Finding the right hairstylist can have you looking and feeling like a celebrity. But when you leave the salon with a hairdo that doesn’t quite cut it, you may ask yourself if it’s all worth the price.
The average salon transaction price was $52.33 in 2016, up from $50.91 in 2015, according to data from consulting firm Kline for the Professional Beauty Association, a trade organization for salon professionals. Prices usually depend on the stylist’s experience and the type of service provided, with formal styles such as updos, extensive color and extensions living at the higher end.
However, some stylists and salons may stretch the truth to take advantage of unsuspecting clients in need of a cut, color or even costlier services. From providing unnecessary services to pushing designer hair care products, the pros can easily mislead and overcharge.
Here are five common lies your hairstylist might be telling you.
1. “Salon shampoo might be better for your hair.”
Most salons display shelves full of expensive, professional-quality hair products that they advertise to customers, especially based on hair color and texture. These products might be better than cheaper store brands, but don’t feel pressured to buy them. Many stylists sell these products on commission from the salon companies that make them.
In fact, close to 20 percent of salon revenue in 2016 came from “other goods and services,” including such products as cleansing and dry conditioners, thermal and curl care and clarifying items, according to Kline data.
One customer, Weixuan Liu, 22, says retail shampoos and conditioners do the job just as well.
“They will try to sell me their recommended shampoo, but I still use the store brand because most of [the salon products] are expensive and I never heard of them before,” says Liu, a college student in Athens, Ga.
For instance, an 8.5-ounce bottle of Redken Color Extend Conditioner usually fetches somewhere around $17 at salons and beauty shops, and about $14.50 on Amazon. Compare that to 28 ounces of a Suave Color Care Conditioner, which will set you back a more modest $4.99 at Target.
Kendra Aarhus, a licensed cosmetologist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, explains the method behind the salon’s strategy. “In short, salon brands have more of the good stuff in higher concentration and less fillers, waxes and ingredients that do more harm than good,” she says.
2. “You need a trim every six weeks.”
It actually depends on the length of your hair and the length you desire, Aarhus says. By making you believe that you need to come in for a trim at certain times, stylists guarantee your business and keep their income flowing.
Aarhus says while six weeks is a guideline for maintenance, clients who aim for longer hair should wait, well, somewhat longer in between trims.
“Your hair grows half an inch every month, so getting a trim every six weeks will maintain your length,” Aarhus says. “If you want to grow your hair out, it’s best to extend that trim to every eight to 12 weeks.”
Trimming definitely makes hair look healthier, but it has no effect on growth. When a stylist tells you this, what he or she usually means is that your hair grows more evenly with fewer split ends and less breakage, which may give it the illusion of growing faster.
“I think most stylists know that it doesn’t make your hair grow faster, but trimming the hair does help prevent excess breakage,” Aarhus says. “Hair will break off at a faster rate than it grows if not maintained.”
However, Aarhus advises against trimming too often. Considering the Professional Beauty Association’s figures, two or three fewer appointments per year can save over $100.
“Inquire about stretching your services out a week or two,” she says. “Less appointments per year can save a lot of money.”
3. “You’ll look just like (insert celebrity name here).”
Many times a client brings in a photo of an A-list model or actor as inspiration for a desired style. And all too often, the stylist makes this false promise.
“The truth is, a lot of extensions, hair pieces and wigs are used on top of hours of preparation to achieve red carpet looks, and the average consumer isn’t going to go to those extremes for a daily style,” Aarhus says.
But a hairdresser probably won’t risk a walkout by telling you that you might not get the results you want.
Courtney Wilkerson, 21, recalled one incident in which she used a photo of a model as a reference for a new hair color.
“I went in wanting burgundy hair with a small section of white and I left with blond on the top of my head and the rest was purple,” says Wilkerson, a student from Keystone Heights, Fla. “I still paid $50 for it, though.”
4. “What you see is what you pay.”
Most state cosmetology boards require salons to be clear with customers about prices, or else the board may revoke their license.
Salons must “display a listing of all services performed, and the charges for each service, in a location clearly visible to all patrons,” says Lisa Coryell, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.
Yet this usually isn’t enough to avoid surprises at the register. Look up online reviews of almost any salon and there’s bound to be at least one dissatisfied customer with a complaint that he/she paid more than expected.
This doesn’t happen as often in chain salons because they typically follow corporate guidelines for services. The prices at a smaller, private salon may be less predictable, since they have junior, senior and master stylists with varying rates.
Seasoned hairdressers spend their own money and time to gain those extra skills, in addition to the expense of products and equipment, which translates to more money from you, the client. If your stylist fits that description, try not to be surprised if your next appointment costs more than your last.
5. “Never color your own hair.”
This is more of a half-truth than an outright lie. It’s wise to listen to the professional opinion, but you can do it yourself if your budget doesn’t allow for a salon visit.
Color is where salons make the big bucks, accounting for 33 percent of revenue in 2016, according to the Kline report. The fastest-growing in-salon segments are men’s lightening, balayage (describe as hair painting), bleach and tone, semi-permanent color, demi-permanent color (such as covering gray or extending the natural color) and corrective color.
Of course, home care can be tricky.
“The problem with self-trims and at-home color is if something goes wrong, and it often does, you can’t put the hair back on or repair the damage from a botched box job,” she says. “While home hair services don’t always fail, it’s always a gamble.”
And you’ll end up paying for your mistakes. Aarhus says corrective color can run between $150 and $300 per hour, which may cost more than a regular appointment.
Communicate with your stylist. Surprises at the cash register can be avoided if you and your stylist are on the same page. “Saving money in the salon is all about discussing your services and your look with your stylist,” Aarhus says.
Ask about referral programs. Many salons offer special incentives, such as discounts for referrals that could save you anywhere from 10 to 50 percent at your visit. These can be an effective way to offset steep appointment prices, Aarhus says.
Space out coloring. “I also recommend seeing if you can do partial color appointments every other visit,” Aarhus says. This breaks up the cost of a full color appointment.
Only go as often as necessary. Know your hair and how it behaves. Stretching out your appointments can stretch out your dollar.
Let officials know about bad behavior. Monetary disputes and issues regarding clients and customers being overcharged can be resolved in small claims court, says Erin Litterer, a service specialist with the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology. If the court finds against a licensee, the board may take action against the stylist or salon, which could include a license suspension.
CORRECTION Oct. 27, 2017: An incorrect quote has been deleted from this story.
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