Hair Stylists put up with way more than we give them credit for. No matter if it’s a human or pet, the ways that hair can quickly become disgusting if not treated are terrifying. Luckily, these brave souls fought off the worst possible scenarios and survived, at least after several rounds of disinfectant. This content has been edited for clarity.
“I Wanted To Light Myself On Fire To Feel Clean”
“I did a stint of barbering school last year before my wife and I split. She is a hairstylist, and I only did it to appease her. I had some nasty haircuts during my time there. The most notable was what seemed to be an older family of 40 something man-children. So I get this one guy who is in sweats and looks like he hasn’t showered in a good two weeks. He sits down and I could INSTANTLY smell him. It was putrid, and it wasn’t like dirty homeless bad, it was like super BO greasy stank. I cape him up, and he clearly has no idea what he wants, so we go back and forth. I wet his hair and it was one of the nastiest smells of my entire life. For those of you who don’t know, hair smells when wet, and if you have dirty hair it’s amplified a lot. It was foul.
So at this point I’m at arms-length fully leaning back as far as I can to keep away from the stink. I’m breathing sporadically to try to not gag. His hair was thick and coarse and greasy. You ever leave lunch meat in the fridge for too long and look at it and it has a slime over it? That’s what it was like touching his hair. So I make it through the cut, and of course he’s being difficult at the end, making me take it shorter and shorter until I got to a point where I just buzzed his head. He stands up and the seat is just sweat stained, with sticky, glossy looking sweat. So they leave and I tell my teacher I need some Lysol to wipe my station down. At this point, I can feel the hair grease all over my body. I feel like it was in my pores. I washed my hands and got a new cape and pretty much wanted to light myself on fire to feel clean. I refused to work with that customer ever again.”
“So I was toward the end of my time in school and I had been ‘out on the floor’ taking clients for a couple months. A woman came in with very long, very dry looking hair and told me she wanted a perm. At this point, I was already beginning to get nervous, but I figure I might have time to talk her out of it. For anyone who doesn’t know, perms can be really harsh on your hair. Not a lot of stylists I know like to perform them because they take a long time to wrap, they stink, they can turn frizzy really easily, and they are super hard on the client’s hair. I can’t tell you how many girls have brought in pictures of Taylor Swift and expected me to give them a perm that will come out like her natural curls or her iron curls.
So this woman is sitting in my chair with her hair, probably measuring 3+ feet long and she wants a perm. So I do a quick integrity test on her hair to see how strong it is and if it can handle the chemicals. I’m already predicting that her hair is too weak for the solution, but I check anyway. Low and behold her hair breaks off in my hand. At this point I have my instructor come over and help me talk to this lady about the possible risks of her hair falling out, breaking off, or becoming SUPER frizzy. This lady is having none of it.
So per school procedure, we have her sign a waiver saying that we made her aware of all the potential risks, and that it may not come out how she wants it, and we are not liable. She happily signs the waiver and sits back. This whole time I’m freaking out because waiver or not, I did NOT want to be the one responsible for ruining her hair. I ended up going to the director of the school because I didn’t feel comfortable performing the service, and she told me to do it anyway or go home and lose hours. So I walked back to the chair and spent 2 hours wrapping a piggyback perm on this lady, and when I finally get her to the shampoo bowl, her hair begins to break and fall out. My instructor and I worked for another hour and a half rinsing and styling her hair. When we were done it was horrific. To say it looked like garbage would be a massive understatement. I was on the brink of tears, and my instructor was stressed and exhausted, but this lady was as happy as can be. She paid, gave me a big tip, and disappeared into the night.”
“Small-town barber here. By ‘small-town’, I mean a tiny speck in a vast Louisiana parish that has a human population of less than 700 (most of them related in some way or another). I’m the sole owner and employee of this town’s only barbershop, which means everyone comes through it at some point. Now most of them are the stereotypical friendly southern folk, who make their living off of the farmland that has been passed down through their family for generations. But then there’s this one group of people who I refuse to serve every time they attempt to receive my services. The Nopads.
