I’ve had psoriatic arthritis for more than 20 years but I’ve lived with psoriasis—and all the humiliations that come from having a condition many people think comes from being ‘dirty’—for more than 50 years.
Years ago whenever I went to my local hair salon, I would receive lectures about how I wasn’t rinsing out my shampoo well enough, or I needed to wash my hair longer. As much as I tried to explain I had psoriasis, the more people didn’t seem to understand. Or want to.
I once had a stylist wince in disgust as she parted my hair and flakes fell everywhere—but the stylist who still haunts me to this day was the one who wore rubber gloves the entire time she did my hair. She poured rubbing alcohol on everything I touched and all instruments that touched me.
She belittled me, asking, “When was the last time you washed your hair? You have so many flakes in your hair because you’re a dirty person.”
I wanted to die and felt like it was the end of the world. I stop going to salons for a few years. I couldn’t take the embarrassment or shame of having this disease. I felt like such a loser and wondered what did I do to deserve this?
Whenever I got up my courage to visit a new hair stylist, my stomach twisted in knots as they combed through my hair. I would try to explain my condition and apologize because I had psoriasis. I could feel the anxiety building up because I did not know what this person would say or think about me. Living with psoriasis can be embarrassing. Many of us who live with psoriasis cover up and hide it any chance we get.
But, when it comes to getting your hair done, it’s impossible to hide.
It took me years to learn not to be embarrassed or afraid that I had psoriasis. It was a condition that I had by no fault of my own. It didn’t make me dirty; it made me a human being. There was no shame in having something that you have no control over and you should not allow it to get in your way of living your life and being happy.
I have also learned a few things over the years that might help someone with psoriasis seeing a new stylist for the first time:
- Tell them you have psoriasis when you make the appointment. This is for the benefit of the salon and for your own benefit as well. It might help decrease your anxiety if you know that the salon employees are aware of your condition beforehand. This is also a good time for you to educate them if they don’t understand psoriasis.
- Try and decrease the amount of flakes and plaque that will be visible by using a medicated shampoo before your appointment. Knowing that your psoriasis has just been treated and its appearance will be less severe, might also lessen your anxiety and allow you to relax more while getting your hair done.
- Never allow your psoriasis to embarrass you to the point where you do not tell the stylist that something is hurting you. Too many times I suffered though the high heat from the hairdryer or some chemical that was really burning me. I’ve lost count of the times I have cried myself to sleep because my whole scalp was on fire. You are paying for this appointment and should be able to enjoy it just like everyone else.
- When the appointment is over ask yourself: Did I like this hairdresser? I have learned over the years to be honest with myself. Instead of trying to simply forget about and block out the experience I honestly asked myself if I like the hairdresser and how she treated my scalp. After all, I am the customer.
Thankfully, things have improved over the years. Salons are more knowledgeable about psoriasis. I often go and speak at hair salons and to beauty school students about how important it is to learn about scalp psoriasis, and how to treat someone the way you want to be treated. There are even salons that specialize in dealing with psoriasis on the scalp.
I finally found a place where I don’t have to explain myself or my condition. It put me at ease and allowed me to relax and enjoy the experience just like we all should. Having psoriasis should not decrease our ability to lead a normal life and that includes getting our hair done.
Over the years I have been an active advocate for psoriasis, speaking up and out about this disease. I am now Executive Director of the nonprofit Psoriasis Network Support: www.psoriasisnetwork.org.