IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Suffered Third-Degree Burns While Getting My Hair Highlighted at the Salon

I now have a permanent bald spot made up of a skin graft from my butt.
Publish date:
May 6, 2016
surgery, scars, salons, injuries, accidents, burns, hair color


You never expect that a visit to the hairstylist will result in a trip to the emergency room and a total of five surgeries — but it can. And it did.

As a natural blonde, I'd been getting highlights since I was 12 years old. So when I made that routine, every-third-month trip during spring break of my junior year of college, I didn't anticipate anything unusual. After the foiling process was done, I sat under the heater like always, but in only two minutes, something happened that wasn't the usual.

My hair caught on fire.

To this day, I'm still not sure why it happened. Talking to industry professionals, it appears that, most likely, the stylist mixed two forms of bleach that weren't compatible, and it caused a reaction. All I know is that the result was tragic.

The burn left from the incident was a third-degree chemical and thermal burn, covering about a quarter of my scalp on the back of my head. All of the skin on that part of my scalp was destroyed; all that was left was bloody tissue and skull. The skin on my head, and the hair, would never grow back. There would be a permanent scar, which I decided to name Cynthia after the character from Rugrats.

It was the most disgusting, painful thing I had ever experienced.

When my mom saw it, I knew what happened was bad by the look on her face. She took a picture, showed me, and I was in shock. It wasn't until I sent the picture to my then-boyfriend and he replied that he'd have to buy me some hats that I finally started to cry.

A couple days after the accident, I had my first surgery: a full-thickness skin graft. I had the option of having skin removed from either my thigh or my butt cheek to have it grafted onto my scalp. The plastic surgeon encouraged me to have it removed from my butt; that way, the scar wouldn't show when I wore shorts or a skirt. I heeded his advice and had a chunk removed from my butt and placed on my head. From that moment on, I was a literal butthead.

The pain after the surgery was the worst thing I'd ever felt. Not only was the lingering pain from the burn still there, it was worse; and to top it all off I now had pain from my graft sight as well.

I had a huge, uncomfortable cast on my head that I couldn't remove for a month, and disgusting bandages on my butt that had to be changed daily because the bleeding was so bad. All of my days were spent laying on my stomach on the couch wondering what I did to deserve this pain.

Once the cast was removed and I returned to my college classes, I had a lot of catching up to do. It was awful. There was a huge hole in the back of my head that was just disgusting; I didn't have any hair to cover it, and wasn't allowed to cover it with a hat. To make matters worse, I still couldn't sit down, so I was stuck standing up in the back of the classroom wearing my ex's baggy clothes since anything even slightly form fitting hurt too much.

Since then, I have had four more reconstructive surgeries to downsize the size of the scar. The rest of my hair, which had been shaved for the original surgery, has grown long enough to cover the scar in most situations, but I still can't style my hair most ways without it showing. The scar is also sensitive and prone to infection. However, after my last surgery, I was informed that there was nothing more they could do. The five-inch-wide, two-inch-thick scar would be with my for the rest of my life.

There are still many days where I'm left wondering why this happened to me. It's affected my appearance and my confidence, and has definitely changed who I am. For the most part, I've learned to accept it and know that I'm always going to have to answer the questions; people are often so scared that it could happen to them that they're insensitive about the fact that it actually did happen to me.

The salon owner tried to play it off like nothing happened, later saying that it was somehow my fault. But I feel awful for the colorist who did this to me. She didn't do it on purpose, and she doesn't have insurance, so I decided not to sue her. That's come back to bite me a bit as I'm constantly dealing with my insurance to get them to pay for my procedures. Sometimes I regret it, but I also know it was the right thing to do.

I'm a different person since this accident. I wish it never happened. But at the very least, it has taught me to not take things for granted. At the end of the day, it's just a superficial scar. If it's the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'm blessed.