Things Your Stylist Wants You to Know (But is Probably Too Polite to Tell You)

Of all the things we do on a regular basis, dressing and grooming ourselves has some of the most fleeting results. Cringing at past style choices is almost a coming-of-age rite. Still, that doesn’t stop us. The fun of fashion today is experimenting with various dyes, trims, haircuts, brow shapes and relaxing treatments. Skincare and nail art have become more than just an off-shoot of the beauty industry, they’ve become a way to define your current style and a way to look and feel healthy. Women in the United States spend nearly $12,000 a year on salon services and beauty products, so it would do us well to sit down and talk about a few things, things, particularly speaking, that have to do with your hours logged in the cosmetologist’s chair.

That’s correct. We’re having this discussion. As someone who’s had experience on both sides of the counter, I’ll be your guide and mediator into today’s Adventures in Salon Services. Here, a few tips on the best way to make your next visit to the salon/spa/nail salon an enjoyable one:

Certain processes take a long time and aren’t for everyone. If you’ve box-dyed your hair dark brown 17 times in between visits, going platinum blonde probably won’t happen overnight without extensive damage and traumatic breakage. Perms take time as well, and if you highlight your hair it could be too weak to withstand the solution. Schedule a free consultation if you’re unsure.

If you tell a stylist to “do whatever they think looks good,” you’re going to get just that. If you’re blonde and you don’t have an idea as to what you want, know that your stylist could be coloring your locks a lovely warm brunette, if they feel that would suit you best. If that’s something you can’t stand the thought of, tell them. Don’t feel bad saying, “I was kind of hoping to still stay more in the ‘blonde’ range. Can you maybe show me a few color swatches?” It’s your hair, after all. Talk it over with them until you can figure out something that would really get you amped up and then let them do their thing.

When picking a new hairstyle, remember that celebrities’ hair is not the same as yours. If I could have it my way, I’d have a mane of honey-blonde waves like Jennifer Aniston or an adorably gutsy pixie like my beloved Emma Watson. As a deep-brunette and someone with a round face, I know that I can lighten all I want and chop my hair as short as it will go, but it will never look the same on me as it does on those fabulous ladies. If you see a photo you really love, take a few days to think about how you’d look with that same style and then decide if it would really look the way you want it to or if you just really, really love Zooey Deschanel.

– We know how much you love to chat with us, and we absolutely adore that you fill us in on the silly, sad, and juicy details of your life because we want to know who you really are as a person and not just as another head in the chair. Still, it’s important to remember that there are some things that are better kept out of the salon and in a personal space. When you chat, keep in mind that there are certain topics that will always be a little bit inappropriate for a public domain, including religious arguments, personal family matters and tidbits from your sex life (I’m not kidding: all of these are conversations I’ve been privy to).

If you have a rash or a scab on your scalp, a weird looking patch on your back or face, or a suspicious looking growth on your toenails… reschedule. Please. That is definitely something. It’s not fun to have to sit through a shampoo or a color when your head feels like it’s on fire, and any sort of fungus is easily spread through contact with a pedicure station. We really do want to see you, but, for your own safety and the safety of others, swap out the nail/hair/waxing/facial/massage appointment for a doctor’s appointment. Your health is more important than a beauty service any day.

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  • Lisa Knox

    the only thing I would add is if you, as the stylist are running very late – call me and let me know (or have someone call me). Just as you may not be able to still fit me in if I am very late, I may not be able to still make the appt if you’re running late. At the very least, I can stop and get that latte and a cupcake, so my wait won’t be so trying :-)

    • Melanie Schmitz

      Absolutely! Many salons will call their clients to let them know when stylists are running more than 10 or 15 minutes late; if they don’t, and you’ve already showed up, let them know. Say, “I would have really appreciated a phone call; my personal schedule will need to be moved around now.”

      Great point! Thanks for reading. :)

  • Tricia Costa

    In disbelief that one would go to a salon with a rash/fungus/icky thing on or around their head. Yucks.

    • Melanie Schmitz

      Apparently it has happened before… Eek!

    • Danie Donze

      Like I mentioned above, sometimes it can’t be helped. Due to allergies, I almost always have some sort of small rash on my scalp. It’s not contagious, and I’m always upfront about it if I’m going to a new stylist so they’re aware of it. If I waited for it to clear up I could get a haircut… never.

    • Christen Lilly

      I had a teacher in the 8th grade who had gone to a stylist with head lice…no joke! She said she went because she felt that they could “wash them out better” than she could. She didn’t admit to the stylist that she had lice until AFTER her hair had been washed! She was actually venting to the class about this because the salon had banned her from ever coming back. [She was literally fuming about it because she didn’t think it was fair] I was in horror because the stylist she went to was the same one I went to at the time :[

  • Kaitlyn Halsema

    I love my stylist, she’s wonderful. She and my mom are very close friends, and I’ve been going to her for about four years. It’s good for me to stick with someone in this sort of thing, as I’m often way too shy to speak up and be direct with what I want!