The Nopads are a family of about 20 who all share a log cabin outside of town (in the parish). These people are the most filthy, degenerate human beings I have ever laid eyes on. Because of their cabin’s apparent lack of running water, this family has attempted to traipse into my shop time and time again for a good cleaning. And every time I refuse. At least a dozen of them are infested with ticks or fleas or whatever, and every one of them can be smelled before they even open the door to my business.
My first horror story occurred when I first moved down here and wasn’t aware of who this family was. When all twenty of them (yes, they all come into town together) entered my store, I was very pleased, because I wasn’t sure if my barbershop would become popular. I plop the first kid down in the chair (being polite and pretending not to notice the rank stench of body odor.) and attempted to get to work on his collective mat of hair. Yes, you read that right. His entire head of hair was one giant mat, as was the rest of his family’s.
I broke out the big clippers and attempted to buzz from his neck up, but when I did, a nest of spider eggs fell out. The momma spider had made a little burrow in part of his mat and laid eggs. I kicked the whole family out and still refuse to see them every four months when they try to come back. And before you all say I’m mean for not cleaning them, there’s literally a stream right outside their cabin.”
“I Will Forever Remember The Stench”
“When I was in school, I had a lady come in and she wanted a cut and manicure. I loved those appointments because it blocked a good amount of time, but was fairly easy.
First off, I’ve been around smokers my whole life but this woman REEKED of the stench. Like she smoked them in her house and car, with all the windows rolled up. I couldn’t even understand how she could have that strong of an odor permeating off of her. I get her draped and start asking her what she’s looking for, I start to run my fingers through her bleach blonde hair, to see what I’m dealing with here, and a piece of her hair just FALLS OFF IN MY HAND. At this point I have a look of horror on my face and started mumbling something along the lines of, ‘Your hair! I’m so sorry!’
And very calmly she says, ‘Oh a chunk fell out? That happens sometimes, it’s fine.’
I politely tell her that she might want to get that checked out. So I go get her shampoo and conditioner and I take her to the bowl. I turn on the water and her hair turned to bleach blonde mush. Now it has made the whole salon reek of wet dogs and smoke. I used about a cup of conditioner in her. It was the roughest hair cut I’ve ever done, and it just a very simple bob.
The manicure was even worse. She had coat upon coat of nail polish already on all of her fingernails. I let them soak, took them out, tried to take some of the polish off, won’t come off. I took my wooden dowel and tried chipping some of it off. Cue my horror when the wooden dowel sunk INTO HER FINGERNAIL. I will forever remember the stench coming from it. Like a mix of rotting corpse and bad fruit. I alerted my teacher, who told her she probably had a nail fungus and that she needed to go to the doctor. She put me in dispensary for the rest of the day.”
Scarred For Life
“My wife once worked at a store that hosted Princess Parties for young girls, normally around the ages of 4-10. They would all put on gowns, get their hair styled, and have a friendly tea party. As my wife started styling one girl’s hair, she noticed something on the end of her comb. Lice. This head was infested with tons of crawling white lice. Being the awesome professional my wife is, she quietly stopped combing, washed her hands, and threw the comb away. She then pulled the girl’s mother aside to the little girl’s chair and quietly informed her of what she had found.
The mother apparently wanted this day to be awful for her daughter. She started screaming and rushed to the chair, digging into her daughter’s hair. The mother was not quiet about it. She was screaming, ‘She has LICE?!’ over and over, while her daughter started crying in the chair with all her friends gawking at her like a free freak show.
This is why therapists make money.”
He Received Such Rotten Luck
“First guy comes in for a haircut. All seems well, he gets a shampoo, and then I go to cut. I notice this weird floppy thing on the top of his scalp, so I take a look at it, thinking it’s a scab or something. Well, it has legs. So I take the fine teeth of my comb and pick this little critter out. Come to find out, dude had a tick on his head, and he probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not picked it off.
Next, this elderly lady comes in looking for a haircut, and she had a giant crust mountain on her head. I wanna say it was like 3 inches in diameter. It was disgusting. Now I know due to laws in my state, you can refuse service if there is a medical condition like that. Well me being brand new, did not know this. She brought in a medicated shampoo from her doctor, so I used it on her, and it smelled like cat food. During the cut, she had lumps of crust falling out and it was disgusting. I will never do that again.
