From a head full of lice, to a teenager not wanting a knot in her hair combed out, hairdressers share their worst experience on the job.
[Sources can be found at the end of the article]
When I was in school, a really strange woman came in for a scalp treatment. She gave me a weird vibe but I couldn’t turn down clients. The first thing I noticed about her was the overwhelming stench of body odor and possibly rotten food.
The second thing was that she had two large Little Caesar’s pizzas in her purse. They were stacked vertically. First sign there was something weird about her. She sits down and I go to check her scalp. Thank God I had the foresight to put on gloves because this woman had a giant, oozing wound on her head. It was probably 3 inches wide and 5-6 inches long. It was oozing pus and other weird stuff and I swear I saw something moving in there. And the smell.. that was partly where her stench was coming from. It smelled like rotting flesh and curdled milk.
I obviously freaked out and told her I couldn’t perform a service on her. She asked why and I told her she had a giant gash on her head that needed to be looked at by a doctor as soon as possible. She then proceeded to argue with me for about 15 minutes, saying that she didn’t have anything of the sort and her head felt fine. I finally kicked her out but wow, that image in burned in my mind forever now.
I am current a hairdresser.
An elderly client of mine had major surgery on her head just before she started seeing me as her regular hairdresser.
I had been doing her hair for years. I was able to tell her how her scar was looking. Sometimes it would start looking red/inflamed. I was able to see it, tell her, and she would go see her doctor that week.
Last year, A SCREW had made its way out of her skull, and was popping through her head. She said she couldn’t feel it. I told her that she had to see her doctor as soon as possible!
She came back two weeks later and claimed the Dr said it wasn’t an issue. And to just “keep an eye on it.”
Ex-hairdresser. Two bad ones:
1). We used to have a lady client who would sit in a room for about a month at a time and smoke at least 40 cigarettes a day. Her hair was only ever washed by us, at the hairdressers. The only thing that was worse than the smell was the sticky tar that would be stuck in her hair. The water would be a deep brown and it would take about 4 washes.
2). An old man who had scruffy hair came in for a wash & cut. As I begin to wash his hair my hand slips into a large cave / gap in his skull. 1/4 of his head was missing – at least a tennis ball sized gap. Turns out he had a bad motorcycle accident and had to have brain surgery – a lot was removed. Heads up would have been good.
My aunt was a hairdresser and had a client who had these little “soft” spots in her head with scars above them. The client was “a bit dotty” as my aunt affectionately put it and very fixated on my aunt to make sure the scars were covered. The lady would get a perm each visit so she spent quite awhile there and my aunt always assumed she might have early dementia or something, but adored her because she was very sweet and fun to talk to.
It wasn’t until the client’s son was there during a visit that Aunt found out her client had been lobotomized as a young housewife and that was what the “soft spots” were from.
This one actually made me quit hairdressing and join the Navy.
A guy comes in for a $7.95 cut and his hair was very greasy. He had scabs and sores and huge crusts all over his head but didn’t want to pay the extra dollar for the shampoo. I shampooed him anyway with tea tree shampoo and it took everything in me to not puke on his head. Of course no tip either.
Another time I was perming this girl’s hair and got to the very last rod and saw one single louse on her scalp. I had washed and cut and sectioned her entire head and that was the only one on there. Since it was 1989, I don’t remember how we handled it.
Finally, I was cutting a guy’s hair, when I got to the side, he wanted the sides level with where his ears met his head, so I make the cut and something fell off and then there was blood and I’m freaking out, it was this huge mole type thing and I cut the entire thing off, he thanked me and said “Now I don’t have to go to a doctor to get it taken off.”
I briefly worked as a stylist at a retirement home. One day I was doing this really old lady’s hair (She didn’t communicate. She was totally non responsive), and as I’m putting her rollers in, I notice that her nose is completely covered in huge black heads that are sticking out of her face a good 1/8-1/4 inch. Her nose looked like a porcupine, totally covered in these huge spikey blackheads. I felt so bad because the caretakers weren’t helping her with it. But luckily that’s the grossest thing I’ve seen. So far, anyways.
My mom does hair in a salon in a nursing home. One day a resident came in for a perm. My mom saw she had scabs on her scalp, but the nursing staff insisted that she was cleared by her physician to have the perm. So, my mom put the curlers in the old ladys hair, once she was done with that she began applying the chemicals to her hair. The woman began complaining that it was extremely itchy, my mom checked the scabs and was horrified by what she saw – bugs crawling out of the scabs on the old womans head. My mom freaked and called the nurses back in, who werent shocked in the least, in fact, they encouraged my mom to finish the job. She did not finish the job.
