Another Adult’s Hair Hygiene
February 29, 2020 1:52 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend doesn’t take care of his hair properly (doesn’t scrub, brush, or trim). It’s a hygiene issue. How do I broach this with him?

His hair is a rats’ nest because he doesn’t brush or comb it — it is a huge tangle and stands straight up from his head. Even strangers have commented on the street.

He does wash his hair, but he clearly doesn’t scrub his scalp or really the hair itself, which makes it unpleasant to the touch (even beyond it being snarled).

This affects my attraction to him and it also is somewhat embarrassing. It doesn’t seem to have held him back socially or professionally, however, although I’m surprised by that.

In my ideal world, he would buzz it short to make it easier to take care of, and would scrub his head every day or two. I think he would be pretty open to doing that on the grounds of convenience and my preference...but I also don’t know how to suggest it without being hurtful or controlling or just weird.

Because, in theory, I don’t think I should have any say over how another adult takes care of his hair — yet, I’m finding that this is a big deal to me!

How do I ask another adult to change his hygiene habits and his hairstyle? Even/especially when that other adult is my partner?
posted by nowadays to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is he depressed? How are his other aspects of hygiene?
posted by saturdaymornings at 2:02 PM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Show him a pic of an easier to manage style that also looks great. His hair would look really cool like that, maybe you could spoil him with a makeover? Suggest going to a barber/hairdresser. Get excited. Take him down there to get it done once/if he agrees and ask the hairdresser the best products and washing routine to maintain the look. Buy whatever they suggest. Compliment him a lot. Maybe turn hair washing into a sexy shower time routine you do.

I mean you could hassle him all the time (who wants that?!) but this is a much gentler approach which can turn into a positive makeover instead of potentially shaming him into it which obviously you don’t want to do.
posted by Jubey at 2:04 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd do it for him a few (or if it turns out to be fun for both, a bunch of) times. Having somebody else wash and comb out your hair feels like absolute heaven. Just say, playfully, "I'm dying to get at that nest on your head," and then go after it and do to him what he ought to be doing. In this extremely enjoyable manner, he'll learn how to do it. If he doesn't pick up what you're putting down right away and he continues to present nest-head, do it a few more times, still in the spirit of fun and play.

Still no progress, I'd just tell him. "Your hair's so much nicer to touch when it's clean. Can you take a shower?"
posted by Don Pepino at 2:05 PM on February 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is tricky. It really is his hair to do with as he wants. It doesn’t seem like an issue of him not realizing it’s dirty and tangled if he’s getting comments from strangers on it. If I flip the genders, I wouldn’t think it right for a male partner to say “I like your hair better untangled because it looks better, so please comb it.” or “Can you cut your hair, I prefer it short?”

However, it seems more defensible to say something like “partner, I love touching you and touching your hair but not when it’s dirty and lately it always seems kind of dirty. Do you want some help with the tangles so it’s easier to shampoo?” Then have a good detangler and brush ready to go. Or if he’s expressing that it’s overwhelming, say you’ll research a good barber if he wants to cut it off and start over.

If it’s more an emotional issue that’s causing concern, you can say “are you ok? It’s making me worried that you aren’t washing your hair lately. I know I don’t feel up to that when I’m feeling depressed. Want to talk?”

Or, you could just ask him straight up: “hey partner, we’ve never talked about this, but I’m curious why you wear your hair like that?” Maybe he really likes the look. Maybe he’s heard about curly haired people going without shampoo and is playing around with it. Maybe he just hates shampooing! In which case you have to think through why it’s a big deal for you.
posted by sallybrown at 2:08 PM on February 29, 2020 [15 favorites]

How do I ask another adult to change his hygiene habits and his hairstyle? Even/especially when that other adult is my partner?

"honey, you got to wash your hair, come on."

if he's got a hair texture that's damaged by brushing, leave it at that. otherwise, continue to step two:

"honey, you've got to brush your hair, what are you doing."

