If you’ve been hankering for a haircut or dyeing (pun intended) to get your roots done, the wait is over for people in certain parts of the country. Having successfully flattened the COVID-19 curve, Alberta is slowly reopening its economy in stages — with hair salons across the province some of the first establishments back to work. (Salons in Calgary and the city of Brooks, home to the majority of Alberta coronavirus cases, will have to wait a little longer; Premier Jason Kenney is set to make an announcement Friday.) But since their relaunch could be any day, salons are preparing to open their doors to a whole new reality, like stylists wearing gloves and clients getting blowouts in face masks (both recommendations from the government of Alberta).
Refinery29 spoke to Domenic Gialleonardo, a stylist at The Beige Label Salon in Calgary, who is getting ready to go back to work, gloves and all. Here, he talks about how his salon will keep its clients and staff safe, whether or not you should cut your hair at home if your province isn’t opening salons up anytime soon, and what he really thinks of those “operation haircut” protests.
Your salon could be opening as early as next week. What would you say to people who think that might be too soon?
I understand the apprehension. Salons [in Calgary] were supposed to be allowed to open yesterday. But then they pushed it back. It was a bit of a shock. I thought for sure that I wasn't going back to work until August, if that. But, after talking to my colleagues and getting all the information from the government, I feel better. It's going to be a little weird. But we feel confident that we can do it. The scariest thing is that we only have one shot at this. As the salon industry begins to reopen, all eyes are on us since we’re one of the first in the country, so we have to be the leader and make sure that we do what's right. It's scary, but I'm also excited to get back in the groove of things.
Tell me about the changes that are coming. Start with booking appointments and interacting with clients.
We've implemented virtual guest check-ins. So, clients will text us upon arrival and then we'll let them know when their stylist is ready. Then, obviously, we’ll be doing contactless greetings. We'll also be sending a virtual self-assessment to ensure that they aren't presenting any symptoms, and to make sure they haven't been around anyone that has. There will be no walk-ins, and no extra friends or family in the salon. There will be key-code access, so you book your appointment and 24 hours before we send you a key code to be able to enter the salon.
And once they're in the chair?
We’ll all be in masks at all times. We will be selling them at the salon, too, just in case somebody forgets one. All snacks and beverages will be postponed for now. We're doing payment by card only. And then the salon itself will be a bit different. All of our stations have been moved six feet apart to maintain social-distancing. We'll have plexiglass dividers in between wash stations. We just got them in yesterday. We’ll be wearing disposable capes. Our wash stations will now be a quiet space, so no speaking. That’s usually a really social place but you'll be basically face to face, so we're doing no talking. With the masks on, you'll have to use each other's eyes for communication.
We’ll all be in masks at all times. All of our stations have been moved six feet apart to maintain social-distancing. We'll have plexiglass dividers in between wash stations. We just got them in yesterday.
We also have stricter sanitation rules throughout the day. In a salon you're normally cleaning after every client anyway, but now it's going to be wiping down door handles, bathrooms, any counter space or seats. When you wash a client’s hair, after they leave, you have to wash down the sink and the chair. We're also going to be receiving full training prior to open to make sure that we're ready to go. And we're getting BARBICIDE certification. It's an online course to update us on all sanitation procedures to make sure that we’re cleaning our tools and our products the right way.
We thought that we'd have to wear face shields and weird clothing to protect our bodies. Information kept changing every day, so we were never sure what was correct. When the guidelines came out, it seemed more real. Some of the requirements aren't mandatory, which is weird. For clients, wearing masks is just a suggestion. One of the guidelines was like, "We don't recommend blow dries unless you and the client are wearing masks." So, it's like, Wait, is there a point where they don't have to wear masks? So, we're still trying to figure out how we want to run things. For blow dries, we're going to ask clients if they would like a blow dry. And if not, we would appreciate not doing it, just for the safety of everyone.
Hairstylists are like therapists to clients. How are you dealing with the fact that your job is going to be way less social?
It's weird, because we'll still be able to talk while they’re in my chair, just with a mask on. I've even been wearing it for a couple hours around the house trying to get used to it. It’s like I’m training for our reopen. It's so irritating. And it's definitely weird that I won’t be able to hug my clients. Then it’s even weirder that we're allowed to touch their hair and scalp. The difference, I guess, is that we'll be wearing gloves.
What did you think about the lockdown protests where people were chanting, "I just want a haircut" and prioritizing their hairstyles over safety?
Some people are just crazy. We shouldn't be an essential business, but we make people feel confident and happy, so I get it, but also, I'm not saving lives. I'm just doing hair.
Say you live in a province where salons aren’t opening anytime soon, do you recommend people cut their hair at home?
No. I always get messages from clients being like, "Hey, I'm going to cut my hair. What should I do?" I tell them, "If your hair feels damaged or dry, try using these treatments or masks. Hold off, it'll make your hair feel a little bit better, instead of doing something that you're going to regret. Then, when you come back into the salon it's not just a trim, it's a full correction.” For colour, too, people are doing their own. If you're going to do your root touch-up, that's one thing. But if you're going to attempt highlights or bleaching your hair, that's an S.O.S. Don’t do it.
How have you and your colleagues been supporting clients during the pandemic?
We've been doing curbside pickups for any kind of customer need. We were making these colour bowls where you could get your root touch-up and everything in a little package for clients to do at home. But for the most part, we haven't really been doing a whole lot. We're doing a million Zoom calls just to keep in touch and make sure everyone's okay.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.