific employer, we have still managed to secure funds for our client through this special scheme.
"It is a case which truly highlights how any form of asbestos exposure can have significant consequences, as well as that there are multiple ways that we can work to ensure that our clients gain the justice that they ultimately deserve."
Mr La Bella continues to battle the illness.
He said: "Sadly nothing will change what has happened but this payment is undoubtedly very welcome and it will ensure that I can access the care and support I will need going forward."