Last one, this lady comes in and explains her step-daughter has been in the hospital for six months and her hair is a mess and she asks if she can bring her in for us to fix it. Okay sure, why not. At this hospital she was at, supposedly no one washed her hair FOR 6 MONTHS. So I tried to wash it, and she was crying and screaming, and her scalp was red and irritated and covered in knots and flakes. I sat with her for two hours trying to comb out all the knots, but she cried the whole time, and my hands were covered in gunk. I still don’t know whatever happened to that girl. I hope she’s okay.”
Broke Down Sobbing
“I’m a hairstylist, pretty new still. In school, you can’t really turn anyone away. I had a working girl sit in my chair, tweaked out of her mind, with this man telling us to dye her stringy, fried hair blonde and cut it to her chin. She didn’t speak for herself at all. She wouldn’t even look in the mirror. He gave all the instructions, as he definitely had a specific look for her in mind. He was a huge nightmare to everyone, and she left the chair to go cry in the bathroom. A classmate went to go check on her, but she had just walked out of the door. He left really quickly after that. I think about her sometimes and I hope she’s okay. I wish I had gotten the chance to make her feel beautiful.
I was also pregnant throughout school and gagged quite a bit at the ladies who would come in for a wash, blowdry, and style after weeks of not brushing or washing their hair. I always suggested braids for these ladies, since they chose not to maintain their naturally curly hair, but most refused and would be back in 3-4 weeks to repeat the whole process. This was a very time-consuming process, with tons of detangling rats nests and dreads that invariably ended with zero tips.
There were also really creepy men that would come in for $5 cuts and say very inappropriate things and enjoyed the shampoo a lot. My school was basically just a mill of free labor, and we had to accept every client no matter what. I’m enjoying more creative freedom now that I have graduated and am in a salon. I still volunteer for events where homeless get free cuts, and there are quite a few very dirty people there, but I don’t mind because it’s not a daily basis situation like it used to be. I like making people feel good.”
A True Life-Saver
“I’m not a stylist for humans, but I do groom dogs, and I have seen some things that make me want to never give these dogs back to their owners! My worst experience was when I had someone bring in their 2-year-old Shih Tzu. She was requested for a mini groom (that’s where we only trim the face, feet, and private areas), so I’m thinking this will be an easy session. Wrong.
This woman walked in with her dog wrapped in a towel because she doesn’t want to touch him, and I can see why the dog is a mess! The dog’s hair is one solid mat, including his face. There is a deep giant hole in his coat where the poop has exploded through his hair, meaning he has been pooping into his own hair for so long the build-up finally busted a hole through his hair!
So I have to shave him before he can get any kind of bath. I find a spot I can break through and start shaving. Once I finally release this dog from his mat prison, which came off almost in one solid piece, he ends up having so many sores on his skin. He was shaking his head so much he was starting to cause hematomas on his ears, and he is infested with fleas!
I’m so upset at this point. I feel so terrible for this poor dog but all I can do is bathe him, get rid of the fleas, and inform the owner that he needs to go to the vet.”
Screaming At The Salon
“My stylist once had a woman with hair down past her butt, who wanted to donate everything to Locks of Love. EVERYTHING. This woman with hair down nearly to her thighs says she wants a pixie cut, and she is donating everything else. After checking multiple times to see that she was positive she wanted a pixie, and not a short bob or anything, the stylist starts cutting.
The woman sobbed the entire time. Like, shoulder-shuddering sobs in the dressing chair with her sad little haircut cape on. The stylist kept asking if it was okay, but the woman was determined to help people with cancer, so she told her to keep going and to ignore her tears. My stylist said it was the most awkward experience of her life. Other customers kept coming in and probably assumed she was maiming this poor woman.”
Trying To Sneak Past The Source
“When I was in cosmetology school, usually during the back-to-school season, we always had a few parents bring their kids for the ‘big shave’. Our instructors always warned us to double-check the scalp before agreeing to any service because nine times out of ten, the kid(s) had lice. If we did see lice running around, we had to get our instructors ASAP so they could officially deny the service, and then we’d have to close the whole clinic floor down and majorly disinfect everything.
