Forget superheros, hairdressers are the real heroes we should be praising. They have to encounter some of the grossest, rudest people on the planet and continue to smile through it all. Seriously, how did the hairdressers in these stories handle these human nightmares?! Also, they definitely weren't tipped for these feats of strength they went through. Content has been edited for clarity.
"I am a barber in North Carolina, so I am used to some truly disgusting people. You simply power through and collect your money. Once when I was in barber school, a lady was brought into our establishment by a hospital to get her head shaved. She had been bedridden for two years while her son 'took care of her'. In reality, he had just been showing up at her house to collect her disability check and make sure she was still alive. At one point, another family member tried to buy groceries for the woman, but the woman's card was declined. The family member was curious why, so she went to the house and found this poor woman in horrible condition. She was covered in feces, her hair had transformed into one giant dreadlock, and she had so many open sores. The police were called and the son was arrested. This woman entered the school on an IV drip with two nurses standing by. The lady was assigned to me and another girl. Oh, boy.
You could smell this lady as soon as she came in. She looked like the hospital had cleaned her up as best they could. We put on gloves and proceeded to try and shave her head. The clippers I was using were powerful, but not powerful enough for this hair. I pulled out my trusty shears and cut off the massive dread that was holding us back. The smell was one of the worst ones of my entire life. I tried to ignore it as best I could, rubbing aftershave under my nose to help hide the odor. The girl helping me instantly started to vomit and had to walk away. Other students were also vomiting, and half of our clients just left immediately. The woman started to cry, but I just reassured her that it would all be okay. I went in and started the buzz cut. That's when I noticed a nest of maggots in her hair. I looked to the ground, and maggots were crawling out of the dread. I quickly swept it up and retrieved a hazard bag from one of the nurses. I cleaned the bugs out of her hair and finally was able to buzz it. I then offered the woman a free shampoo and conditioner treatment for her dry scalp, on the house. She accepted, and my treatment got rid of most of the foul odor emanating from her. I even threw in a free facial massage. She once again started crying, but this time it was due to her happiness. This was the final step in her feeling like a human being again. Her son was thankfully put in jail, but I don't know how long his sentence was for. It was truly an atrocious day, but at least there was a positive ending to it all. I think about this lady often. Dealing with stinky people is simply part of the job. I'm a professional, so I just have to deal with it. Honestly, a little aftershave under the nose does wonders."
"This young woman named Dawn called the salon where I was working as a hairdresser's apprentice. Dawn told the receptionist that she wanted an appointment for a tight spiral perm. The receptionist handed the phone to the hairdresser, who proceeded to ask Dawn numerous detailed questions about Dawn's hair, including whether or not she had chemicals in her hair recently or ever in the past. I took tons and tons of notes. Dawn told us that she had never had any chemical treatments of any kind, including hair color. She swore that she had naturally straight hair, slightly thick, and shoulder-length. The hairdresser warned Dawn that not all hair types would take spiral perms equally, but Dawn was quite adamant. The hairdresser mentioned how it would take several hours to apply the perm, and there would be very specific costs as well. Dawn once again agreed to everything. The battle was about to begin.
The hairdresser blocked off her entire afternoon for the appointment, and I was right by her side to help roll Dawn's hair into spiral shapes. Dawn arrived thirty minutes late for her appointment, which was not a good sign for the outcome. Luckily, with two sets of hands working on Dawn's hair, we were able to make up for the lost time. After we spent the entire afternoon on Dawn's hair, the hairdresser unwrapped the spirals. Considering all the time and effort involved, her hair turned out perfectly. The spirals were perfectly formed and looked really great. When Dawn was shown her new spiral perm in the mirror, Dawn let out an audible gasp. Dawn screeched, 'I absolutely hate it! It looks terrible, why is it so curly?!'
The hairdresser picked up one of Dawn's photos of the spiral perm and showed it to her. It was a perfect match to what we had turned Dawn's hair into. Dawn continued to raise her voice. She screamed, 'I want you to remove all the curls right now! I insist you put my hair back the way it was when I arrived, right now! I don't like these curls!'
