Tips and Tricks to Make Your Next Salon Visit Your Best

As I sit here in the wee hours, fighting off the last bits of my first autumnal cold/flu and watching “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”, for what must be the 5,000th time, I find myself laughing, not only at Adam Sandler’s delightful comedic style, but also at how much is both true and false about working in a salon. 

Granted, every salon is different. But, being a cosmetologist and having been on both sides of the scene, so to speak, a few things always pop into mind that I wish more people knew when they sit down to get their do, did. It’s nobody’s fault – how can one be expected to know these things unless they or someone they know has worked the industry. With all the big family holidays quickly approaching, everyone wants to look his or her best for family, friends, parties and special events. Tis the season to try a new cut or color for a lot of people for this very reason. 

So, as I sit here waiting for my sniffly, sneezy, please-gods-hurry-up-and-knock-my-ass-back-out medicine to kick in, I figured I’d share a few of the secrets that make the salon world tick, so every salon visit can be your absolute best! 

1. Pick the right salon for you. 

Chain salons (Super Cuts, Great Clips, Cost Cutters, Smart Style, to name a few), are family friendly. Which if you’re looking for a more relaxing, spa type experience, these aren’t the best choice. There will be kids. There will be tears (both from kids and adults alike). There will be chaos. They also have a reputation for getting you in and out quickly, which is great if you’re short on time, but not so great if you want your hair done correctly. These salons keep stylists on a timer, some as short as 10 minutes. From the time your stylist calls you back to the chair until you checkout and pay, the clock is ticking. Stylists whose monthly averages don’t fall in the allocated time range (usually 10-15 minutes per client), often are reprimanded, lose bonuses and repeat offenders risk their job. Some offer chemical services such as color and perms/relaxers, which give a bit more time for your stylist to work (naturally). Again, don’t expect magazine worthy results. Most are licensed to use only certain brands, which are typically lower end. Sure, they’re professional, name brand products! Just think well as opposed to top shelf. 

2. Take photos. 

We’re beauticians, not magicians, as the saying goes. We’re also not mind readers and what you mean by “choppy” or “gold” or any other adjective can often be interpreted in 100 different ways. Don’t be afraid to take multiple pictures, either – both what you like and dislike. Have an idea before your walk in for your appointment. Unless you honestly mean it when you say, “do whatever you think will look best on me”, don’t say it. You may be shocked and it may be a look that you hate, is high maintenance or just simply isn’t you. By the same token, don’t let a stylist talk you into something you’re uncomfortable with. Yes, we’re trained to “size you up” and determine what we think will look best on you, from color to cut to styling. But, if you really hate bangs, and your stylist insists on it, don’t hesitate to politely, but firmly say “NO”

3. FFS, BE HONEST! 

We usually know when you’re lying, so just fess up from the start. I’d rather you tell me you trimmed your own bangs so I know going in, why things maybe aren’t matching up. Especially when it comes to chemicals, we need to know. Things like henna can be big trouble if we go to apply a permanent color over the top of it. Unless you want to see your hair on the floor, all of it, honesty is the best policy. Relaxers and perms as well. Applying color over a fresh relaxer can cause hair to melt or wilt a fresh perm. If you require more than one chemical service, it’s best to discuss with your stylist beforehand how to proceed to get the best results. 

One of my favorite stories happened while I was working in a chain salon. A very flustered mother walked in with seven girls, aged about five to 15, all of which had horrendous haircuts except one of the younger ones (I’d guess about eight). It was a busy Saturday so the entire staff was there. With a deep sigh, mom started into the story. The eight year old wanted to cut her hair. She asked and mom told her no. As is often the case with kids, after about an hour, mom noticed they were all being far too quiet. Walking into one of the girls bedrooms, she happened upon this terrible scene. The eight year old had taken it upon herself to cut her sisters’ hair instead! All six stylists are on the verge of busting up laughing at this point! Hilarious, not to mom, I’m sure, so we were doing our best to hide snickers and giggles. Standing there proudly, beaming with pride, the wee one then announced, “you said I couldn’t cut my hair! You never said I couldn’t cut sissy’s hair!”. All mom could do was give a slow, sad nod. We couldn’t help ourselves at that point. We had to laugh! However, due to her honesty (including the fact the wee one did this with Peking shears/scrapbook edgers), we as stylists were better able to at least hide most of the damage and we gave mom a discount due to her horrendous experience. 

4. Be realistic. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’ve fallen in love with a particular look, ask your stylist how to make it work for you. Keep in mind, none of the pictures you see in a magazine or of celebrities are “wash and go” styles. There’s product involved. Styling time and utensils. Plus, hair texture and thickness may be different, as well as length (a lot of the beautiful hair you see in magazine ads and on red carpets is thanks to extensions). Ask before any cutting takes place. Is this look flattering for me? How much upkeep and styling will be involved? What kind of product will I need? Will I need a piece of equipment I don’t already own, like a flat iron or triple barrel waving iron? How often will I have to come in to the salon for maintenance (trims, color touch up on regrowth, etc.)? There’s no point going all out on a hot new look if you’re not up for putting the time and effort into maintaining it. If it sounds like it’s going to be too much work, discuss with your stylist what it is about the look you really like and see if (s)he can give you a style with less upkeep, but still includes the key elements you were drawn to. 

5. We’re not your bitch. 

It’s not the 1950’s anymore. You can’t just walk into a salon and start by sweeping up hair and washing towels and end up a stylist six months later. Every state requires anyone working in the beauty industry to be licensed. In order to obtain a license, you must pass state board testing. In order to be eligible for state board testing, you must have “X” amount of educational hours (this varies by state). This includes everything from medical (for example, 600 of my hours are medical), electrical, chemistry – it’s not all shampooing and painting nails and fun and games (I did enjoy my time in beauty school, but that’s beside the point). So please – don’t talk to us like we’re morons. We didn’t choose this career because we weren’t smart enough for college. Let me tell you, boards in AZ, at least, consist of a written and practical exam. 1 out of every 10 who take them, pass. It’s not easy. After that license is in your hand, it doesn’t get any easier. It’s a catty, bitchy, backstabbing industry. We, like servers, live on tips for the most part and often have to rent our station or only make 40-50% of our total sales. We pay to work and until we can build a clientele, which can take years, we’re nothing more than starving artists. So, please…don’t talk to us like we’re idiots and respect the fact that there’s a good chance we may be losing money on you…so, tip well. If you’re unhappy, let your stylist know immediately! It can probably be fixed and everyone can go home happy. 

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