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When Your Client Has a Smelly Scalp

by Antonio Gonzales on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

antonio gonzales

I was born in Trinidad in the height of a hurricane. I spent my childhood surrounded by the sights and sounds and smells of Carnival and the other Indian, African and Spanish festivals of the Islands. Loving the amazing costumes, I got my start dressing my sisters and doing their hair and makeup. An opportunity came up to work with Trinidad’s leading costume designers, makeup artists and hair stylists. After I left the Island, my career evolved with work in Munich, Los Angeles and now New York City. Here in New York, I am a stylist at the Orlo Salon in the Meat Packing district. Vogue magazine recently named me as one of the rising hairstylist stars in N.Y., I was awarded the best haircut of 2008 by shecky’s.com, Gotham Magazine called me a Shear Genius and Allure Magazine featured me as one of the best cuts 2009.

See Antonio’s blog here.

As stylists, we take so much for granted in terms of our knowledge of everything related to hair. To our clients, we can seem like an encyclopedia. Because clients consider us the “authority,” we must be diplomatic when bringing up potentially embarrassing situations to them. Sometimes clients are unaware there is a problem, so they don’t ask for help, leaving us without a window of opportunity to gently address it. This is where finesse and diplomacy come in.

I know, I know, we all should be aware of our personal hygiene, but at some point, we all have had our hygiene mishaps (dirty nails or bad breath). One area in particular where some clients seem to be consistently clueless is when the hair and scalp are dirty and have an odor. Here are some tips on how to make your client aware of something as sensitive as a smelly scalp or hair.

The Approach

Don’t feel embarrassed. It is highly likely they would rather know than not. Here are some gentle lines to get and keep the conversation going.

“You may not be aware, but I have noticed you seem to be having a scalp issue. I’m not sure what may be causing this, but it’s important for me to bring it to your attention to assure you we can treat it.”

Notice I say “we.” This way the client doesn’t feel alone at a time when they may feel embarrassed, vulnerable and insecure.

Continue the conversation by asking the following questions until you find the culprit.

“Do you use any excessive oils or inexpensive silicone products on your hair?”

Share with the client how hair oils and silicones can build up on the hair quickly, especially cheap, low grade silicones.

“How often do you shampoo and what shampoo are you using?”

Recommend they increase the amount of times they shampoo, change their shampoo if necessary and that they get a shampoo that contains tea tree or a detoxifying shampoo that can help with keeping the scalp feeling fresh and clean of build up.

“What conditioner are you using and are you rinsing it well?”

Explain that leave-in conditioners are made to be left in. And regular conditioners are made to be rinsed off.

“When was the last time you washed your hair brushes and combs? Do you wear base ball caps or fabric ponytail holders, and when was the last time you washed them?”

Dreaded bacteria is one of the primary causes of a smelly scalp. Hairbrushes and combs should be washed at least once a week, especially if used frequently. Accessories hold bacteria, too, so encourage the use of washable ones so that they can be kept clean as well.

“Are you using hair powders to remove oil, and how often?”

Hair powders are also another culprit and possible cause of a dirty, smelly scalp.

As difficult and uncomfortable as these embarrassing situations may be, honesty is always the best policy when it comes to our clients and their hair. Don’t hold back. Your client may not respect you for not telling them when they ultimately figure out the truth — from someone else. Be the expert they rely on, and you’ll always keep them coming back.

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Begin having frequent staff meetings and collaborate on business building techniques used by others that you work with. Every salon has success right inside. Get the top booker to explain how they do it. Pair the weakest with the strongest and let them work next to each other. They can learn from what they hear and see. Do the same with retail sales. Share the ways that the top stay on top.

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