The hairdresser and I were both speechless. The hairdresser calmly reminded Dawn that she had insisted on the spiral perm. She told Dawn that she couldn't undo the perm, but if Dawn waited a few days, the hair would loosen and become much softer. She told Dawn that a spiral perm takes about twenty-right hours to set into your hair, so give the perm a little time to settle in, and it wouldn't look as tight. Dawn stated that she didn't care how long it took for the spiral perm to finish setting, she screamed that she wasn't going to pay for the perm. She grabbed her purse and stormed out of the salon. Not only did Dawn not pay for all the work the hairdresser and I spent hours and hours doing, she didn't leave any sort of tip. Furthermore, Dawn sent a letter of complaint to the Better Business Bureau and wrote horrific online reviews, even though she was the one who didn't pay for services which we provided to her in good faith. This entire experience gave me so much compassion for all the hardworking hairdressers trying to do their very best for the clients. Ultimately, our salon never got paid for Dawn's extensive hair services. Even worse, the hairdresser had to address the Better Business Bureau's complaint against her and the salon. No idea whatever happened to the dreaded Dawn."
"Back when I was in hair school, all sort of strange people would come in for our seven dollar cuts. This one guy came in and told me he hadn't had his hair cut in a year. He had thick, long hair and a backwards hat on. He mentioned how he had 'scalp issues', and he seemed normal enough. It turns out that he would occasionally rinse wash his hair and hide it all under the hat. Trapping moisture near your skin for extended periods isn't a good idea, and doing it daily was definitely worse. When he took his hat off, the entire room reeked of death. The largest flakes I had ever seen fell out as he did so. Now flakes can be pretty common when people keep their scalp wet, but this guy's head, in the twenty years of experience I now have under my belt, was undoubtedly the worst thing I have ever witnessed. I took him to the sink, where so much more dead skin came out as well. I nearly vomited. The scalp was all mushy, like what I imagine a decaying body to be like. Thick hunks of skin with the texture of athlete's foot came out all over the place. They were the size of a half-dollar coin, if you can imagine. I still remember removing the drain filter to send that flesh down the drain. I couldn't stop staring at it. I barely kept my lunch down, I don't know how I did it.
The smell went away quickly enough, but I can have super dramatic reactions to certain textures. It turns out that rotting flesh is high on that 'nope' list. I must have washed this guy's scalp five times. We got back to the chair and I cut his hair, but by that point, I was completely on autopilot. The guy seemed to think that I handled it well, but I have no idea how I kept my professionalism up. I sprayed my entire work station with more Lysol than I've ever used in the rest of my life combined. I sprayed my hands, shears, and shoes with the stuff too. I changed my clothes and had an OCD-fueled meltdown once the man finally left. I hope that guy changed his habits after my appointment, because I couldn't imagine having to go through life like that."
"One time, this older man came in with three of his boys. Two of my coworkers and I each got one of the kids. It was towards the end of the day, so we were all ready to zoom through these haircuts and get home finally! Each boy has super shaggy hair. They didn't seem to be very hygienic in general. They had dirty skin, stained shirts, and way too much acne. I tried to be sympathetic to them, but it didn't take long to realize there was a bigger issue with these children. My guess is that the boys were aged fourteen, eighteen, and twenty-two, and. I was working. on the oldest one. He was the worst of all. He wanted a buzz cut with a skin fade on the sides and the back. With one pass of my clippers from the bottom of the neck to midway to the top, the most revolting smell ever hits me like a tidal wave. I was so distracted by the smell that I went in for another swipe without thinking. There lies this HUGE mountain of lord knows what underneath his skin. It looked like a series of white pimples, ready to pop at any moment. It wasn't even a minute into the haircut when our supervisor came by and realized we shouldn't be working with these people. But apparently since we started the process, we can't stop anything now.
My client had multiple lumps of puss all over his head, which make cutting around them quite difficult. I was seriously reconsidering my career choice that night. It didn't help that the dad didn't even bother to tip us. He also tried to haggle on the five dollar haircuts, saying that my fade wasn't perfect. I wanted to tell him how his son's fade was the LEAST of his worries as a parent. The supervisor came over again and let this father have it. She told the father how his boys needed to see a specialist for their scalps, and had she been in the room when they were seated, she would have combed through their hair and denied them all service. The next morning, my supervisor just told all of us to throw away the machines we used just to be safe. She would give us some replacements that were much cleaner. The supervisor even gave us tips for all of our troubles, so at least there was that."
