I remember the day. I took a look at my schedule for the day to see who was coming in. I am sure that I am not the only one that has their favorite salon guests. I was excited that day because one of my favorite guests was on my schedule.
I remember noticing something different when she sat in my chair. Of course, I asked I she was ok. I watched her eyes fill with tears. She grabbed my hand and shared that she had just been diagnosed with cancer. Now my eyes were filling up with tears. At that moment all I could think to do was hug her.
This all took place very early in my career. I knew nothing about what to do and how to safely take care of a guest in my salon that had cancer. I realized that I had never been instructed in beauty school to take into account someone's compromised immune system. I know now looking back that I made mistakes...I am sure I made a lot of mistakes.
For the last 16 years, I have performed makeovers on women battling cancer. Through that time, I have learned a ton of dos and don’ts.
5 Mistakes When Working with a Salon Client with Cancer and How to Correct Them
1. When shaving her head, I had her face in the mirror. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I made and it was common sense that told me that I should have done it differently. No one wants to watch large clumps of hair falling on the floor when they would rather keep their hair.
- Turn her away from the mirror while you are shaving her head.
- Work with a partner to sweep up her hair as it falls on the floor so she doesn’t have to see if lying there.
- Ready her before you turn her to face the mirror after you have finished shaving her head.
2. Treating her like every other salon guest that sat in my chair. As I stated I didn’t know how to take care of a salon guest with a compromised immune system. I had no idea that there was a difference. I didn’t realize that there were special precautions that should have been taken.
- I would schedule this salon guest during one of the slower times at the salon to reduce the risk of exposure to other salon guests.
- When performing a pedicure or manicure I would use disposable liners in the foot bath and the manicure bowl.
- During a facial I would use disposable wash clothes, towels, pillowcases, and sheets. We use them once and then throw them away.
3. I took for granted that hair loss was a side effect of all cancer treatments. I learned very quickly that hair loss isn't a side effect of all cancer treatments. Different chemotherapy treats different cancers. It truly depends on the type of cancer. Now that doesn’t mean that the cancer treatment won't affect the hair in some way.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions about her cancer treatment. If she is going to lose her hair, she will tell you.
- Be prepared to guide her through the side effects on her hair if it stays. It may become brittle or very dry. It may even change colors.
- Don’t minimize the fact that she has cancer even if she keeps her hair and doesn’t look sick. She still heard the words " You have cancer" and that can be an emotional roller coaster.
4. Not performing a patch test prior to applying color. I learned that cancer treatment can change things in the body, especially skin sensitivity. I can honestly say I was not always good at performing a patch test, but once I started working with women that had battled cancer, I was much more likely to take the time to do one.
- If a salon guest is going through cancer treatment or has gone through cancer treatment, I would highly recommend performing a patch test to ensure that it is safe to proceed with the color service.
5. Sharing your personal experiences with loved ones with cancer. If you are going to share stories of your loved ones battling cancer, please be sure that the outcome was positive. She is scared and afraid of what to expect. She needs hope, not gloom and doom. Don’t share that your aunt had that same type of cancer and didn’t make it.
- Share positive uplifting stories with her, stories that encourage.
- When she comes into the salon, address her health and then move on. She may very well want to talk about something other than her cancer and its treatment.
Our job as a hairstylist isn't just about giving a good haircut or color, it's about building relationships and trust. She trusts you, especially with her beauty needs and especially during this time. Be prepared to have some of the answers and be willing to find the answers to the questions that she may have that you don’t know the answers to.
Most importantly just be there for her with a hug and a big smile and the confidence to let her know that she can count on you.
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