I guess this seems upsettingly blunt to you? but if it's as unpleasant as you say, you must not be touching him or going within a few feet of him anymore, and I would think that just telling him to wash his hair would be less hurtful than that.

you're right that you shouldn't tell him how to style his hair. luckily, washing isn't a style.

It doesn’t seem to have held him back socially or professionally, however, although I’m surprised by that.

how can you be surprised by it when a large part of his social success (his association with you) was and still is your choice?
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:13 PM on February 29, 2020 [15 favorites]

Is he depressed? How are his other aspects of hygiene?

This is normal for him. I think his parents just didn’t teach him the importance of some basic hygiene stuff when he was growing up (brush hair, wear deodorant, etc) and as an adult he’s still clueless.

I'd do it for him a few (or if it turns out to be fun for both, a bunch of) times.

I literally can’t, that’s how snarled it is. There’s no way to get fingers through it, even to scrub it. In my opinion, it really needs to get sheared off so he can scrub his scalp and even attempt to brush it. (And this is coming from someone who isn’t afraid of tangles, I have broken many a comb in my hair).
posted by nowadays at 2:16 PM on February 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you’ve both already tried to untangle it so you must have talked about his hair to some extent. Was he sensitive or embarrassed about that? If not, you could just say “hey your hair is getting dirtier because the tangles won’t let you shampoo it, I think you should cut it off for sanitary reasons and maybe the barber can suggest a product to stop if from getting tangled again. Want me to help look for a barber?” If he’s like “whatever I don’t care,” say “sorry but it being dirty bothers me, I don’t like dirty hair near me when we kiss / sleep” etc.

If he was sensitive about it, then you could approach it more gently. Maybe start by saying you can look for a barber who can help him figure out what to do.
posted by sallybrown at 2:25 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

We’ve never talked about it, I just know that it’s too tangled for me to get through from my hand touching it while we’re making out. And obviously I can tell it’s dirty, especially at the scalp.

He showers and brushes his teeth and stuff just fine, but he can’t be bothered with grooming — and his hair is a particular problem because it needs grooming to stay hygienic and looking unremarkable.

He uses shampoo and conditioner in the shower, but he evidentially doesn’t scrub his head properly and then doesn’t brush out his hair, so he’s not really cleaning/grooming anything even so. And I think at this point he isn’t going to be able to without a haircut.

TBH - it sounds like he may have a difficult texture hair that needs different treatment than what you're used to.

I have slightly more texture and curl to my hair than he does, but otherwise our hair is pretty similar. (And yes, it is a relatively difficult/high maintenance texture, which is another reason I think he should just go short).

Also, this is not someone who is going to put up with a massive detangling, even if I were able to manage it, because I know from experience that it would hurt and take a long time, and he wouldn’t put up with that.

I really more need advice on how to talk about this with him, not on how to do his hair.
posted by nowadays at 2:42 PM on February 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Could you be blunt and bring up the fact that you think he has a blind spot when it comes to his hair? Could you be even more honest and explain that the state of is hair is making him less attractive to you and ask if he's open to getting it cut short. Would he be open to you cutting it with clippers?

How about taking a shower together? Take turns washing hair. Have fun with it and pretend you are a hairdresser giving a tutorial. "Now I will use a nickel-size amount of shampoo. Gently rub hands together to distribute. Concentrate on the scalp. Be sure to target the roots where oils accumulate. Work into a rich lather." And so on...
posted by loveandhappiness at 3:00 PM on February 29, 2020

"Babe, I love you. The state of your hair is stressing me out. Let's get you a haircut. We can go to (insert great restaurant here) after."
posted by Kitchen Witch at 3:06 PM on February 29, 2020 [16 favorites]

Just tell him his hair feels greasy and gross and ask him to wash it and style it or offer to do it for him in the shower and show him how. Or, assuming it's curly or kinky-curly, straight up ask him to cut it then show him how to keep it clean and under control from then on. Mutual grooming is nice and he needs to hear it and better from you than his boss because that conversation is coming down the road. And it's definitely affecting him socially and professionally, believe me. If people can't be counted on to be clean and not smell bad or look unwashed then it will limit their career for sure.
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on February 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I kind of hate myself for suggesting this, but does he have a male presenting friend that you could approach and ask them to broach the subject with your BF? Like, coming from you, there's all kinds of overloads about desirability and stuff. From a close friend who just pulls him aside and sais, "look, bro, about your hair. Friend to friend, we need to talk." And then just lays it down. Friend can even suggest coming to you for help.