"I work for a chain of franchise-owned, family-oriented, walk-in-only salons. A large portion of our clients are men and children, though we do get many women as well. Most of the time, the work is very rewarding, because I get a lot of enjoyment out of making people look and feel good about themselves. But every so often you see something, most often a neglected child, and it breaks your heart. There’s absolutely nothing that you, as a mere hairdresser, can do about it. A few weeks ago, I had a teenage boy in my chair. He was a lanky, awkward kid with a quiet voice, who hadn’t gotten a haircut in quite some time, as evidenced by the uneven, stringy locks that brushed his shoulders. He was looking for a new style, something short and easy to style, but 'not too short'. No problem. We went through a brief consultation, and then I began to comb his hair out. It had appeared greasy, but I was not prepared for the massive amounts of buildup he had on the sides and back of his head. Thick layers of old sebum (the oil naturally produced by your skin to protect it) that was matted with all the hair stuck in it made it almost impossible to comb through. When I asked him about the build up in his hair, he said it was from a shampoo he used. I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t give him grief. It’s embarrassing enough to be in that situation to begin with, you really don’t need your hairdresser shaming you on top of it. Our salon is à la carte, which means that a haircut is a base price, and if you want to add on a shampoo or a blow dry, it’s an extra charge. I offered to shampoo the kid at no extra charge, because the way his hair was, the only haircut I’d be able to give him would be a nearly-bald buzz. I scrubbed him with a clarifying shampoo, then a regular shampoo, and followed with a light conditioner. It barely made a dent in the buildup.
At that point, I called his mother over. I explained that he had this buildup in his hair, and that I would not be able to cut his hair with it in that state. She all but rolled her eyes at me and told me to try harder to get it out so he could get his hair cut. At that point, one of my coworkers jumped in to lend a hand. She was able to eventually comb through the buildup and remove a huge mat of hair, and after a second round of clarify-shampoo-condition, the buildup was finally broken down enough that I could actually give him a haircut. After the cut, I styled it for him with a little pomade, and explained that it was important for him to clarify his hair once a week with a special clarifying shampoo, especially if he’s going to use product in his hair. I explained it to his mom, because, let’s face it: this was the result of him not being taught how to properly wash his hair. It was the result of the mom turning the other cheek instead of seeing something wrong with her child and seeking to fix it.
Then there was the poor child I dealt with yesterday, which was a whole other level of neglect. These parents had brought their two children in, and only the son was getting a haircut at first. The daughter, aged nine, decided that she had wanted a trim as well, so I got her suited up in my chair. I knew it was going to be a problem before I even took her hair tie out. Her long, wavy hair was a tangled mess that looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a week. But once I actually got the hair tie out and started running my fingers through the ends, I found large mats of hair close to the scalp that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to undo on my own, if at all. There was also a section at the nape of her neck where it looked like a chunk had been cut out, six inches shorter than the rest of her hair. This little girl was a mess, and she also smelled like urine. It was very clear from her split ends that she had not had a haircut in years. I called my boss over to help. My boss previously worked at a children’s salon for years, and he is an absolute pro at de-tangling messy hair. Forty minutes, three combs, a butt load of leave-in conditioner, half a bottle of clipper oil, and a lot of pep-talking this little girl later, and my boss and I had tamed this head. Before I went ahead and chopped, my boss brought the mom over to show her the girl’s hair, and exactly how much we needed to cut off to even everything out. He also stressed the importance of making sure the girl brushed her hair all the way through. The mom didn’t care. She was upset because they were all supposed to go out, and they had to wait a whole extra hour because her precious daughter wanted a trim. This was a trim that turned out to be forty minutes of heavy duty de-tangling and an 8-inch chop to even things out, because who knows when the last time this poor girl had gotten an actual haircut. Seeing these people come in and out of the salon breaks my heart. I can educate the child and the parent regarding proper hair care until I’m blue in the face, but none of that matters if the child isn’t being cared for. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Once they’re out of my chair, I’m powerless."
