For many women, finding the perfect hairdresser is right there on the excitement scale as meeting their future spouse is. There’s something magical about finding someone who understands and appreciates your personality, not to mention someone you wouldn’t mind spending hours at a time with on a regular basis. But just like the road to love, the path to blissful matrimony with a hairdresser is often paved with plenty of disappoint along the way — just ask anyone who’s ever had to find a hairstylist after moving to a new city.
Where do you even begin to look for someone to trust around your gorgeous locks with a sharp pair of scissors and an endless supply of hair dye?
While much of it depends on personal style, there are several universal hair salon red flags that experts agree we should all stay clear of. Here are a number of ways you are secretly getting cheated at the salon.
They constantly try to upsell you
Just like you probably wouldn’t pay your cell phone carrier more money for any ridiculous add-ons like underwater texting or alien abduction insurance (neither one of these are real things, that I know of), you shouldn’t drop major cash at the hair salon for any services you don’t really need. “The best way to tell that a salon does not have your best interests in mind is if you feel that the stylist is pushing unneeded services on you,” celebrity stylist Nancy V. Brown, who’s worked on stars like Cynthia Bailey of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, told me in an interview. “For example, if you have hair loss concerns, a salon should never recommend any kind of treatment that uses bleach, or glue services. Although this may be a more profitable option for the stylist, it can create lasting damage to your hair.”
Jamielynn De Leon, owner of Rogue House Salon in New York City, also told me that pushy hair salons are typically not a good sign. “Do you really need a full head of highlights, or would a half head of highlights work for you?” she pointed out. “You can tell when your stylist is not being authentic and only looking out for themselves.”
They offer cheap hair masks
When it comes to add-on treatments, celebrity hairstylist Danny Jelaca, who has worked on stars like Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, told me to be wary of certain hair masks. “Hair masks that are thrown on at the shampoo bowl and put under heat are definitely not worth doing at the salon,” he said in an interview. “Although you do receive some benefits, it’s just as easy to do at home if you buy the mask.”
Instead, Jelaca says a comprehensive labor-intensive treatment like the Leonor Greyl hair spa treatment (offered at his Miami salon), combining scalp cleansing and nourishing oils, mid-shaft hydrating oils, and reparative treatment masks for damaged ends, is definitely worth it. Doing these treatments together with the scalp suction-cupping device and a great massage: that’s when you’ve got a valuable recipe for a winning hair-spa service.
They overcharge and under deliver
If you ever thought all luxury hair salons were created equal, think again. In fact, according to De Leon, steep prices don’t necessarily guarantee you’re getting a better service. “Some places charge more on your service, but not delivering quality,” she said. “This can be seen in a lot of chop and shops; if you are in and out of a salon, but paying a hefty price, it’s time to re-evaluate.”
While you probably don’t want to spend your entire day waiting around at the salon, you also don’t want a speedy stylist who’s not giving your hair the attention it deserves.
They withhold information
I’ve known my hairdresser longer than I’ve known my husband. This means that every now and then, I’ll sit in his salon chair and give him the green light to “do something new” without ever worrying that I might regret it later. Would I give just any hairstylist free range of my hair? Definitely not. Still, as much as he knows I trust him, he’ll never even trim an inch off my locks without sharing his vision (and confirming I’m cool with it) first.
De Leon says that your stylist should always communicate how any process (for example, dying your hair several shades lighter) will leave the integrity of your hair.
A bad hairdresser will “sacrifice healthy hair in order to obtain the look,” De Leon told me. “Great hairdressers will come up with a plan and express what is needed, delivering great, long-lasting results.”
They charge for ‘organic’ products
It’s no secret that the beauty industry has come a long way in the past decade when it comes to offering a wider range of natural products. However, there are still plenty of products, both at the salon and on store shelves, that may not be as natural as you think. “Sad truth: a lot of shampoos that claim to be color protecting also have salts/sulfates, which can strip out the color,” De Leon said. “Also, be wary of shampoos and conditioners that say they are organic. Organic shampoos and conditioners should only have natural, herbal ingredients rather than chemical ones.” De Leon’s advice: always read the ingredients!
They use buzzword ingredients
While certain ingredients sound effective enough, Brown said many of them are just hype. “Any kind of extension or weave service that uses paraben, protein or keratin bonds aren’t truly worth the investment,” she told me. “Keratin in particular is such a buzz word in the cosmetology community, but the reality is, glue and bond-style extensions or weave services are extremely harsh on your hair. They can cause breakage, lasting damage, and hair loss. Adding a drop of keratin or protein solution will not change that!” As a hair loss expert, Brown recommends braiding or netting extension and weave techniques. “As long as they’re not too tight, these styles are much easier on the hair and can actually help to protect the hair and prevent damage.”
Jelaca agrees that certain ingredients aren’t worth the money. “As far as ingredients go, argan oil is not that big a deal,” he said. “Neither is the word keratin. Most are not hydrolyzed and are simply coaters.”
They’re a one-stop shop
Expert colorist, master cutter, extensions specialist, and — wait — manicurist, too? As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Instead of searching for a jack of all trades, Jelaca suggests seeking out a stylist who is an expert in one area. “When searching for a salon, I’d most definitely search for one that is departmentalized. I believe in specializing,” he told me. “If you want the best, go to someone who is known to be the best. For example, you would go to a plastic surgeon specializing in rhinoplasty for work on your nose, not a general plastics surgeon. Same theory applies for hair services.”
Brown agrees, saying, “The perfect hair stylist is someone who has expertise in the area you’re looking for. If you’re looking to try an adventurous style, look for someone who specializes in cuts. For colors, find a colorist with experience in the trends you’re looking to replicate. For extensions and weave services, find a stylist with certifications and experience in this area.”
Do your research
Though finding the perfect stylist, to some extent, is trial and error, you’re more likely to avoid any major hair nightmares by simply doing a little research. Ask around and read online reviews to find the most qualified hair salons in your area (and budget). “Be sure to look for quality salon products, colors being used, and overall cleanliness of the space and the staff,” suggests Jelaca.
Meanwhile, whether you’re looking to go platinum blonde or add some length with extensions, read up on the procedures so you have an idea of what to expect when you arrive at the salon. “At the end of the day, you want someone who is experienced and who you feel comfortable with,” said Brown. “Putting your hair in someone else’s hands can by scary, but finding the right stylist for your needs can make all the difference.”