Honestly what should happen is his head should get buzzed and he gets "how to wash your head and face" lessons and as the hair grows out gets lessons about washing it and caring for it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:17 PM on February 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

If your boyfriend is actually washing his teeth, body, and hair on a regular basis, then I would be very careful about dragging "hygiene" into the conversation. He is taking care of his hygiene, just not the way you would do. And implying someone is dirty, when really they're not, is not a good tactic here.

It is legit, however, to address this from the perspective of your personal preferences and desires. You want to run your hands through his hair when you are making out, you can't do that right now because his hair is tangled. I would start there. Express to him that you enjoy getting to run your hands through a person's hair, that you like stroking hair, that it's a turn on for you and that you are missing that.
posted by brookeb at 3:19 PM on February 29, 2020 [17 favorites]

This can be as simple as "Have you ever thought about buzzing your hair off?" while you're drinking coffee or etc. and see what he says. If he says something like "No, why? Then you can state your case. Or maybe he'll say yes and or yes but and then you can either encourage him, or if he says yes but then you'll get some information about what's going on here.
posted by bleep at 3:21 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my ideal world, he would buzz it short to make it easier to take care of, and would scrub his head every day or two. I think he would be pretty open to doing that on the grounds of convenience and my preference...but I also don’t know how to suggest it without being hurtful or controlling or just weird.

I would drop the scrubbing business for another time, but if you’re certain that he doesn’t care how his hair looks (a real possibility, I know I don’t care about mine) there should be no issue with telling him you prefer a buzz cut. Just be prepared to accept "Sorry, no" for an answer.

Definitely couch it as "You look good, but to me you would look better..."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:30 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wonder if he would be open to dreadlocks? From what I understand the baseline beginning of dreadlocks is similarly "barely mess with it, let it tangle"? If you would like to see him in dreads, would this be an easier question to ask? He still might need to buzz it off to start them properly. I'm not an expert I just know you tangle it on purpose to start them, and some can be neat or sloppy or one giant dread. Might be something to file away if he says no to keeping a buzz cut.
posted by crunchy potato at 3:30 PM on February 29, 2020

Honestly unless you have a reason to believe he's attached to his hair looking like it does I think the easiest and best way to do this is to just be direct: Your hair is kind of a mess, I think you'd look great if you buzzed it off, can we try it? Building some kind of date aspect into it (a la Kitchen Witch's suggestion) might be good but only after you've been direct about it.

If you're not direct I think it's very easy to read as either condescending (like you're trying to fool or wheedle him into doing it) or confusing (i.e. you start out mentioning it casually, or talking about other hairstyles, etc., he's not into it or just kind of shrugs it off since you're so indirect, it gradually becomes apparent to him that you're actually really bothered by his hair in particular and you've been holding that back).

He might be a little embarrassed that you've had this thought for so long and haven't brought it up to him before, but I think overall a straightforward "can you try this for me?" approach is going to feel best for both of you. Ultimately I don't think it'll be that tough a conversation, even though it'll feel awkward for a second before the bandaid comes off.

(Quick caveat: If his hair appears to be thinning or receding at all don't discount the possibility that he's not taking care of it because that is really bothering him—before I got on meds to reverse it I let my hair get pretty bad because I couldn't stand looking at my wet scalp, basically, or having to deal with it at all.)
posted by Polycarp at 3:30 PM on February 29, 2020 [15 favorites]

Any chance he has hand/wrist/neck/shoulder pain that gets in the way of washing and brushing his hair?