I was doing a full head of highlights. I had sectioned the clients hair and was working up from the nape of her neck. A few foils up, about level with the tops of her ears, I had the section of hair ready to be foiled. I placed the foil up against her scalp with my comb and flattened her hair against the foil ready to add the colour. As I went to apply the colour I noticed pus running down the foil from her scalp. It looked like I had loosened an ingrown hair or something because I was holding the hair quite taut to the foil.
I started getting tunnel vision and went kind of light-headed but I wanted to stay professional so I powered through it. I just slapped the colour on and folded the colour/pus monstrosity into the foil and tried to forget about it when it came round to washing the foils out.
I had a 10-year-old client. When I was washing his hair, I noticed a crusty film over the crown of his head and part of the top. I grabbed a comb and started scraping at the edges and it came up in huge pieces that peeled away. I asked him if it hurt and he said no, it was just itchy. I called the mum over and asked if she was washing his hair or if he was. She replied him. I advised her to help him learn how to properly wash his hair since the build up of skin, un-rinsed shampoo and conditioner had built up and caused cradle cap in the top of his head. I felt so bad for this kid. It couldnt have been comfortable and had probably been building up for a long time… I got as much as I could off with clarifying shampoo and a comb, but it would be a while for it all to be peeled off. Parenting skills were sorely missed here.
I’ve seen ring worms on two kids heads. One was so bad he had bald patches where the worms were and his dad took him to get a new hair cut to help cover the baldness.
We used to have an old lady come in every two months or so for a colour. I’m pretty sure she never washed her hair in between visits. She would have a viable layer of hairspray and the worst dandruff I’ve ever seen.
Most people have never seen real dandruff (most people just have a dry scalp). Dandruff is puss, yellow, waxy and smells like dirty hair. Anyway, in some places this old lady had about 2cm build up of dandruff in places.
The worst part was when you would blow dry her hair it would make the whole salon smell like dandruff.
I was doing hair out of my house for tips while still in school. I was trying to help bring in money for the family since I had kids but couldnt work since I was in school. I didnt charge and only accepted tips. A quick backstory: at the time I was an army wife (hes out now) so I tried to follow rules. I stayed booked constantly because army wives liked the deal.
One lady came over and once I started doing her hair I immediately saw the lice crawling around. I told her and she said she knew she just figured I could work around it. Lord help me!!! I asked her to leave and then I had to clean and sanitize everything in my house. I had a full on salon too in a room with the chair and sink, etc. I was so paranoid that my kids would get the lice after that. I couldnt believe she would knowingly go to the salon with lice in her hair!
My mother is a hair dresser. She was doing a ladys hair for her wedding and discovered the worst infestation of head lice shes ever seen. But because it was this ladys wedding day, she decided not to ruin it and didn’t mention the lice. Since it’s a wedding, there is of course lots of hugging, which equals head touching. And thats how my mother was responsible for nearly the entire small town she lived in getting head lice. She still has no regrets about not telling the bride and ruining her day.
I have had three bad ones. Two in beauty school.
First, a guy came in and wanted me to comb out his hair and give him a trim. He had a massive dread in his hair (a couple actually) and begged me to try and comb it out. I did it but it literally took me 6 hours of combing. He had hair down to his waist after I finished.
Second was an older man who really liked me in beauty school and although he was sweet, he smelled terrible and had an awful case of greasy dandruff. It smelled horrid and no matter how many times I shampooed, my combs would get caked in it. It would shed off in clumps and get stuck on my hands. It was just awful.
Last was a client not to long ago. I work in a high-end salon so this rarely happens. A woman came in for a haircut and after taking her hair down I started to look through it. The woman had mold in her hair and it smelled terrible. She apparently never fully dried her hair before putting it up in a bun. So the mildew over time (and I am sure other things) built up and cause her hair to mold…
I had a young man come in with his mother. He was about 8 years old and had tight curly hair. His mother asked me to shave down to a 00000 that is the shortest you can go with clippers. I said sure. It was my last cut of the day and I was eager to go home. I started the service and when I was barely 1/3rd in, I noticed that he had a lice infestation under the tight curly hair. I mean these guys were huge. Probably why his mother needed me to shave it off.
So… I discontinued the service and spent the next 3 hours disinfecting everything in sight. The boys mother called the barbershop later to complain because I wouldn’t finish shaving her son’s hair. We tried to explain that it was illegal for us to continue the service as it might spread lice to others and recommended a specialty shop that could take care of this for them but she demanded that it was because we were racist. That was fun.
Older ladies that came in for a wash and a waterwave that had a “helmet of hairspray” of 4 weeks old was pretty normal.
