Sitting Pretty: How to Get Salon Services for Free

by Mikey Rox on 15 August 2012 4 comments
Photo: gilmorec

I’m probably alone on this, but I think I should get my first haircut from a new-to-me stylist for free.

Every time I move someplace different, I have to find someone competent enough to cut my hair. The problem is, there’s a lot of trial and error (mostly error) involved in that process.

I’ve had so-called hair care “professionals” spray water in my ears, use the wrong clippers, take my sideburns too high, and square off my forehead. Once a lady cut my ear open with a pair of scissors. Totally not making this up — and if I leave the place bloody, I shouldn't be expected to pay.

If you feel the same way I do and are looking for free salon services, consider these methods to score no-cost haircuts, massages, manis, pedis, and more. (See also: Dye Your Own Hair Without a Beauty Disaster)

Ask Friends

This is an easy avenue for guys who keep a close cut because they can hand their friend a pair of clippers and just let the friend have at it. Anybody who wants a style, however, will need someone who’s knows what they’re doing. Perhaps you have a friend who has graduated from hair school. If that’s the case, ask them for a quick cut. But only ask if they're a good friend, and don’t ask often. Your friend may be eager and willing to help you out, but you don't want to take advantage of their kind gesture.

Barter

I make melt-in-your-mouth cookies and pastries, and I have a friend who owns a spa. Coincidentally, he has a sweet tooth, and I enjoy a relaxing massage every now and then. Once or twice a year we swap services — I deliver him a basket of delectable treats, and he gives me a brief massage in return. This barter system works for us, and it could work for you too if you have a service or skill to offer that someone you know in the beauty industry can use.

Be a Model

Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a free haircut or style by offering to be a model (i.e. guinea pig) for a local salon. Salons sometimes need willing participants to teach employees new techniques for cuts, color, perms, etc. These sessions are supervised by a professional, so you can rest a little easier, but it’s important that you’re aware that there’s potential for this experiment to go awry. To find these opportunities, ask your stylist if the establishment you frequent ever needs models and volunteer, or check your local classified ads.

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Browse the Web

Craigslist is the best resource for getting free salon services that run the gamut. Students in training are often looking for willing participants to practice their hair-cutting, massage, nail care, and other skills. Just like being a model, you need to understand that these are students who are trying to hone their craft — they’re nowhere near perfect — so you’ll need to roll with the punches.

Visit the Mall’s Makeup Counter

Whenever my girlfriends have a big event they want a makeover for, they head straight to the mall’s cosmetic counter where eager attendants are happy to paint any face that walks in — for free. These folks will absolutely try to sell you product after the makeover is complete — and it’s not a bad idea to buy something small to show your appreciate for their time — but try not to get suckered in if you don’t know how to say no and mean it.

Go to a Beauty School

Beauty schools are always looking for models, so it’s worth a call to your local school to ask if there are any upcoming spaces available.

Sign Up for a Rewards Card

You’ll have to purchase a certain number of services initially, but many places offer a free service after you’ve reached a goal. For instance, get five manicures, get the sixth free. If you’re always in the joint, the rewards card is absolutely worth it. Besides, you should be rewarded for your loyalty, and everyone likes to be pampered every now and again.

Do you have other ways to get salon services for free? Let me know in the comments below.

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Andrea Karim's picture

"Once a lady cut my ear open with a pair of scissors. Totally not making this up — and if I leave the place bloody, I shouldn't be expected to pay."

Years ago, I had a stylist at a JCPenney salon cut the back of my neck open with her scissors. I jumped about ten feet, and she scolded me for jumping. It was only when the blood started gushing that she believed anything could have possibly happened - it took a good ten seconds to start bleeding for some reason.

Mikey Rox's picture

Free haircuts for all!

Guest's picture

Bartering is a great alternative to having to pay for service. I've seen it in action at is surprisingly effective.

Also, I did recently have a hairdresser literally cut one side burn about 1/4 inch shorter than the other, which I didn't notice until I was sitting in my car about to leave. I've had several really bad ones too.

Meg Favreau's picture

I had the same thing happen -- a woman (at a JCP, like Andrea) cut one side of my hair shorter than the other, and I didn't notice until after I left. I cut my own hair for a few years after that, because I figured that if someone was going to make it look screwy and uneven, I shouldn't have to pay them to do it.