I used to get tangled matted hair because washing and brushing hurt my hands/neck/shoulders too much until I gave in and cut it super short...
posted by Murderbot at 3:36 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that he's not rinsing the conditioner out completely? I know my hair can get gross pretty quick when I don't get it all out.
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:49 PM on February 29, 2020

After a person has buzzed all the hair off their scalp it becomes the most amazing thing to touch for a very short period of time once the hair is just coming through. Suedehead. This is a thing. Perhaps this could start you off thinking of things you might playfully suggest he do with his hair that you would find engaging and intriguingly tactile?
posted by glasseyes at 4:19 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

You could also get a buzzcut in solidarity and mutual pursuit of delicious suedehead (it's totally a thing).

I think though that you might be the wrong person in his life to make this happen. Because romantic partners are so wrapped up in our perception of our own attractiveness, something like this can be extra difficult because it like, doubles down on the vulnerability. If it came from a buddy instead it might land a lot better. Like, is there someone in his life who would go on a weekend trip with him and they'd come back with tattoos? Or someone who has been with him at his lowest and stuck by his side? That is the buddy who would have the best chance of guiding him quickly to the clippers without it being a trial of vulnerability for him. It wouldn't have to be a secret behind the scenes manipulation thing though. You could talk frankly about it with him and suggest that going with a friend could be fun/less nerve-wracking/a good way to talk it through, and then contact said friend together, invite them out for celebratory drinks afterwards or whatever. Make it not into a relationship thing, but a friend or family thing.
posted by Mizu at 5:45 PM on February 29, 2020

I would bet that if he had any inkling that his hair was nasty he would do something about it. So just tell him. Don't hint, don't ask a friend, just make is sound like he's clean and terrific but his hair is acting weird: "Hey, I've noticed that even though you're shampooing and cleaning your hair, your hair seems pretty unhealthy. Like, I tried running my hands through it and I can't. I wonder if you should go see a barber and see what they think. It just seems weird that your hair is so knotty. You would totally rock a buzz cut."

If nothing else, he's going to look more closely at his hair and see how gross it is.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:51 PM on February 29, 2020 [18 favorites]

Sounds like you might understand his type of hair more than his parents did, so maybe start with that point of solidarity.
posted by amtho at 7:18 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your boyfriend is actually washing his teeth, body, and hair on a regular basis, then I would be very careful about dragging "hygiene" into the conversation. He is taking care of his hygiene, just not the way you would do. And implying someone is dirty, when really they're not, is not a good tactic here.

in fact they said

And obviously I can tell it’s dirty, especially at the scalp.

me, I would be "very careful" about bringing a scalp that had gone unwashed for years until it was unwashable, with all the attendant unpleasantness, anywhere near someone I loved. that would seem like a bad tactic in the game of romantic life, to me.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:34 PM on February 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

Whenever I have to say something scary or awkward or potentially emotional, I always preface it with “I want to tell you something but I’m kind of afraid to, because [in your case] I’m not actually sure it’s any of my business, and I really love you and don’t want to upset you or make you feel bad.” This at least signals to someone that you’re going to say something where the emotions could be higher but you’re reaffirming that you care about them and that you aren’t even sure it’s your biz. This usually helps open a person up to what you are saying and as a plus is radically honest. It also takes you out of the place where you’re the expert and bossing someone around or telling them what’s best for them. I have better hard conversations when I ask for help “I’m having a hard time touching your hair when we are making out and it feels kind of dirty to me. Can you help me with this?” He may have some specific suggestions or he may not but at least you aren’t unilaterally deciding what he should do. Good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 10:15 PM on February 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

I mean, if it takes you having to sit a grown ass man down and teach him basic hygiene couched in coddling, then so be it, but you'll need to be very clear that it is a one time thing. It's borderline mothering, but he has to be responsible for it after and probably has to be directly told that, too.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 10:22 PM on February 29, 2020 [12 favorites]

"Dude, your hair needs tending. Can I help you with that?"
posted by DarlingBri at 1:17 AM on March 1, 2020

This reminds me of a post from a few years ago - a guy was trying to figure out how to bring up her chin hair. my answer from then. it's interesting that the answers seem to be different when the genders are flipped!

