Wax On, Wax Off

An unfortunate episode with a rogue body waxer left me itching like mad, in pain and wondering what sort of recourse I might have. A journey through the hairy underbelly of a sometimes dicey industry.

Legal Action After Waxing Salon Burns

Aria Gmitter

March 31, 2022 08:00 AM

A RECENT RELOCATION, a spirit of self-love and no social life had lulled me to a magical land called Comfort, where people’s every quirk is accepted, including body hair in public and private parts that the sunlight never sees. Therefore, like many women who humblebrag about their shave-free month during “Januhairy” or their winter fuzz that grows like moss down the legs and tucked into the dark pits of shapely arms, I didn’t think twice about the mess I wasn’t tending to.

Until one fine summer day, that is, when I realized I had a serious problem: I was wearing a sundress, hours away from a planned date, nowhere near the vicinity of my usual waxing studio and in possession of a dark mass everyone could see whenever I lifted my arms. I’m Latina and an animated speaker, so I was left with two choices: shave, or find someone nearby who could wax me. The cardinal rule for women who commit to waxing is never to shave again. Ever. It took more than 20 years for my body hair to become fine and soft, and a single desperate swoop of a razor could reverse all those gains, transforming my plush fur into the kind of Brillo pad that left my usual Miami waxer exhausted after our one-hour sessions and swearing she’d never take me again.

I had spent nearly $3,000 a year on waxing (not including tips) over the previous decade. No, I would not shave. I’d find someone who could take me within the hour. Like a modern warrior woman, arms tucked close to my sides, I posted my cry for depilatory freedom to a Facebook moms’ group, asking for referrals.

Within seconds a bevy of women replied, and one waxer’s name cropped up more than others. A quick Google search returned an average 3.2-star review. That’s low, I thought, but so what? One waxer is as good as any, right?

I called. A sweet, soft-spoken voice told me she could, indeed, see me within the hour. She texted me her address, just a few miles away. Everything was going according to plan. Soon I’d be Kojak-perfect from my pits to my bottom. My GPS guided me like a guardian angel to the waxy destination. My dreams would come true, one strip of muslin at a time.

Fifteen minutes later, I cascaded gleefully down a short hallway to a well-lit room cluttered with beauty products and scented mayhem. I was greeted by a waxing table with the customary white sheet of paper down the middle, from which I’d soon butterfly away from this prison of hair covering my dark skin.

I will say that 20/20 hindsight and humility remind me that I have only myself to blame. I quickly saw a warning sign but, in my desperation, chose to ignore the cool blobs of green wax on a dingy popsicle stick in a dusty wax heater. The crack in the center of the stick—evidence of potential unsanitary sloppiness—was a dead giveaway that something might not be right.

I began to second-guess myself. Surely she was a trusted professional given how many women had recommended her. So, when she left me with directions to undress, I complied. When she returned, asking me to spread and lift my arms, I did so. From the side of an eye, I watched her reach for the stick (with an ungloved hand) from the heated container, which she extracted and then lightly dipped in several more times. After a quick rip with underheated wax, I shyly asked her—trying not to sound insulting—if her tactics were industry best practices. All I knew was from prior experience with big salons and estheticians who always threw the stick away and got a new one between each application.

“All fine, dear,” she coyly replied. I tried to trust that others liked her for a reason. I wanted to make it to my final destination on time, and I was already on the table now. So, I closed my eyes and prayed throughout my session, the longest 20 minutes of my life, and headed out vowing henceforth to avenge my follicular genetics via permanent laser hair removal.

I was $100 poorer, but that night I was gleefully smooth again. I assumed the worst was over when the appointment ended, but within hours my groin and every other waxed spot blazed like the ring of fire around a solar eclipse. I leapt from bed the next morning feeling like a fool. One lift of my arm and I was hit with a rancid smell that seemed to mock me for having bought far more than I bargained for.

My war on hair became a battle of the fungal and bacterial kind that only a licensed dermatologist could win. I shared with my doctor the story of the moments before this terrible rash took hold; she in turn taught me how wax becomes contaminated when tools get reused, consoling me with two prescription creams and a follow-up appointment a month later.

For two fear-filled months I was sure I’d never not itch again. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t call the local health department because my regular waxer dissuaded me, which in turn made me rethink pushing my claim any further.

Lesson learned, and I laugh now, but it’s important to note that checking online reviews is not enough, and similar to the salon I’d visited, not all salons require a signed waiver prior to services. Complaints and lawsuits involving tears, infections and burns because of a wax are common. But Bridgette Elliott, a licensed esthetician and owner of the SO Skincare salon in Palm Beach, Florida, urges clients to pay attention to cleanliness. “Communicable diseases or infections can cross-contaminate from one person to another,” she says. “You also want to make sure nonreusable items are replaced, such as wax strips, cotton or gloves. In my opinion, unless the customer is permanently damaged, [she] may want to reconsider a lawsuit and file a claim with the salon’s liability insurance instead.”

It's important for clients who have been harmed during a procedure to understand their options; in these situations, sometimes not filing a lawsuit is ideal. The process of filing an insurance claim with the salon directly is often an easier alternative than taking legal recourse. The recompense for a client is typically the same, and the success rate may be higher. In fact, most estheticians carry Liability Insurance up to a million dollars per occurrence, and similar to an auto accident, stating that an incident occurred and who is at fault must be evaluated to begin the process. A lawsuit and proof of damage may take longer, and the client may not win his or her case (especially when waivers are involved). Even though a client does not have to have legal representation to file an insurance claim against a salon, it can be beneficial to talk with a knowledgeable lawyer who can help navigate the process. A licensed attorney will do the initial demand letter on behalf of the client, along with handling all matters that most clients are unfamiliar with, reducing stress and ensuring a final resolution is met.

Isiah Jorgenson, a Florida-licensed cosmetologist, says that “it’s in the best interest of a client to go to salons that require a waiver form, because it protects the client and the salon. Medications or health conditions can cause an adverse reaction during some services. So, it’s important for the client to inform the salon so the professional can safely perform the service—or decline if needed.”

In 2007, for example, a Brazilian wax treatment performed at Moriah Brandon’s in Altamonte Springs, Florida, left Jean Rochelle “Chelle” Simmons in need of medical treatment from her gynecologist. She had to undergo a surgical procedure to treat severe tears and lacerations caused by a waxing session. Simmons sued and was awarded $400,000, though the defense attorney argued that her injuries might not have been caused by the salon. Because of the severity of her situation, her attorney was able to help her with a favorable outcome. But injuries, no matter the severity, caused by improper training of staff and unsanitary equipment, are still painful and scary. Knowing the options, rather through legal recourse or filing a claim, can help victims move forward after a traumatizing experience.

The argued defense in Simmons’ case raises an important point: These types of injuries can be difficult to prove, so it’s crucial to find an attorney who specializes in personal injury and chemical burn cases in particular. The alternative is suffering in silence and enabling subpar providers of an extremely sensitive service to continue wreaking occasional havoc on innocent people. Even the smoothest skin on earth isn’t worth that.

Aria Gmitter is a writer, editor and literary agent with a focus on spirituality, health, love and relationships. She earned her Masters in Health Law from Nova Southeastern University, and an MFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. Her works have been published by Bethany House Publishers, MSN, Yahoo, Fox News, Cosmo, Prevention and Psych Central.

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