The clients we dealt with thought they were IMMUNE to lice and yet here they were, at our school, trying to get us to sneakily shave their kids bald because their kids have got it. Lice don’t care if you use products, what products you use, if your hair is kinky curly or bone straight, if you have dark hair or blonde hair, or if you thin hair or thick hair. All they need is an inch of hair, ONE STRAND they can use to crawl up to the scalp where they make themselves at home. The ONLY way to be ‘immune’ to lice is to have no hair they can cling to.”
An Abhorrent Hairstyle
“I used to work as a receptionist at a high-end salon. One day, a lady called and asked if we had anyone who specialized in cutting curly hair. I matched her up with someone, asked the standard questions, and made the appointment, which turned out to be for her granddaughter.
When the family showed up, the mother and grandmother were white, and the granddaughter was African American. They obviously didn’t know (and didn’t bother to learn) how to take care of the girl’s hair, because it was in a giant, waist-length ponytail that was completely matted. She also had a bit of a developmental disability, and they claimed she would not wash her hair herself.
I could smell her as soon as she walked in, but when the stylist got her hair wet at the shampoo bowl, the smell quickly permeated the entire salon. It was like a punch to the gut. The hair stylist had to keep coming up front for fresh air. She said giant sheets of dandruff and buildup were basically crusted to the girl’s scalp and throughout her hair. The matted ponytail was the worst of it. What should have been a simple 45-minute service ended up taking over four hours.
The girl looked great when she was done. I felt terrible for her because it was pretty obvious that her mom and grandma had no intention of keeping her hair maintained. I got the impression that they basically only took her for a haircut when things got completely out of control. I was horrified that they apparently weren’t even bothering to wash her hair at home. They bought a bunch of products that the stylist recommended, but ended up returning everything a day or two later.”
“I used to babysit for the neighborhood. One day, I got these kids that were scratching at their heads after taking them outside, but because they were playing in the sandbox together, I figured that there was only sand in their hair. I reminded them to shower when they got home. I go to get my hair done the next day. My hair was down to the middle of my back, and I ask for a short bob just below my ears.
Halfway through, the hairdresser stops and loudly announces to everyone in the shop (people I personally knew were there) that she could not continue to cut my hair because I had lice. I was so embarrassed. You could have at least taken me to the side and explained that instead of making me feel dirty. If I had known, I would have dealt with it, especially if someone was gonna be dealing with my hair.That stuff is super contagious. I just would have been more discreet, you know?
I still blush when I think back on it.”
“In cosmetology school, we used to do a program where homeless and shelter people could come in for free services. I thought the program was fantastic if they wanted a haircut or shave. Unfortunately, a lot of these people would take advantage of it and get unnecessary services because they were free. One of my worst nightmares was a teenage boy, whose mom made him come in for the afternoon to get ‘whatever he wanted’. He got a haircut (okay), then he wanted a shave (also okay), then a manicure (kind of unnecessary), then a pedicure. His feet were DISGUSTING. I don’t think his socks were washed in a month, and then he insisted we do french polish on them. It was awful.
Then he decided he wanted a facial and a back facial. Dear lord, I am going to DIE at this point. And I can’t turn him down because that’s policy at the school.
So this kid had the WORST acne in the world. Here I am just massaging his face (and then back), and it felt like crater town. And while giving the facial, he kept his eyes open and was smiling the whole time while staring at me. It was the worst 4 hours of my entire life to deal with this kid.
Then when his mom comes to pick him up, she actually said to me, ‘Oh you gave him a facial! You should have popped some of those pimples he had!’
Um, no thank you!”
Not the Terrifying Thinning Shears!
“When I was an assistant at my first salon, right out of school, we had classes every Wednesday night. One week I couldn’t find a model in time, so my mentor had someone she knew that could come in and be my model. So the model comes in and seems perfectly normal. 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. And the 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.
