Emily M. DeArdo


Hospital hair salons: An idea to support mental and physical health

healthEmily DeArdo6 Comments

I know that, when someone says, "You know what hospitals need?" your first answer probably isn't "a hair salon!" 

And, OK, it's probably not the most pressing need in hospitals. I know that. I'm very fortunate to live where I live and have access to world-class hospitals that are fully stocked with vital equipment, supplies, drugs, and staff. I don't have to worry that the hospitals don't have an X-ray machine, or lack sterile needles. 

But more and more, hospitals are focusing on providing not just the basics of health care, but providing a more holistic approach to care. The hospital I'm at most frequently has a massage therapy department, child life specialists, play groups for all ages, teachers who tutor students, and evening entertainment is often scheduled. Even in adult hospitals, there's a focus on providing creature comforts, like lots of TV channels, increasing the quality of the food served to patients, and improving rooms so that patients have more privacy and comfort. 

I think having a hair salon-like area would fit right into this scheme at many hospitals. 

Think about a regular week for you. How often do you shower/wash your hair? And if you're like me, you don't just take baths for utilitarian reasons. You take them to relax, unwind, or just enjoy the hot water and bubbles. 

When you're in the hospital for a long time (as in, more than three days), basic things become a lot of work. Things like being clean, that people in the real world take for granted. Seriously, when was the last time you got in the shower or the bath and thought about how you would be able to wash yourself if you had medical equipment and IVs attached to you? How could you wash your hair if you couldn't get one of your arms wet (Or either of them)? Or what if you couldn't get into a tub or shower at all, because you have chest tubes coming out of you, or you were getting constant IV infusions? (We won't even talk about things like shaving your legs. That's just well-nigh impossible.) 

I have, in the course of 34 years, been subjected to every kind of hospital hair washing arrangement that can exist. Let me count the ways:

1)  The communal bathroom: where the floor has one bathtub, which you have to watch like a hawk to get. Then you lock yourself in--with a parent, or someone to help you, because you can't wash your hair yourself. Mom would wrap Saran wrap around the parts that couldn't get wet, try to tape it up with medical tape (I say "try" because the tape wasn't really designed to be sticky in the humid conditions of a bathroom), and then wash my hair while I tried to keep the improvised "dressing" from getting wet. The benefit to this was that at least I could wash my body.

2) The "bed basin" method: you stay in bed, and a small, inflatable basin (it basically looks like a kiddy pool for Barbie dolls) is put under your head. Then you can get your hair washed, you don't have to move, and everything stays dry. The problem is, you didn't wash anything but your hair, and if your hair is long, combing it out after this method is a disaster. It's also hard to get all the shampoo out, because you're working with a small pool of water. So you don't get really clean hair. Meaning, you have to do it again, soon. Boo hiss. 

3) The lean over the sink method, forwardterrible. Same issues as above, water gets everywhere, it's a general mess, and if you have anything on your chest (like, say, my port), you are frantically trying to keep it dry. Not good. 

4) The shampoo "cap": It works in a pinch. But generally your hair looks and feels awful after this has been used. It looks like a shower cap with shampoo "built in". You add water and there you go. Not good. The much better option is dry shampoo (which is a godsend, let me tell you.). 

5) The lean over the sink method, backwards: At least you don't have water in your face with this method, or running all down your front. However, it's rather painful if you have anything attached to you--and the sinks aren't usually at a good level. I remember being put on a tall chair from the nurse's station (on wheels!), then titled back. Water, water everywhere. 

6) The "Shower seat" method: This involves taping yourself down, again, so that what's supposed to stay dry, stays dry, and you basically make a mess of the bathroom. You sit on the shower seat, while you use a hand held shower head to wash your hair. It's not the best method. (Mostly because you have ZERO privacy. At all.) 

