Dec 13, 2005

The Bottom Line Just because hair or nail services are necessary evils DO NOT overlook your health to get these services performed.

So, you are looking forward to that relaxing day at the hair salon. You hope to be coming home with a new hair style, a more beautiful you, and lots of future compliments. What you probably do not think about coming home with is some contagious disease that may be waiting for you in the hair salon. Every stylist who is NOT doing their job in sanitizing according to State Board laws will now have my picture upon a dart board in the back room of their salons. Why? Because I will share with you my personal experiences of dirty - and I mean dirty - little secrets of the hair styling and barbering business. This can be your list of things to notice and look for before that first snip on your hair begins. It may also scare you from ever going to a salon again. Be brave, be informed and do not let these tidbits scare you. Not everyone in the business is a slob.

#1 OK, if you are weak in the stomach skip this part. Now insert scary music here (DA-DA-DUM)...There are any number of diseases you can pick up from poor sanitation at the salon, barber shop or spa. First there are more serious viruses such as HIV, AIDS or Hepatitis A, B and C. These viruses are spread by poor sanitation or piercing mucous membranes or skin to blood transmittal as well as through sexual activity. Of course they can also be spread by the sharing of needles. These viruses can enter the bloodstream through open sores and can be transmitted to someone by the use of sharp implements which we all know are aplenty in the salon. There are also other things that may lurk in a salon if hygiene is not adhered to. Parasites....ewww. Vegetable parasites also known as fungi include mold, mildew and yeast can cause communicable diseases like ringworm and favus which are diseases of the skin. Oh, but lets not forget about those pesky little animal parasites such as scabies and pediculosis capitis - otherwise known as head lice. Many of us love pets but these are a few we do not need living amoung us! These are diseases that cosmetologists are trained to look for. State law says you SHALL NOT do a service on a client if you suspect the above parasites. However, there is no state law in my state (Florida) that says you can refuse performing a service to even a known HIV or AIDS carrier or Hepatitis B carrier. This would be considered discrimination. Crazy, I know, but in most cases people do not volunteer this unseen information. So you MUST protect yourself by being on guard and looking for unsanitary conditions in the rest of this list.

#2 The first thing you should notice while you are waiting for your stylist or barber is the condition of the waiting area. This will give you a good indication of what is going on in the rest of the salon. Notice just how dirty (or hopefully clean) the waiting area is. You can then scan the rest of the place and look for things like splattered hair color dripping down the walls, hair built up in corners, really messy and dirty shampoo bowls and back-bars and the like. If the filth is that obvious to the eye imagine what you are not seeing. If you are lucky enough to see this as soon as you come in the door then walk...no RUN out of that dump. Even if it is a cheap hair cut is it really worth the risk of picking up a putrid little unmentionable already mentioned above? However, just because it is a cheap hair cut this does not mean that those salons are any dirtier then your local "we'll empty your wallet" spa or upscale salon. Sometimes they can be worse.

#3 So, you have inspected the lobby and everything passes your keen eye. You should now be in the stylist's chair. Are you wearing a cape? Is it the same cape that ten other people earlier in the day wore? How about the forty other people earlier in the week wore? I have seen stylists use the same cape for weeks without washing it. How much neck sweat from other people do you want touching your skin? Most states require a neck strip or a towel to be placed under the neck of the cape. That cape should not touch your skin around the neck in any way shape or form. It can touch your arms and clothing but your skin around your neck should be protected from direct contact with your cape. This is the #1 sanitation crime I see in the salon. If there is no neck strip, ask for one. I can not tell you how many skin tags or moles on people's necks I have accidentally nicked with clippers. That blood goes on the cape.

#4 Check out those clippers before the stylist uses them on you. Ask if they have been sprayed and disinfected with any number of available disinfectants on the market. After you ask this question your picture will be up on the dart board next to mine! Also, all guards should have been soaked in Barbicide (a hospital grade disinfectant) between customers. If you do not see a tall jar of Barbicide (it will be blue) then ask where it is. If they have one, notice the color of the Barbicide. If it's a cloudy looking blue it needs to be changed. Barbicide should be changed every single day. This is another major infraction I see in the salon. I can not tell you how many stylists and barbers do not sanitize their combs, brushes and clippers. Even shears are to be sprayed between clients.