I had one client that had really bad Psoriasis and no hairdresser wanted to help him. He was also very ashamed, so we made the deal that he could come in after closing time.
It was really bad and most of the equipment (combs, clips, etc) were disposed instead of disinfected.
My dad was a hairdresser before he passed. When I was young, I had really bad psoriasis on my scalp. My dad has been the only one to ever cut my hair (passed 3 months ago, and I can’t bring myself to get my hair cut, even though it’s desperately needed).
In my 25 years on this planet, and I can remember a few times sitting in his chair where he was literally combing and cutting out large chunks of dead, flakey skin. It was the most embarrassed I have ever been in front of him, because no matter how many topical remedies I tried, I couldn’t get it to go away. Eventually grew out of the psoriasis, but I still hold onto this moment as one of my favorite moments, where the love my dad had for me really shone through.
When I was an assistant at my first salon right out of school we had classes every Wednesday night. Well, one week I couldn’t find a model in time so my mentor had someone she knew come in and be my model. So the model comes in, seems perfectly normal. She sits in my chair, I start the consultation and start looking through her hair to see what I’d need to do. Apparently, this young lady had not washed her hair in what I’m assuming was weeks because her hair was so greasy that every time I touched her hair my hand came back drenched in grease. And the smell, oh man I’ll never forget that smell. It was the worst thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with.
I asked my mentor if I could shampoo her before starting and was told that I couldn’t. So here I am working on this girl who almost literally has grease dripping from her hair. I must have washed my hands 10 times that night. Needless to say, I had my own model for every class after that one.
I have other stories from my time teaching as well. Lots of lice and people leaving the school bleeding.
I had a woman come in one day who had hair halfway down her back. She just wanted a trim. I got her shampooed, into my chair and began combing her hair, and noticed a peculiar smell and what looked a bit like dry scalp (but not quite). I looked a bit closer and the “flakes” were actually little translucent nits. Lice eggs. I could see tiny black things.
Hairdressers are of course not doctors, so we can’t diagnose, which means I had to tell this woman that she needed to go see a doctor and I couldn’t do her hair, but I couldn’t come right out and tell her she had lice. I told her it looked like it might be lice, and she worked with kids so it was a good “guess.”
She was so embarrassed. I had to throw away a really nice cape along with several towels and had to disinfect everywhere she had been.
I had some people over about 8 years who had crusty stuff on the scalp and around the ears. They tended to go a while between baths, which you can tell because people develop a “funky” smell in their hair. The hair gets a distinct aroma. Little kid hair has a similar smell. It takes a lot of washing to get that odor off your hands.
So this girl’s hair wasn’t particularly nasty, but she had this knot in the back of her head. Kind of like she had a skinny braid back there and let it get out of control. It was knotted up, but nothing I couldn’t comb out, I’ve seen way worse. Anyway, she wanted a full head of highlights, but wanted me to “work around” the knot. She wouldn’t let me even attempt to comb it out. It was so weird. She got an attitude with me when I told her I couldn’t do my job properly if she wouldn’t let me get the knot out first. Finally she realized I wasn’t going to budge and said something along the lines of, “so I guess you won’t do my hair till the knot is gone…” and gets up and leaves.
She wasn’t trying to have a dreadlock there or anything, just had a knot, didn’t want to comb it out herself. She even told me she was “weird” about her hair (yeah, no kidding) so she didn’t want me to comb it out.
I had a girl (12-13 years old) come in who wanted partial highlights in her hair. I saw some white stuff while combing through, asked her if she had any condition like dandruff. She said she had dandruff. I asked if it itched, to which I got the reply “no,” So I Shrugged it off.
Halfway through the service, took a slice of her hair, saw a louse crawl across her scalp, and nearly dropped my comb.
“Hey I’ll be right back,” I told her. I quietly went up to one of my mentors and whispered “we got a predicament,” which to anyone listening just sounds like I have a speech impediment and can’t say the word ‘predicament.’ But my teacher knows that ‘pediculosis’ is a technical term for lice.
Halfway through this service, with foils and bleach and all still in her hair, I had to tell this 12-year-old I couldn’t keep working on her because she has lice. Worst part is, I couldn’t wash out the bleach for fear that lice would spread around. I had to have the girl sit with a plastic cap on her head, crying, while her mother had her hair done.
I’ve had my license for a little over 3 years and this was by far the worst thing I have ever had to deal with. I had a girl that was 14 years old. By my experience this is usually about the age girls start to really take care of themselves and start to wear makeup and do their hair and all that but wow, was this girls hair disgusting! Her hair was past her waist and horse hair thick. I started to ask her what she wanted to do to it yada yada, but I swear her head smelled like soggy chicken nuggets.