  • Rachel Pody Allen

    I would also add, if you have a stylist you LOVE don’t change because you like the haircut someone else has. I have a stylist that has done my hair of 14 years now. My hair went really curly during adolescence and she was there for me. She know my curls, My hair texture and how much it can take when it comes to highlights. I have watched girls change stylists because they want to go to trendier salons or they think they can say “cut my hair like So-in-so’s” and it always ends up bad.. Stick with who you love ladies. haha

  • Colleen Sweeney

    I let my hairstylist go to town with my hair around Christmas, and she went shorter than she had in the past. I was devastated, but I learned my lesson: state clearly what you want, and never leave out the key words of “leave the length, though.”

  • Erin Rebecca Gilmour

    What if you have psoriasis? Then you always have patches and weird scabs on your scalp, does that mean I’m not allowed to get haircuts?

    • Danie Donze

      I feel you, Erin! I have skin issues related to allergies, so more often than not I have a small rash on my scalp. I usually alert my stylist, who understands the situation and doesn’t have a problem with it.

      • Melanie Schmitz

        Absolutely not! We know the difference between psoriasis and when it’s something to get checked out by a doctor.

        Get your hair did, girl.

        • Danie Donze

          I love you.

          • Melanie Schmitz


        • Erin Rebecca Gilmour

          PHEW! I usually get it done by my stylist friends anyway but I was worried if I went to a classy salon they would get grossed out.

      • Erin Rebecca Gilmour

        I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one hairdresser as a friend so I haven’t had to get embarrassed at a salon since it got bad (getting older brings so many awesome surprises) but I remember the first time my friend cut my hair I was like “YOU WON’T CATCH IT I PROMISE” and we laughed it off.

  • Sarah List

    My peeve was having clients complain about my co-workers. I would tell them (politely if course) that they should probably talk with the person they were upset with. If you have an upset or disagreement with someone at the place you go to, do not be afraid to talk to them about it. Or if you really aren’t sure, you should talk to the person in charge at said salon/spa. You never know, you may be complaining about one of our good friends, or maybe even best friend.

  • Melissa Weckhorst

    I love my hair stylist. She goes out of her way to make sure I can come in, even when it means staying late when I can’t get off until 5pm. She’s great about going along with my “need” to experiment, but isn’t afraid to tell me to take it slow or if it’s too much. It seems that honesty and really listening to each other goes a long way in preventing misunderstandings. I always try to tip her generously, and call if I think I can’t make it or am running late. It can be hard to find a stylist you jive with, and I’m lucky I found one!

  • Katy Littlejohn

    I never go back to the same stylist anymore. I have fine, pin-straight, wont hold body to save its life, dark brown hair. I always leave (no matter who’s been snipping it) feeling that they were just so unimpressed with my tresses. Their last suppressed sighs just read “Oh well, good enough.” It doesn’t make my heart happy, and I’m never that satisfied either.

  • Alexandra Dairyqueen Austin

    After years of stylists that told me my hair was unhealthy and a one inch trim would have to be like five, I avoided them for two years until I finally caved and found my current stylist. He admitted that the ‘unhealthy’ line had been rubbish and that a lot of stylists just didn’t want to deal with very long hair. I’ve been going to him for almost a year now and he is amazing! I think that I’m done with switching stylists.

  • Charlotte Lingard

    The last point made me uncomfortable, as a woman who is very self conscious of her (sometimes) scabby dermatitus scalp and which I try every treatment out there for, I would like to think I too, can visit a hair salon to feel great about myself and not feel prejudiced against or told to see a doctor.

    • Melanie Schmitz

      Indefinitely understand your concern. I never want to book massages because, over the last year of no longer being able to be on BC, the skin on my back often will break out heavily, despite medications and topical products. When I mentioned a problem on your scalp, I meant something that has sprung up recently, something new and something that you’re a bit wary of. If you don’t know what it is, get it checked out. If its an ongoing condition, it’s completely understandable! Just let stylist know that you’re aware if it. Most likely, it will not bother them in the least to take you as a client, so long as you come in with a happy, smiling face! :)

  • Susan Gee

    Thanks for the article, especially the part about how your hair is NEVER going to look like a celebrity- that is a hard pill to swallow! I always wanted the Jennifer Aniston “Rachel” back in the day. I have super thick, super coarse hair and it just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up looking like a Scottish Terrier trying to look like Rachel. It wasn’t good.

    I have a question, I have asked it many times, of many different people but I feel like you will give me a straight answer. How much should you tip? Should you tip the same as you would a server in a restaurant? I typically tip 20% plus a little more during Christmas or if she has worked me into the schedule, or I am just squealing with delight because I love my new do! Would love anyone’s comments on this. Thanks!

    • Melanie Schmitz

      Generally speaking, a good tip is anywhere from 15-20% for your hairstylist, nail tech, massage therapist or esthetician; this depends mainly on how satisfied you were with your visit. I always hate telling people how much to tip, but since you asked, I thought I’d give you a straight answer. :)

      If you were unsatisfied with any services, let them know right away so they can fix it. Usually, they can do it right then and there, unless it’s some sort of corrective color (brunettes going red or blonde or very dark from very light); most stylists are in no way offended if you ask them to fix a specific part of the cut or style. They’d much rather make sure you’re happy in one visit than you having to trek all the way back in. At that point, you can tip them as you see fit.

      Good questions! It sounds like you have a great stylist! Happy styling!

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