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The Pleasure and Pain of Salon Hair Washes

When I was younger, going to get my haircut wasn’t something I thought of as a luxurious or particularly nurturing experience. I didn’t go often, and I didn’t really do anything daring with my hair. Once I started paying for my own haircuts, I went even less often, and I usually went to a chain store that was conveniently located and really fast.

Now that I live in a city with a thriving local business scene, I think more carefully about how and where I spend my money. For that reason and many others, I started getting my hair cut and colored at my friends’ amazing, intimate salon in downtown Athens, Georgia. It’s like going to therapy, I swear: the salon is very small, and everyone there (stylists and customers alike) is fun to talk to.

Sensitivity to scents

One other bonus: my friends who own the salon know that I moonlight as The Migraine Girl, and they are extremely thoughtful about my potential triggers whenever I come in. They don’t ever use strongly-scented products on my hair, and they ask me to lightly sniff anything even mildly scented before they put it on me. They’re also very accommodating when it comes to the hair washing.

A soothing massage

For me, getting my hair washed is one of the main reasons I want to go get my hair cut. Feeling someone else care for you and nurture you, even for a few moments, is immensely soothing, plus that head and neck massage feel pretty dang incredible.

Neck pain during the hair washing

Unfortunately, the hair washing is also one of the least comfortable parts of the process. Funny that: comforting but uncomfortable. That would be an oxymoron to most, but I know my migraine buddies understand.

No matter what the heck I do, I can’t get my neck comfortable on that sink. We’ve tried all sorts of towels rolled up in all sorts of ways. I’ve tried slouching wayyyyy down in the chair and sitting a little straighter. I’ve tried putting my neck straight onto the edge of the bowl. The bowl itself is literally made to hold a human neck as the human gets its hair washed, but it’s still so uncomfortable for me.

Last time I went to get my hair done, the neck discomfort was worse than ever. I moved around repeatedly and the assistant washing my hair was very kind and accommodating, but I still couldn’t fully relish the experience of a blissful head massage because my neck pain was so distracting.

The migraine attack

For days after, my neck felt “off” some how, like I had moved it out of joint. Heck, maybe I had! I hadn’t had a migraine in nearly two weeks, but I got one a few hours after being at the salon. Not only did the migraine come back day after day, one of the attack’s key features was the continuing neck discomfort.

Pinpointing the trigger

As with every migraine episode, it’s impossible to know for sure what the one trigger was that acted as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. In all likelihood, the neck pain would’ve been part and parcel of the attack anyway and the hair washing discomfort was just a coincidence.

I need to schedule another haircut soon, and I’m a little nervous about it. What if laying my neck on that sink did cause neck pain that triggered a multi-day migraine? I don’t want to bring that on again, especially after several days of being pain-free.

Does anyone else out there have this same love-hate relationship with the hair washing station at a salon? How do you tackle this problem? 

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Jani8
    2 years ago

    I have had the same problem and yes I do believe it has caused migraines. I go to a salon where I wash my hair before I go over. I considered buying a small chunk of foam rubber from a home fabric store, maybe 3″ thick cut to size of the neck support of the sink. It can get wet, but you’d have more of a cushion, because even rolled up towels get hard. Let me know if you try it and it works or doesn’t work.

  • AMarrazzo
    2 years ago

    I have exactly the same problem. I get a migraine about 30 minutes after leaving the salon. I don’t find it relaxing or enjoyable having my hair done but my hairdresser is great. I have explained my problem and she has suggested takI got some pain killers before the appointment and taking a little packed lunch to snack on. The hair washing has always been a problem especially as I am short and have to sit on pillows. I’ve never considered the scent of the products but they do make me nauseous once the migraine starts.

  • marycr8on
    2 years ago

    I have the same problem getting my hair washed at the salon.The last time I went, I think she held my head at a different angle and there was a lot less pain, for once. I always end up with a migraine after getting my hair colored. Part of it is the neck pain from the wash, part of it is the lighting and part of it is from the smell of the dye. They started using organic dyes about a year and a half ago but they aren’t much better. Before, I would come home and immediately have to wash my hair again just because of the smell. I can tolerate the new dye’s smell a lot better. I don’t feel nauseous, though I can still smell it when it’s wet even after I’ve washed it several times.

  • Jani8
    2 years ago

    You might try an inflatable bath pillow, or if you can find something smaller, Towels will get hard after a while.

  • esfq
    2 years ago

    Search for a salon that has flat bed-style place instead of a chair at the basin. I have read about women who have had strokes at the salon bowl during hair washing because of the acute angle. Don’t suffer through it. If it is uncomfortable it may be your body’s warning.

  • Pamela Baxendale
    2 years ago

    I am in the same situation at the same salon, I think. I absolutely love everyone there and am so proud of their knowledge and business acumen. I have a terrible time getting comfortable while having my hair washed. We have tried multiple rolled towel positions, slouching, etc, and they are so accommodating and willing to try anything to help me. I have a long neck, and low hairline in the back and I am miserable counting the minutes when I can sit up again. I never linked this to my migraines, but I do experience severe neck pain during and a bit after. I wonder if we can come up with a neck insert to place on the basin? What do you think?

  • Esme
    2 years ago

    Would your stylist be willing to do the head/neck massage BEFORE the shampoo, while you are sitting at her station? Then just a quick wash or just a dampening if you’ve washed your hair at home before is all that would be needed. You might consider wearing a soft cervical collar during the shampoo to keep your neck in a neutral position and give you some cushion. Not the stiff post-whiplash kind of collar, but a soft one. I have one called a “caldera” that I wear to bed to keep from getting neck-twist headaches while sleeping.

  • Kate
    2 years ago

    I too find the hair washing sinks at salons very uncomfortable on my neck. I also really hate all the strong smells there, like hair color. However, I don’t believe either has ever triggered a migraine. Between that, the cost, and the wait (at my cheap chain place), I often only get a haircut once a year.

    As for an alternative, I’d suggest washing (and not drying) your hair at home immediately before the appointment. Or, ask them to just wet your hair down instead of washing it.

  • Adele
    2 years ago

    After years of trying to get comfortable I wash my hair at home, lightly dry and stick on a baseball cap and just have stylist wet spray my hair. I know it’s not the same as getting a really good hair wash but heck, as Migraineurs we put up with much worse inconveniences,

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