I get this girl to the sink and the hair is matted underneath about two inches from the base and the grease in her hair is coming off in quarter sized chunks. I washed this poor girls hair 5 times with every clarifying treatment I had and it did nothing. Eventually I gave up and just decided to try and style it. I couldn’t brush it. I couldn’t comb it. Me and another stylist were both going at it trying to undo the mess that had been made and there were STILL huge chunks of grease coming off. I decided to stop the whole thing and pull the mother aside who was with her. I tried to explain to her that she cannot come back until she properly takes care of herself because what should have been a 45 minute wash, cut, blow dry, and style, turned into three hours of just combing. She tried to come back one time and we said no, unless her hygiene had changed and then she never came back again after that. It still grosses me out to this day.
I manage a high-end salon in a super rich part of New York City. It’s also where I’ve come across the most disgusting women. These women are like extremely rich but can’t seem to bathe themselves! It’s disgusting! There’s one woman who smells like moldy rags every time you wash her hair. There’s another who will have actual pieces of dirt and debris fall out of her hair. The bottom of the sink will look like a prospectors tin in a river after you wash her hair. They come in and their hair stinks and you can’t get it to stop stinking after 2/3 washes. And they wonder why their husbands don’t want to sleep with them anymore. No money in the world will ever change the fact that if literal pieces of dirt and trash fall out of your hair then no man or woman for that fact will want to go any where near you.
I had a situation where a young lady sat down in my chair and was vigorously scratching at her head. Upon further investigation I noticed most of her hair was a hairpiece with a loose mesh holding it together. It had been far too long since it was sewn in and there was a lot of space under the mesh. A nauseating smell came from the sweat/oil secretions, product buildup, excess moisture, and bacteria that was forming under the mesh. The cause of the itching was quite apparent. I took her to the washbowl and brought the entire pump gallon jug of tea tree and peppermint shampoo over and deeply scrubbed her scalp several times, getting under the mesh. I advised she have it removed quickly. I have never been as disgusted with the smell of anyone’s hair.
I went to cosmetology school in a fairly prominent university district in my area. We had free haircut days- I’ve seen it all.
The worst experience I’ve ever had with doing hair was not someone with gross hair but a gross attitude. She was a 16-year-old with at least 3 feet of white/grey hair. It was beautiful and very unusual. She was very entitled and super picky- she did not seem to understand that she was in a school and her expectations were out there. When you have 3 feet of hair, it takes longer to wash, cut and style and she was not a fan. She berated me the entire time. She kept yelling at me that I was taking too long and I wasn’t styling her hair properly. She was pissed that I wasn’t blowing her hair out smooth enough and then yelled if I pulled her hair taut with a brush. For those of you who have worked on grey hair, it has a different more difficult texture to smooth out than “regular” hair. Add in to that my learning status and this girl just did not get it. I was fairly new on the floor and felt so completely overwhelmed- I ended up crying because one, I had given up my lunch break to do her hair and two, she made me feel like an utter failure as a stylist.
I have two:
First one was in hair school. We had a lot of destitute people come in because the cuts were like $4. This lady sat in my chair for a cut/color. Her hair was impossibly ratted and it took me a good half an hour to finally remove the tangles. Once the brush strokes were fluid, I noticed a large bump on the back of her head. I moved her hair out of the way and it was a HUGE tumor that was red and the skin was cracking. Think, cutting a softball in half sized. She told me she’d been in the hospital for weeks waiting to have it tested and removed and that’s why her hair was so ratted (from laying in bed for so long) It took every bit of self control I had to control the gagging and not be sick all over that place.
Next one was this high school aged girl who came in for foils. I mixed her color and got through maybe three foils when I noticed something moving on her scalp. I took a closer look and saw bugs all over her head. I had never seen lice in real life, so I called my friend (another hair stylist) over to confirm my suspicion. The client looked super nervous and said, “are you about to tell me I have lice? I’ve been to three stylists this week and they all said that but I haven’t found any.” I had to drop my tools, rush her to the shampoo bowl, rinse off the color and get her out of the salon. I couldn’t believe this girl. If you have been to THREE STYLISTS this week and they all said the same thing, WHY WOULD YOU NOT BELIEVE THEM AND COME INFECT ANOTHER SALON!?!? We had to disinfect the entire salon that day, chairs, capes, towels, tools. I was so angry. But I did walk her down the street to a Sally’s and get her the medication she needed. Hopefully she took it and didn’t go trying another salon.