You can see, all these methods are sort of terrible. They are difficult, they are messy, they take a lot of time, and they are not mentally or physically beneficial. I loathe washing my hair when I'm in the hospital. It takes--not kidding--about an hour, to gather all the materials, to tape myself up, and then try to do it with minimal issues for the staff, because they have enough to do without making sure I have enough towels. And we won't even talk about the hair dryers that you're given. (My hospital doesn't like you to bring in your own hair dryer. Strange, but true.)  

Some fantastic nurses try to work a hair washing into the day, coming in when they have down time. And I appreciate this. But, again, there's usually not a lot of privacy. I know, I know--nurses have seen everything. But I'd like some mystery left in our relationships, here! 

I want you to image with me for a second. Imagine you are sick. You feel like crap. It takes a huge amount of effort to do anything, including go to the bathroom. You know you should take a shower, but it takes a ton of effort. You know your hair looks awful, but you can't wash it on your own. So on top of feeling like crap, you also look like crap, and this makes you feel worse

What we need are hospital hair salons.

They do not have to be fancy. They could be one or two salon-style sinks and chairs, where patients could lean back--and not worry about hurting themselves or the equipment--and have their hair washed well, with clean water, in a sink that is appropriately deep. So the shampoo isn't getting the hair dirty again, and you're not using dirty water, and everything that needs to stay dry is staying dry! The body isn't in a weird position--it's supported by the chair. A towel cushions the sink neck rest, just like at a salon, so water is absorbed and not running down the back of the chair or the patient.  

You need to have someone who can wash the hair, comb it, dry it--with a good hair dryer, not one from 1970. That's it. No styling involved (unless, you know, someone really wants an updo for that meeting with the surgeon in the morning). Just clean, combed, and dried hair that will last longer and look better than anything heretofore seen. For the rest of the body, the patient can get into a tub and get clean, without worrying about hair or getting things wet. (In my hospital, each room now has a rather shallow tub. It's not meant for bubble baths, but you can get in and out very easily, and you can keep things that are on your chest or arms dry. It's revolutionary, I tell you.) 

You wouldn't need professional hair stylists, just anyone who knows how to give a good shampoo and can work a hair dryer. Instead of it taking an hour, it could take 15 minutes. Nurses wouldn't have to wash patients' hair anymore (with the exception of very sick patients who couldn't be moved). Parents wouldn't have to do it. I always feel so much better after a bath, and having clean hair is a great thing. I hate the feeling of dirty hair. (And really, how hygienic can that be?)  

A very quick internet search reveals that a shampoo chair costs range widely, but you can get one for under $200.  A porcelain shampoo bowl costs around $300 (plastic knocks the price down about $100.) Hair products (shampoo and conditioner) wouldn't have to be expensive--you could even use the hospital stuff, or whatever the patient brings with them (yes, I bring my own shampoo to the hospital.) A decent blow dryer? $50 or so.  So let's say $600 per setup, to give us a cushion. $1200 for two. (Materials that can be sterilized/wiped down between patients, to keep things appropriately clean, are tantamount, so that might force a certain material over another.) Obviously you'd have to have plumbing arranged appropriately, and a space that's dedicated to this. But when you think about how hospitals have showers in the ICU for parents/family members to use, it's not too crazy. 

$600 is not chump change. But the benefits to patients, families, and staff would be incredible. I've been in the hospital for a month at a time.  There are people who spend months in the hospital. How would you feel if you weren't really able to wash your hair--or have someone else do it properly--for months? You'd feel pretty gross after awhile. I guarantee you. Dry shampoo only does so much. Sink baths are cute for babies, but not for anyone else. 

When I floated this on Facebook, I got a huge responses from women who have been in the hospital and understood this. But it wasn't just patients--it was parents, too, who have boys and girls who spend lots of time in the hospital, and thought this would be a good idea. I was actually surprised by the amount of people who liked this idea.

So the question then is--how would we actually get these in a hospital? What are the logistical issues that would keep a hospital from having a set-up like this? 

This isn't just for kids. It's for anyone who's in the hospital for a long time. You want to feel human, even when you're sick. A hospital hair salon (or blowout bar, I guess this is) would do a lot to increase patient well-being, both mentally and physically. 

Can we make this happen?