"When I was in cosmetology school, I had this lady come in who wanted a haircut and a manicure. When she came in, she was a massive smoker. Now I've been around smokers my whole life, but this woman REEKED of smoke and nicotine. It was as if she smoked them in her house and car, with all the windows rolled up. I couldn't understand how one person could have that strong of an odor permeating off of her. I start to run my fingers through her bleach blonde hair to see what I'm dealing with here, and a chunk of her hair just falls off right in my hand. At this point, I have a look of horror on my face and start to mumble an apology about the woman's hair. She very calmly tells me, 'Oh, did a chunk fall out? That happens sometimes, it's fine.'
I politely tell her that she might want to get that checked out. I get the shampoo and conditioner and take her to the wash bowl. I turn on the water, and her hair transforms into bleach blonde mush. The entire salon now reeked of smoke and wet dog. I used about a cup of conditioner on her hair. It was the roughest haircut I have ever encountered, and all she wanted was a very simple bob.
The manicure was even worse. She left coat upon coat of nail polish on all of her fingernails. I let the fingers soak, took them out, tried to take some of the polish off, but nothing worked. I took my wooden dowel and tried to chip some of the polish off. Cue my horror when the wooden dowel sunk INTO HER FINGERNAIL. The stench coming from the finger will always haunt me. It was like a rotting corpse. I alerted my teacher, who told the woman that she most likely had nail fungus, and that she really needed to go to the doctor. Thankfully, the woman left after that in embarrassment. I was so relived it was over."
"Not too long ago, a lady came into our salon with two kids, a boy and a girl. Both of them had light brown and quite messy hair, but at first glance it was nothing we aren't used to in our every day routine. It was the middle of the summer and very hot, so a mild stench of sweat doesn't raise any red flags, especially with the kids that have been running around in the heat. It was only when my colleague tried putting a comb through little girls' hair that the situation began to unravel. I reacted to a scream that my colleague has released and ran over to see what's going on. At a first stroke of comb through little girls' hair, a bunch of lice started falling out all over the floor, comb, and the girl's shoulders. They started crawling around, panicked after being disturbed. Now, I used to be a barber in the military and I've seen my fair share of lice, but this was something else. That little girl's head was literally covered with eggs, to the point that you could hardly see any skin. So I put on a pair of latex gloves and approached the boy very carefully. Naturally, his situation was just as bad, although on much shorter hair Needless to say, we examined the mom too, and she also had them. Not as bad as the kids, but still a lot. She claimed that she had no idea. Yeah, right.
Normally we would have just sent them on their way, but I felt sorry for the kids, so I got to work. After significantly shortening their hair, I sent someone to the local drugstore to buy special shampoo and got to washing and treating all three of them. Wash, rinse, repeat, comb, comb, comb, comb, and comb. That was such a long day, I'll tell you that much. After that process, they were all really grateful. They were coming in for a while for regular treatments (one session couldn't possibly get rid of all that lice). Mom cried, the kids cried, and I cried after when nobody could see me. I'll never forget the image of all of those eggs and bugs crawling all over those kids' heads. We had to throw away those towels and sterilize anything we could after that horrific episode."
"I did a stint of barbershop school, and I dealt with some nasty haircuts during my time there. The most notable one was this group of guys who came in one day. I think they were all family, and they were all in their forties. I take one of the guys who looks like he hasn't showered in a good two weeks. He sits down, and I could instantly smell him. He has no idea what he wants, so we go back and forth over several options. I wet his lengthy hair and experience the worst smell of my life. At this point, I am at arm's length trying to lean back as far as I could to keep away from the stink. I am breathing sporadically and trying not to gag. You ever have lunch meat in the fridge for too long and it has slime all over it? That's what it felt like to touch this dude's hair. He keeps wanting it shorter and shorter, so eventually I just buzz it mostly off. I clean him up and he gets out of the chair. The seat is now thickly coated in booty sweat, but it looks sticky and glossy. All of these dudes leave, and I tell my teacher that I need some Lysol to wipe my station down. I can feel hair grease all over my body. I washed my hands, got a new cape, and I figured that the only way to feel clean was to light myself on fire. I told my teacher that I would never do that guy again, even if he specifically requested me."
