Death at the hairdressers: the strange case of ‘beauty parlour syndrome’

If you find going to the hairdresser hair-raising at the best of times, you’d better have a stiff drink before you read this article.

Hairdressers can sometimes seem more like torture chambers, what with their sharp instruments, scalp-scalding chemicals, and over-enthusiastic barbers capable of turning ‘just a trim, please’ into a monk’s tonsure. But the greatest danger lies where you least expect it: the harmless-looking basin where the barber shampoos your hair.

As if entering a hairdresser wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough, we now have to take on board the fact that it can even be fatal. ‘Beauty salon syndrome’ is the term for a stroke thought to be caused by getting your hair washed at a salon – a process that can tear the artery, leading to blood clots and strokes.

As if it weren’t bad enough to feel the hairdresser’s bony fingers digging into your scalp, now you’re putting your life at risk each time you bend your head back for a hair wash. Well, that’s just GREAT.

Though it might sound like a joke, this rare occurrence, first documented in 1993, happens when your neck arteries are torn due to hyperextension of the area. 

 

‘When one of those cervical arteries is damaged in some way, you can get what’s called dissection, when damage is done to the inside of the blood vessel, leading to abnormal flow and clotting, and then those clots can shoot north into the brain and cause a stroke,’ Steven R Zeiler, head of stroke research at Johns Hopkins, said to Buzzfeed.

Although the symptoms might at first seem similar to those of a typical stroke (numbness, loss of balance, difficulty speaking, weakness, fainting, and behaviour change), beauty salon syndrome includes other indicators such as dizziness, hand instability, intense headaches, vision loss or blurred vision, neck swelling and changes in taste. 

If all this is making you contemplate cultivating a Rapunzel look and never setting foot in a hair salon again, don’t worry unduly. Age, atherosclerosis and sensitive arterial lining are all likely triggers for the syndrome. And it’s still extremely unlikely to ever happen to you. You’ve probably got more chance of being hit by a bus.

Also, despite it’s name, beauty salon syndrome can occur in other situations as well, as it’s provoked by movements that involve extending the neck or looking upward for prolonged periods of  time.

So, quit your fretting and get to a hairdresser at once. Your roots are showing. 


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