I'd add now that personal appearance is a tough topic, be gentle and tread lightly.
posted by freethefeet at 2:40 AM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am firmly in the "you're a partner, not his parent" camp. If he has a purple fauxhawk and that's not your thing, well, that's a choice of his for you to deal with. Stray hairs on the chin are something that happens, no matter how much you shower.

But not washing and caring for a head of hair is choice that goes beyond style and is a hygiene issue. I don't think that you should have to wrap that up in a date-night or sexy-times framing. "Babe, this is tough for me to say and tougher for you to hear but.. your hair...the tangles and oil buildup are getting to be too much. I think it's time to see a barber."

Also, dreads/locs aren't a suitable style for people who choose not to maintain their hair. They require washing and care.
posted by kimberussell at 6:50 AM on March 1, 2020 [17 favorites]

Are you looking to be polite? If not just tell him you find it really gross and can he please do something about it.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 7:49 AM on March 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Could you get him a gift certificate to a fancy barbershop as a gift for a birthday/anniversary/holiday? In SF we have places like JP Kempt and Mission Barber that would clean him up and set him straight.
posted by amaire at 8:22 AM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

If strangers comment this should be pretty easy. "Hey, I think your hair needs some fixing. Can we buzz it or should we figure out how to keep it from getting tangled? My vote is that you'd look hot with a buzz."

If he's like EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and gets defensive that's one thing, but he probably knows it's a thing. I also think that working too hard to present this in a certain way is not really your job. As long as you're not a huge asshole, it's kinda on him to manage his reaction to you commenting on something that is clearly public knowledge.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:46 PM on March 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

My hair regularly turned into a rats nest as a child and still will even today depending on the water and climate where I am. I have thin fine hair but a ton of it. It got so bad around 3rd grade that it all needed to be cut off and I had a short bob for quite some time.

What I remember most is that it was really physically uncomfortable having my hair so tangled. Like if it ever caught on something, I was legit stuck until I repositioned my hair. Some parts were more easily tangled than others so it was always a little unbalanced.

Now I know how to work with my hair long so it doesn’t tangle (once a week wash with conditioner, nightly use of a wide tooth comb) so I’m able to keep it long. But yeah, unless he’s willing to sit still through a session of spray detangler and like a slow half hour with a wide tooth comb, it’s going to be a much faster learning curve if it is cut short, at least to chin length. Even if it is still tangled at chin length, that will get out the bulk of the tangles and make it super fast to detangle. Just have a date day at Hair Cuttery. You can get your hair styled And he can have a stylist be like “Let’s give you a new look and talk hair care”
posted by donut_princess at 6:28 AM on March 2, 2020

With a really good friend (I mean really good!) I would suggest a couple's date at a hair salon.
Two short cuts, two hair and scalp care and styling consultations. He does your hair for a month. You do his hair for a month. A follow-up visit at the salon for professional (and non-judgmental) evaluation and retraining on technique.
He may be into it.
posted by TrishaU at 11:51 AM on March 2, 2020

‘Babe, do you reckon you could go get your hair cut?’

If he asks why, or seems defensive, just say you would prefer it if it was always clean and a bit tidier. Don't do any simpering or slow dance about it, just ask normally. I mean it’s just a yes/no type of scenario right?

(If it was me, I’d say a very true thing which is that I love to run my hand over my partner’s nape and upwards over their scalp, especially straight after they’ve had it trimmed. It feels so yummy doing that! I’d like to be able to do that with him, so getting a haircut would be something nice he could do for me.)

If he says yes, yay. You could offer to go with him, or give him a voucher for his first appointment.

If he says no, then okay, ask why. Listen to his reasons and then I dunno, think about his answer.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:58 AM on March 4, 2020

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