"My first experience was while I was still in school. We had a lot of impoverished people coming into our school because our cuts were like four dollars. THis lady sat in my chair for a cut and a color. Her hair was impossibly ratted, and it took me at least a half an hour to finally remove her tangles. Once I got through that, I noticed there was this large bump on the back of her head. I moved the hair out of the way, and it turned out to be a HUGE tumor, complete with cracked skin that was uncomfortably red. It was like half the size of a softball. This woman told me that she had been in the hospital for weeks, waiting to have this tumor tested and removed, and that's why her hair was so ratted. It took every bit of self-control I had to not vomit all over the place.
My next horrifying encounter happened with this teenage girl, looking to dye her hair with some foil. I mixed her color and got through maybe three folds of foil when I noticed something was moving on her scalp. I took a closer look and saw bugs all over her head. I had never seen lice before in real life, so I called another hair stylist friend over to confirm my suspicion. The teenage girl looked nervous and asked, 'Are you about to tell me that I have lice? I've been to three stylists this week, and they all told me I had lice, but I haven't found any.'
I had to drop my tools, rush this girl to the shampoo bowl, rinse off the color, and get her out of the salon immediately. I could not believe this girl. If you have been to THREE stylists this week and they all said the same thing, why on earth would you not believe them and come infect another salon?! We had to disinfect the entire salon that day, including all of our chairs, capes, towels, and tools. I was so angry. But I did walk this girl down to the nearby pharmacy and got her the medication she desperately needed. Hopefully she took it all and didn't try going to another salon for a while. Sheesh."
"I used to work in a very uppity rich salon in the Union Square area of San Francisco as an assistant. One of my duties was to shampoo the clients. This one snooty women I was shampooing abruptly got up out of the chair while I was in the middle of washing her hair. She raised herself up swiftly and flicked her sopping wet hair up and around. She got water everywhere and she got up and walked over to the stylist's chair in anger. She loudly demanded, 'Where did you get that girl?!' referring to me. Apparently, my shampoo skills were not adequate for her. Most people enjoyed my services and would often give me extra tips, but not this crazy woman. She had no self-awareness, and she practically covered the entire salon with water. The poor shampoo girl (who made only $200 per week in a sixty-hour per week job) clearly was the one in the wrong here. I couldn't believe this woman. But when someone has money, that entitles them to be nasty. I didn't get punished thankfully, but the hairstylist didn't say anything to this wet woman about her behavior. Thankfully I left that salon shortly thereafter. The next salon I worked at had its fair share of snooty clients, but my supervisor there would have asked women like that to leave and never come back. he wouldn't put up with any diva behavior form any of his clients. Peace of mind should be way more important than money."
"When I was in cosmetology school, we couldn't really turn anyone away. I had this woman, who was a clearly a woman of the night, sit in my chair, high out of her mind. This guy who brought her in was telling us to dye her stringy, fried hair blonde and to cut it to her chin. This woman didn't speak for herself at all. She wouldn't even look in the mirror. This man gave us all the instructions, he definitely had a specific look for her in mind. He was nasty to everyone in the school, and at one point she rushed away to go cry in the bathroom. A classmate went to go check on her, but the woman had actually escaped through our back door. The guy left to go find her quickly after that. I often think about her, I really hope she's okay. I wish I had gotten the chance to make her feel beautiful. That was the worst experience I've ever had, even though I didn't even do any service for her.
Besides that, I would often gag at the ladies who would come in for a wash, blow dry, and style after weeks of not washing or brushing their hair. I always suggested braid for these ladies, since they obviously chose not to maintain their naturally curly hair, but most of them refused and would come in every three to four weeks to do this process all over again. It was a very time-consuming process, involving tons of de-tangling rats nests and dreads, and usually there would be no tip to show for it. There were also these really creepy men who would come in for a cheap haircut, and they would say uncomfortably intimate things to me. They enjoyed the shampooing way too much. My school was basically a mill for free labor, and we had to accept every client that came in, no matter what. It was awful, but I'm enjoying some more creative freedom now that I am working in an actual salon. I still volunteer for events where I give free haircuts to the homeless, and there are quite a few dirty people there, but I don't mind as much. It isn't a daily occurrence like it used to be, and I like to make people feel good."