A woman’s hair is her beauty. Precisely why every woman expects that a trip to the salon will revamp her tresses and leave her looking and feeling more refreshed and radiant than ever. But what if that same trip to the salon sent you straight to the hospital, only to hear doctors telling you that you could have lost your life.
On Saturday, July 30 Tabitha Lionel* decided a trip to the salon was in order so she made an appointment with her regular stylist to have her hair relaxed and steamed. Knowing she could not dye her hair immediately after getting a perm, she decided to simply put a black rinse in the meantime that would have almost the same effect, albeit temporary.
That afternoon everything went smoothly, and Tabitha says the only thing she noticed was that her hairdresser washed the hair dye from her hair twice, as compared to the three washes she was used to. She quickly dismissed what she then felt was a minor issue, paid and left.
Tabitha says during the course of the night she experienced severe burning and itching, which she played off and attributed to the weather. On Sunday, July 31 at about 10am she noticed that her forehead had started to swell.
“I didn’t really make a fuss until later that afternoon when I realized that my hair had started to give off a puss like liquid and there was scarring along my hairline and what appeared to be chemical burns in my hair. At that point the swelling had moved to my left temple and my eyes also began to swell.”
She was taken to Victoria Hospital that evening, where blood samples were taken which revealed that her white blood cells were irregular and that her body was fighting off an infection.
“It was also noted that all my lymph nodes were swollen,” she told the STAR. “I was asked about my hair as there were visible signs of burns on my forehead and ears but no definite diagnosis was made. I was given medication and asked to monitor the situation and to return should there be any change, specifically because a concrete diagnosis was not given.”
The next day the swelling and burns worsened and she was burning up with fever. Family made a quick decision to take her back to hospital. According to the young woman, several doctors and nurses concluded that she should be admitted. Her face was swollen to the point where she could not see, and doctors’ attributed the swelling to the black dye used in her hair.
“While at the hospital, I was asked to wash my hair out in order to remove any chemical residue left over and to apply pure petroleum jelly to the burns which were now all over my head,” Tabitha continued. “I remained in hospital for three days. I was discharged because I was finally able to see. I was put on sick leave but the swelling did not completely subside until August 9.”
“When the swelling went down I went to the hair stylist and told her what happened,” Tabitha said. “She figured it was not her fault and she did everything right, but isn’t testing the dye before it goes onto your hair part of doing everything right? When you buy hair dye from the store and you read the box it specifically says you should test it and if nothing happens within 48 hours then you may proceed to put it into your hair. Why go to the salon and its done immediately? Additionally there’s no follow up.”
“At the end of the day they [hair salons] do it all the time,” she continued. You go to the hairdresser, ask to have your hair dyed or put in a rinse and they do it no questions asked. There is never a test done to find out whether or not you’re allergic to it, no questions are asked as to whether you’ve had it before, or if you’re allergic to anything. Everything is just put into your hair. Then you have a situation where you wind up in hospital wondering what’s wrong with you and find out you had an allergic reaction to hair dye that was put in your hair and you almost died.”
Since then Tabitha says she’s left her house on two occasions, one of which was a sunny day, and she was forced to return home because
her face was burning up. She says her hair still burns if she’s out in the sun and she doesn’t know whether she’ll ever relax or colour her hair again!
“To be honest I was afraid to leave my house because the medication specifically states that you should avoid the sun. All this for the sake of looking good? Personally I’m thinking maybe I need to go back natural, but that’s also difficult because it’s just as expensive. It’s a bunch of mixed feelings, but generally, just afraid now of anything I put into my hair.”
Tabitha has since submitted a complaint to the consumer affairs department and is awaiting feedback to determine her next move. When contacted, the St Lucia Bureau of Standards revealed they were only now working on something in terms of regulations for hair salons and beauticians.
*The name in this story has been changed.