Another time when I first started at the school, one of the instructors was polishing up a haircut on a young man. She was thinning out the sides of his hair. I’m not sure if you know what thinning shears look like, but they have teeth on them. So she’s thinning out his hair and cuts his ear wide open with those puppies. She almost immediately starts crying and freaking out. I go over tell him the cut will be free of charge, and he leaves not upset or anything. Fast-forward a year and he comes back in. The student cutting his hair is again thinning his hair out. Well, she just so happens to do the exact same thing, on the same ear. Another free haircut and I never saw him again. He never came back.
We also had this student who had a hard time understanding how to do things. Not a big deal, we usually just keep an extra eye on those students to make sure nothing goes wrong. Well, the one time no one could watch her, she was thinning out a client’s hair. For some reason she decided to cut the hair a few inches from the scalp, which you should never do on long hair. She suddenly sneezed as she was thinning the client’s hair. Since she had the thinning shears so close to the woman’s scalp, the client jolted back and got a nice 3-inch long cut right on her scalp, that I’m sure needed stitches. She’s looking like she’s about to faint and the student is freaking out. I’m there holding a towel to this poor girl’s head for 20 minutes while we call her parents and have them come take her to the hospital. She never came back either. Still to this day, I have no idea what possessed that student to start thinning the hair so close to the scalp.”
Smell Stayed With Her For 20 Years
“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. I looked a bit closer and the ‘flakes’ were actually little translucent nits. Lice eggs. I could see tiny black things all over.
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 quite a while in 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.
I would work with kids whose parents let them run around all day out in the heat, and then bring them in all sweaty and nasty, without even washing them. It’s been over 20 years, but I can still remember that smell.”
Mountain Of Who Knows What
“Once in barber school, an older man came in with three of his boys. Two of my coworkers and I got each of the kids. It was 20 minutes until we go home, no big deal.
These boys were really shaggy, and they all seemed to be long overdue for a haircut, We also noticed they seem to not care as to how they present themselves. Pimples on all of them, just dirty necks, with stained shirts. My buddies give a disgusted look, but I’m generally more sympathetic and don’t think twice on it. Although it didn’t take long for us to realize that these kids had serious hygiene/scalp problems, on top of their issue of their smelly clothing.
So the boys are probably 14,18, and 22. I was doing the oldest of them. And he was the worst of all 3. He wanted a simple fade, buzzed on top, with skin fade on the sides. ‘Sweet, my favorite thing to practice,’ I thought.
So I take my outliner to cut it to the skin, and with one pass from the bottom of the neck to midway to the top, I encountered the most FOUL smell I’ve ever smelled in my life. I’ve never vomited in my life for whatever reason, but this was the closest I’ve ever gotten. I was so distracted by the smell and went in for another swipe. There lies this huge MOUNTAIN of god knows what was under his skin. I looked like a pimple. It was white and ready to pop at any moment, and it was just the grossest thing I’ve seen. At this point, it’s not even a minute into the haircut that the instructor who stepped out for a moment came in and realized three of us were cutting some disgusting guys who we shouldn’t be doing. She came over and said we should’ve checked beforehand, but since we started, we can’t stop.
So I felt bad for the guy, and continued. He had many of the same lumps of puss all over his head, so that it just made his head look misshaped. After loads of dandruff falling onto my wrist, feeling like I’m getting sweat from his lumps, my machine was reeking like the devil’s butt. In fact, I think for the following few days, I randomly caught a whiff of that scent that was driving me crazy. I was really angry at the end.
During barber school, I feel like many people hit their lows and think of quitting. I was only 2 months into the 10-month program, and was really reconsidering my intention that night. It didn’t help that the boys’ dad not only didn’t tip, but also tried to haggle on 5 dollar haircuts, saying that the fade or line up wasn’t perfect. Like, Buddy, your fade or line up is the LEAST of your worries when it comes to them. I actually got a little hot-headed thinking back to that day while writing this. In the end, the owner was aware what was going on during the haircuts and wasn’t going to take it from the father. She explained that those boys need to see a specialist for their scalps, and had the instructor not been outside the room when those kids sat down, she would’ve made sure all 3 of us combed through the hair and denied them service. However, since we had already begun, we were obligated to finish.
The following morning, the owner told us, just to be safe, to throw away the machines we used, and he would give us some preowned replacements that were clean as a whistle. He was a great guy, and even gave us a 5 dollar tip each himself for our troubles.”