I’m bald for life after botched hair bleaching destroyed my scalp

She wanted hair to dye for — and the look left her with a dead scalp. 

A routine trip to the beauty salon turned hairy for glamour girl Ellie Swain, who sustained bloody, puss-oozing chemical burns and blisters to the back of her head while undergoing a scalp-bleaching treatment last spring. The injuries ultimately rendered her in need of a skin graft transplant.

“I am a pretty confident person in general, and I do care about the way I look and it just completely took it away from me. I was devastated,” Swain, 24, explained to Kennedy News of her hair-raising ordeal.

The travel worker, from Surrey in southeast England, scheduled an appointment with a stylist at Signatures Hair Studio in Crawley, West Sussex, to lighten her brunette tresses in May 2021. 


Ellie Swain was left with chemical burns to the back of her head and in need of a skin graft after undergoing a botched scalp bleaching procedure at a beauty salon in the UK.
Kennedy News and Media

In 2020, she’d hired the beautician to do a balayage treatment, essentially hand-painting Swain’s lengthy locks, after the professional came highly recommended by a friend. However, no strong chemicals were applied to her hair during that appointment. 

Nonetheless, owing to the results of the balayage, Swain felt confident enough to return to the coiffure expert for more intense colorwork. 

But the dye job took a nosedive just minutes after the bleach mixture was applied to her head. 

“After about 10 to 15 minutes or so [until] I started to feel a burning sensation and eventually I got up and basically demanded that she wash it off,” Swain recalled, noting that the colorist, whom she failed to identify, covered her head with a plastic bonnet after slathering it in the lightening cream.  

“My whole head felt like it was on fire. When she took the plastic off it was like when you open an oven door — steam just rose from my head,” Swain added. 

Doctors were forced to shave Swain's hair in order to attend to the large, black chemical burn that was left on her scalp.
Doctors were forced to shave Swain’s hair in order to attend to the large, black chemical burn that was left on her scalp.
Kennedy News and Media

But by the time the hairdresser moved to rinse off the bleach, severe and irreversible damage had already been done to Swain’s locks, long and healthy just a minute before. 

“When she washed it off, my hair was bright yellow and all of it was fried. Then she applied another colorant to try and take away the yellowness,” lamented the distraught looker. “After about five minutes I said to her, ‘You need to take this off.’ My head was literally on fire and my hair was fried and damaged.”

In hopes to quell the burning sensation, the stylist conditioned and plaited Swain’s hair before sending her home with an ice pack. She also invited her back to the salon the next morning to “fix” the wreck. 

However, instead of saving Swain’s mane, which once cascaded down the full length of the beauty’s back, the hairdresser was forced to chop it off, shortening her hair to shoulder-length. 

And the tress stress didn’t stop there. 

Swain's scalp injuries continued to worsen as the days went by.
Swain’s scalp injuries continued to worsen as the days went by.
Kennedy News and Media

“About three or four days after [getting my scalp bleached], my scalp started to blister and it was oozing with puss,” she recalled. 

“I went to the doctors and was prescribed antibiotics because I had an infection. I just thought hopefully the antibiotics will kick in and it will be OK.”

But, sadly for Swain, things continued heading in the wrong direction. 

“About a week passed and then my head basically began to turn black and I started to lose feeling. It was really numb,” she said. 

“I went to [the emergency room] and they were trying to clean the area because my hair was basically matted to the burn.”

However, due to the grave chemical burns to her scalp, the health care providers weren’t able to assess the magnitude of her injuries at the time.  

“I don’t think they could really see the severity of the burn because my hair was stuck to it and I didn’t want to have it shaved off. So they prescribed more antibiotics,” admitted Swain.  

Swain rushed to the hospital, hoping that she wouldn't have to lose her long, flowing hair.
Swain rushed to the hospital, hoping that she wouldn’t have to lose her long, flowing hair.
Kennedy News and Media

“But a couple of days after that, my head was pouring blood and I was losing hair, so I called [the non-emergency helpline in the UK] and they told me I needed to go to hospital straight away.”

And when she returned to the medical facility, doctors informed her that she had no choice but to undergo surgery.  

“Then I didn’t have any option but to shave my head at the back and it revealed a [nearly 3-by-4-inch] black burn, covering almost the whole back of my head,” Swain revealed. “The surgeon came in and said because I’d lost the feeling, the skin was all dead and I had no other option than to have a skin graft. I just completely broke down. It was awful.”

She was ultimately transferred to a specialist at the burn unit of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where she underwent skin graft surgery on June 17. There, a physician replaced the dead area of her scalp with skin from her thigh.

“I will never get growth on the skin graft part because my hair follicles were completely killed,” she moaned. “It’s hard to understand. You don’t expect to go to the hairdresser and then have life-changing injuries and scars.”

Swain now has permanent scars on both the back of her head and her thigh.
Swain now has permanent scars on both the back of her head and her thigh.
Kennedy News and Media

And while Swain is thankful to have retained some of her locks, the loss of its formerly flowing fullness is gut-wrenching. She’ll now be plagued with a permanent bald spot for the rest of her life. 

“I still had a bit of hair on my crown and round the sides but all of the underneath was gone. I’d gone from hair to the bottom of my back to nothing,” she said, adding that the skin graft procedure came as a depressing double-whammy. 

“The other thing that was devastating as well was that they had to take skin from my thigh so I knew I was going to be left with another scar that was even more visible,” groaned Swain. 

“My self-confidence just literally went to zero — I didn’t leave my house unless it was for a hospital appointment,” she admitted. 

Swain has had to undergo counseling for mental and emotional support since the scalp bleaching incident.
Swain has had to undergo counseling for mental and emotional support since the scalp bleaching incident.
Kennedy News and Media

However, in the months since the harrowing surgery, Swain has routinely gone to the doctor for scalp checkups, and gets and microneedling to reduce the scarring on her thigh. She has also undergone therapy to cope with the traumatic injury and its effect on her self-esteem.

And although some of the hair surrounding the skin graft transplant has slowly started to grow back, Swain is still forced to cover up the weak and thin strands.  

“I’ve had to get extensions put in to cover the bald patch and make it look like I’ve got fuller hair,” she said. 

Signatures Hair Studio has yet to openly comment on the mane mess. 


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