Here, Kirsty, 29 tells the story in her own words.
Running my fingers through my brown locks, I gazed at my reflection in the mirror. I could do with a change, I thought.
Bored of my hair, I remembered a new craze I’d seen on TV. Everyone from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga was having bright, colourful streaks put though their tresses, which looked amazing. Known as ‘unicorn hair’, it was like having a rainbow on your head.
My mum Helen, 58, was a hairdresser, but there was no way I was asking her to do it. I could just imagine her response… ‘Kirsty, you’ve got beautiful, thick hair, why do you want to ruin it?’ she’d nag. No, I was going to do a bit of DIY. Surely, it couldn’t be that hard... could it? All you had to do was lighten your hair and then dye lots of different pastel colours over the top.
So, one day in January this year, I dropped my little girl, Lexi, two, off at Mum’s to stay the night and went to the shops for a home-dye kit. Paying $8 for some powder bleach sachets, which promised to lighten my locks by up to nine shades, I couldn’t wait to get home and try it.
Following the instructions, I mixed the sachets of powder with peroxide that I’d bought separately. I’d dyed my hair plenty of times, so I didn’t worry about a patch test. But I read the rest of the instructions really carefully, before applying the bleach in my bathroom. After 15 minutes, I was just about to wash it out when I started to feel my scalp burning.
Grabbing the shower head, I began frantically rinsing it out, but it still felt like my scalp was on fire. It was so painful, I kept spraying it with cold water throughout the night before snatching a few hours’ sleep.
Waking the next day, I was alarmed to see my face was as swollen as a pufferfish. I looked less like a unicorn and more like a gargoyle!
Still, being single and a full-time mum, I had to go and get Lexi. But, taking one look at me, Mum bundled me into the car. ‘Let’s get you to hospital,’ she screeched. Leaving Lexi with my stepdad, Michael, we raced there straight away.
‘Looks like you’ve had an allergic reaction,’ the doctor told me, prescribing antibiotics and sending me on my way. The bleach had taken, so my hair was now a strange off-yellow colour.I wasn’t happy with it, but didn’t feel I could apply the pastel colours until my allergy settled down.
Thankfully, Mum didn’t lecture me about dying my hair myself. Instead, she was worried sick. ‘Are you sure you’re going to be okay?’ she said when I took Lexi home.
Over the following weeks, though, rather than easing off, the pain got worse. Finally, in February, I went back to emergency.This time, instead of saying I’d had an allergic reaction, doctors told me it was severe chemical burns. When the plastic surgeon lifted my hair, most of my scalp came away with it.
Sobbing my heart out, I was a complete emotional wreck – especially when I was told I needed to have surgery the next day, to clean the weeping wound and shave my head. I called Mum, who was looking after Lexi. ‘All I wanted was a new hairstyle,’ I wept. ‘I know, love,’ she sympathised.
The next day, I went into surgery before being transferred to a specialist burns unit. For the three weeks I was admitted, poor Lexi stayed with her nanna, while I had five further operations, including a skin graft. Doctors removed skin from my thigh to replace the skin that had been frazzled on my head. Sadly, because the grafted skin doesn’t contain the same follicles, I was told I’d probably never be able to grow hair there again.
‘Your beautiful hair. It’s such a shame,’ Mum soothed.
I was offered skin expansion treatment, where doctors would insert balloons under my skin, then fill them with saline every week. Once stretched, the healthy skin would be pulled down onto the damaged area, to reduce the baldness. I was also offered a hair transplant, which would cover my scalp, but would look strange as transplanted hair is very short.
Both options require surgery, which would be difficult for me with Lexi to look after. For now, I’m just waiting for my skin graft to heal. Although it is okay on the outside, it will take a year to heal on the inside. In the meantime, a burns charity is funding a bespoke hairpiece for me. I hope it will make me feel more confident.
At the moment, I put my hood up or wear a headscarf when I go out as I’m so self-conscious about my massive bald patches.
Luckily, nobody has made me feel stupid for what I did. But I really want to warn other people against home hair dying. I was trying to save some money, but bleach is dangerous stuff. In my opinion, it really should only be used by professionals and not by people like me who don’t know what they’re doing.I wanted hair like a mythical unicorn, but I ended up looking like a monster.
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