#5 Did you get a shampoo? One of the least common things I have seen stylists do is grab a semi-dry used towel from the dirty laundry basket to use on their clients when they are all out of clean towels. This is much harder to spot but the first time I saw this I was aghast. You can ask why the towel feels damp because if it is used it will usually be at least a little damp.

#6 How much hair is on the floor in that salon? Is there enough to make you slip and fall? I have seen people do four or five haircuts without sweeping up the hair. There is no State Law requiring a stylist to sweep specifically between clients that I know of, but generally most cosmetology schools teach their students to sweep after each and every hair cut. If your stylist does not care enough about your safety to sweep the hair off the floor who knows if they are also protecting you by taking care of the more time consuming hygiene procedures.

#7 If you are getting a blow dry take care to notice the stylist's hairbrushes. Do they look like small, furry animals? That would mean that it has been way too long since she/he cleaned their brushes. Brushes should be de-haired and sprayed with disinfectant spray between every client. If it looks really bad DO NOT let the brush touch your head. I can not tell you how many times I have seen things on the scalp that can transfer to that brush. Sometimes you have already used that brush on a head with psoriasis patches which can be open or (more scary music here "DA-DA DUM") which can contain pus before I noticed it. This is not a brush you want to touch your scalp even though psoriasis is not contagious.

#8 Look for a bottle of hand sanitizer on your stylist's station. A stylist should be cleaning their hands between each client. I do a lot of touching of skin, hair and scalp while working on a client. If that client has a cold or something contagious it could be easily passed to you by my unclean hands. I hardly ever see my fellow stylists cleaning their hands between clients. Again there is no easy way to know this unless you happen to be watching that stylist the entire time before they actually get you in the chair. Also, that neck brush can be a big bacterial culprit. In some states they are not allowed, but many stylists and barbers disregard this because they are so handy for getting hair off the back of the neck. Never let them use it on your face.

#9 One of the WORST culprits in this business are the nail services in a salon. I am thinking mainly of the pedicure foot baths. There are so many things you can pick up from a foot bath and because of time constraints for the nail technician many are not properly bleached or disinfected. One that I can think of quickly is called Mycobacterium fortuitum furunculosis - yup that was sitting right on the tip of my tongue! This is a bacterial infection which causes ugly sores and can linger for many months. It requires the use of antibiotics to heal and its healing can lead to scarring. There was an outbreak of this infection in the state of CA in 2000 which affected over 100 clients and was traced back to one salon. Obviously they did not follow State Law procedures on cleanliness. ASK how often their foot baths are disinfected and with what. It's your body. See that others who want to take your money to service it are keeping it safe.

#10 Your stylist/barber should do a scalp check during your consultation before even starting your service. This is where that stylist decides if it is safe to work on your head. This is a very common error of laziness on the stylist's part. I've seen people leave with half of a hair cut because these conditions were not discovered during a consultation but once the service had already begun. Many stylists do not consult with their clients at all. They sit you in the chair and say "what's it gonna be"? Your stylists should never diagnose you if she/he thinks you have a medical condition. We are not doctors. Even if we know for a fact that you have a certain condition we should only stop the service or refuse to begin it and inform you that you should see a physician. If your stylist says this to you then go see a physician. Do not try to pry from him/her what they think is wrong.

So there you have it. I hope you are not forever scared to get your hair done again or there will be a lot of ugly people running around this country! My final advice is to be cautious. I realize that there is a lot of information that you would have never considered in this article and probably much you wish you had never read but ignorance is not bliss in the case of the unsanitary salon. Lack of these procedures can wreak havoc on your health in various ways. My only hope in writing this was that I help to keep you healthy and on a personal level, to be able to outrun all guilty stylists who read this and try to search me out!

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