How To Handle A Bad Salon Experience (Without Being Rude)

We've all been there: You book a salon appointment for a new haircut or color refresh, only to swivel around in the chair and feel overcome with uncertainty. You think, Maybe it's the lighting in here? Or, If I style it at home I'll probably like it better. But really, you're just disappointed with the result.

So what's the protocol? Do you speak up and ask for a correction on the spot or try to work with it at home? What if you're so horrified you want to seek out a different stylist entirely—is that rude? Or, worst of all, do you just live with meh results to avoid a potentially awkward conversation? And then there's the tipping aspect. If you've spent hours in the chair but are upset by appointment's end, is it kosher to skimp on the tip? (Don't judge, we know you've wondered.)

Because we know countless women have endured one or all of these feels, we tapped a handful of experts in search of the answers. Read on for how to handle the most dreaded beauty blunder of all.

Cut and Color Corrections

When requesting a correction, remain calm but definitely speak up. Joel Warren, master colorist and cofounder of Warren-Tricomi Salons, says, “If a client is unhappy with a service, I recommend speaking with the stylist directly and explaining exactly what they don't like." For those who feel uncomfortable approaching the stylist, he suggests talking to the salon manager as an alternative.

Artur Kirsh, a member of the Alterna Global House of Experts, explains that subpar results are typically due to a miscommunication, not a stylist's lack of skill. "Be willing to get into detail about how you'd ideally like your hair to look and be honest about the changes you'd like to see," he says.

Redken master colorist David Stanko says that kindness goes a long way if a service feels inadequate: "Be polite and articulate your thoughts—accidents happen. You need to sort out a solution and not belabor a complaint session." He also suggests asking the salon what their policy is for corrections so it's clear whether you'll be offered a monetary compensation or an opportunity to "fix" a problem.

For those who feel like a new stylist would better suit their needs, Adrian Wallace, a colorist at the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City, says it's absolutely okay switch it up. "We know we can't satisfy everyone—ask the stylist or colorist who they recommend to best achieve your desired result," he suggests. He also recommends giving second chances before switching stylists, especially for first-time clients.

Tricomi says, "It’s best to speak with the manager directly; this way, you don’t have to worry about offending the stylist and you can seamlessly transition.” Stanko adds that sending a thoughtful note explaining that you are better suited for another stylist is a nice touch to avoid hard feelings.

If days go by after an appointment and the result feels unsatisfactory, the experts unanimously agree it's completely acceptable to return for a corrective appointment. "Our salons have a two-week policy so if the client calls anytime within that period after their service, we bring them back to the salon for a correction at no charge," says Warren.

"Most stylists will mention that if there are any questions with a haircut or color, a two- to three-day follow-up phone call is appropriate," Stanko explains, adding that this should be communicated up front. "If more than a week or two goes by, it's typically too late for a redo without a charge."

And while it's standard for corrective services to be comped, tipping protocol is a personal choice. As 20 percent gratuity is the industry average for all services, Stanko explains that it's completely up to the client to tip for a correction. Warren points out that if a client is unsatisfied, "It's on us—you should not be tipping."

Knowing What To Ask For

While corrective services are A-OK, the culprit is often not knowing what to ask for when requesting a change, leading to less than thrilling results. Wallace explains that photos are a great reference point but can be very deceiving. "The stylist should point out different styles of coloring and the texture of hair in the photo, compared to their own," he says. Additionally, Warren notes, "Images from magazines are often Photoshopped, and many celebrities use extensions. A good stylist or colorist should be able to look at an image and tell you what is realistic and achievable for you." Kirsh suggests scheduling a consultation before booking an appointment, explaining that it's just as helpful to explain what you don't want as it is what you do want.

For extreme changes, Wallace says it's important to ask for a strand test to determine if hair is healthy enough to withstand the process. "You'll want to know how many sessions it will take to achieve your desired result," he says. If a dramatic change was achieved but turns out to be undesirable for a client, Stanko says another service would have to be booked at full price. Kirsh offers up a way to potentially prevent this situation: "It's up to the stylist to get to know the client before doing anything dramatic. It is important to build a strong relationship between a client and stylist to help avoid this happening."