In the early days of stay-at-home orders, things seemed relatively straightforward: Hair salons, tattoo parlors, and other beauty services were declared non-essential by government officials, and doors in several states closed. Even if you wanted to get a haircut in March or April, you most likely couldn't.
But now, as states begin to loosen bans and resume business throughout the country, many stylists and clients are faced with a new dilemma: to return to the salon or not?
The short answer is: it’s complicated. We spoke to health experts, cosmetology boards, and salon owners about what to expect if you're thinking about making a hair appointment, and what risks you need to consider before booking.
Where Are Salons Reopening?
Georgia was among the first states to unveil an early reopening plan, which included hair salons in phase one. "People working in many of these places are at home going broke, worried about whether or not they can feed their children or make the mortgage payment," Governor Brian Kemp said in a press conference in April.
Since then, states across the country, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Utah have started allowing hair salons to accept clients. In early June, up to 13 additional states, including Connecticut, Minnesota, and Illinois, may potentially be added to that list. Even California Governor Gavin Newsom released reopening guidelines for salons in select counties where COVID cases are low.
Chain salons like Drybar and Ulta are also resuming hair services in many regions. "Following guidance from health officials and localized COVID-19 data, we are pleased to welcome guests to a safe salon experience to get services to look and feel their best," Nick Stenson, Ulta Beauty Senior Vice President of Salon Services and Trend, says. "Every Ulta Beauty store and salon reopening follows our Shop Safe Standards. We will continue to closely monitor various inputs as well as listen to guest and associate feedback to continue to optimize our experiences."
On the other hand, some stylists are uneasy about returning to work. Neal Miller Black and Molly Black, the owners of Gem Salon in Minnesota (where salons can open starting June 1), think the timing is too soon. "I don't think we're quite there yet," Black says. "I think we've done a great job at flattening the curve, but testing isn't as widespread here, and that's definitely a concern." Reallocating protective gear is another major consideration. "When we reopen, we're going to have to get masks and other PPE," Black says. "With conflicting reports out there about the availability of this equipment for health care providers, I worry that we'll be taking it away from other essential businesses."
What Changes Can Customers Expect At The Salon?
The new guidelines prior to entering a salon are now very different from life before lockdown — which, at minimum, required you to at least show up for your appointment on time. Both Drybar and Ulta have publicly rolled out new safety plans, which will require stylists and clients to wear masks and complete virtual, contactless check-ins. The California Department of Public Health issued updated guidelines for salons and barbershops, which now include employee temperature screenings, safety trainings, and appointment staggering to reduce congestion in the space.
For her salon in Texas, Benson has implemented new state-required safety measures, which include asking all clients to wear a face covering and eliminating common areas like beverage stations and waiting chairs. "We've also gone paperless and no longer accept cash payments and tips," she says.
According to Chunhuei Chi, a public health and policy professor at Oregon State University, salon staff and clients should operate like their place of business is a high-risk environment. “You should treat going into a salon as if you were going into a medical clinic,” Dr. Chi says. “Salons can be very compact, and you can physically be very close to other people, so it’s important that staff members wear appropriate protective gear, which will guard both themselves and the client.” In addition to wearing PPE, Dr. Chi also recommends that stylists thoroughly disinfect any items and surfaces touched by salon workers and clients between appointments.
But lowering the risk doesn’t stop there. Dr. Chi says that other factors, like ventilation and duration of appointments, should also be considered. “Being indoors in a non-ventilated area presents a higher risk,” he says. “For customers wanting to use beauty salons, I would recommend keeping your service to one hour, and taking breaks outdoors if your service exceeds that time."
"You should treat going into a salon as if you were going into a medical clinic."
Dr. Chunheui Chi, public health and policy professor at Oregon State University
Additionally, Dr. Chi recommends that salons keep their windows open (if they have them) while servicing clients. "Another measure they can take is to invest in an air purifier and filters to disinfect and keep the environment as safe as possible," he says.
Salon staffers should also consider testing for COVID-19 before returning to work, Dr. Chi says. "This is an added layer of precaution that will allow people to better track whether or not they've been exposed to a client at the salon," he explains.
What Can You Do To Be Safe At The Salon?
Ultimately, Dr. Chi says that while businesses should be held to local government and health guidelines, the responsibility is also on clients to assess their personal and community risk. "Everything we do involves some risk, and for customers, the issue should be evaluating the relative risk of performing an activity like going to the salon," he says. "Just like the details of the virus vary by region and location, so will the relative risk."
Dr. Chi also suggests that customers do their research before booking an appointment at a salon — even if it's open and accepting clients. "I would look at the new daily cases in your region," he explains. "That number will be adjusted by the size of your county or region, but it is a good indicator for the relative safety of your region." Beyond analyzing data, public health officials also recommend wearing face coverings during your salon service (opt for ones that loop around your ears to leave your hair free), avoiding greetings and interactions that violate social distancing rules, and skipping the appointment altogether if you feel sick.
Are House-Calls Allowed?
While protocol changes from state to state, house calls present a massive gray area for stylists and clients. Cheri Gyuro, the Public Information Officer of the California Department Of Consumer Affairs, says that house calls are currently off-limits, though that may vary based on your state and county. "The California law requires that all services be performed in a licensed establishment," she says. "Any parties practicing at an unlicensed location may be cited, which carries up to a $1,000 fine." On the other hand, a California licensee may have a salon in their home under some conditions. "An establishment application must be completed, and the home salon must meet all the requirements listed," Gyuro explains.
While many envision what their "new normal" looks like, Minnesota stylist Molly Black says she's empathetic to people who feel torn during this time. "It's definitely risky and hard to choose between your health and livelihood," she says. "But the case of someone contracting this illness and possibly dying is devastating to me. The benefits just don't outweigh the risk."
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.