Two weeks after having her hair shampooed and blow dried, Elizabeth Smith suffered a stroke. According to her doctor’s report, Smith suffered an artery dissection in her vertebrae, causing a clot to form as the artery repaired itself. The clot broke and traveled to the brain, causing the stroke.
The cause of the artery dissection? The shampoo treatment.
This absolutely horrified me. Initially assuming it was a frivolous lawsuit based on a loose association of symptoms to a salon experience (bolstered by bogus science and sensationalized media), I did some research.
Turns out that it’s not a joke, or frivolous. This is a real thing that really happens–so often in fact that doctors actually have a name for it: Beauty Parlor Stroke.
Defined as “a cerebrovascular accident that occurs in a woman receiving a shampoo in a beauty salon, caused by bilateral compression of the vertebral arteries, which occurs when the head is tilted backwards over the shampoo sink,” Beauty Parlor Stroke isn’t a new problem. The term was coined by Dr. Michael Weintraub in 1993 when he met five women between the ages of 54 and 84 who developed serious neurological symptoms after shampoos at beauty parlors.
FOUR OF THE FIVE SUFFERED STROKES, LEADING TO PERMANENT NEUROLOGICAL DAMAGE.
In June of 2002, The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) performed a study. Researchers found that more than 80% of the 25 subjects used in the study said they suffered neck pain after a simulated shampooing, and 40% experienced dizziness or felt light-headed after extending their necks into the shampoo sink.
THE STUDY SHOWED THAT TILTING THE HEAD INTO THE SALON SINK REDUCES BLOOD FLOW TO THE BRAIN.
In 2006, Marilyn Noonan spent eight days in the hospital on blood thinners after suffering a brain bleed caused by a salon shampoo sink.
A paper from the Department of Neurology, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg warns that Beauty Parlor Stroke, “probably occurs more often than assumed.” Since some of these women can go weeks or months before a stroke is triggered (and many aren’t likely to remember their discomfort during the shampoo by then), that statement is a virtual certainty.
If any of your clients complain about the following symptoms, they may have suffered a vertebral artery injury:
- pain in the neck
- dizziness and imbalance
- facial numbness
These symptoms can be immediate or can be delayed for hours.
Clients age 50 and over are at greater risk, as are those with atherosclerosis, impaired collateral blood flow, and those with congenital vascular hypoplasia.
Dr. Weintraub suggests that elderly people and professionals who care for them avoid prolonged neck arching, hyperextension, or twisting. He recommends that the neck not be arched backward or twisted more than 15 degrees, and urges salon professionals to consider shampooing elderly clients leaning forward instead. Speed and applied force can also cause the problem, so revisit your shampoo practices to ensure you’re not being overly rough.
Use towels or bolsters as padding on your sinks and make sure your clients aren’t stretching their own necks while you work.
Dr. Thomas Hemmen, a neurologist with the UCSD Stroke Center stresses the importance of not staying in a hyperextended position for a long time (ten or more minutes), so don’t leave your client laying in the bowl to process. Bag their heads and have them sit up straight. (In addition to being risky, this practice is unprofessional as all hell. Stop it.)
Another option is to have your at-risk clients with short or fine hair shampoo themselves at home the morning of the appointment and mist them at your station. Personally, I’m not a fan of that method and only utilized it when clients insisted on it. Because I’ve worked for so long with seniors and clients with impaired/restricted mobility, I prefer to shampoo at-risk clients while they’re sitting up using a shampoo tray.
To be sure, shampoo trays come with a litany of issues. They leak and some can’t be secured to the sink. If you’re not very careful, you’ll end up soaking your client’s back. One of the most frustrating things for me (and my clients) was that shampoo sinks weren’t designed to be friendly for clients with neck problems–and a lot of clients have neck problems that rolled towels can’t alleviate. Why haven’t sink manufacturers addressed this? They hit one out of the park a few years ago by bringing us freestanding sinks, but certainly, more can be done.
Shampoo sink manufacturers: please design a functional sink that doesn’t require hyperextension.
Allow all of our clients to sit comfortably. A long, graduated sink bowl would also benefit long-haired clients, whose hair tends to get tangled in the sink and caught up in the drain.
As a fifteen-year industry veteran, I can say with complete certainty that I have never heard of Beauty Parlor Stroke. This is alarming, and something our cosmetology education companies should definitely be printing in our textbooks. (It’s been five years since I reviewed student training materials, so they may have done so by now.)
Have you come across this in your studies? Has anyone you know ever experienced this? What do you think we should do to protect our clients? Let me know in the comments!