When hair salons around the world first closed in March, many of us felt a wave of panic. What would become of our roots and split ends? Of course, a cut and color is pretty low down on the list of worries during a global pandemic, but there's no denying the knock that salon closures have had on our beauty routines and self-esteem.
On July 4th, hair salons in London, where I live, were finally given the green light to re-open, providing a number of important changes were made. Prevention, safety, and hygiene are now at the forefront of all hair businesses, with social distancing rules in place and staff members required to wear full PPE in the form of visors and masks. Gowns and hair-dressing equipment must be disinfected or discarded after every use, and customers are encouraged, if not required, to don face coverings themselves.
It's fair to say the new hairdressing experience looks a lot different from the one we once knew, but I was overdue a trim weeks before lockdown hit, so I jumped at the chance to book in to my nearest salon, Buller & Rice in Walthamstow, founded by hairdresser Stephen Buller and colorist Anita Rice. Not just because my hair was in need of some serious TLC (or because the salon is incredibly Instagrammable), but because I was intrigued to know exactly what has changed. Will I be able to binge Schitt's Creek on my iPad or are non-essential items banned? Can I have a well-deserved glass of Champagne? Will my hairstylist and I be able to natter about lockdown life or are conversations to be kept to a minimum? And will having my hair done be an enjoyable or anxiety-inducing experience? Here's everything you need to know.
The inside waiting area is no more.
Congestion is a real fear for hairstylists, who are doing away with waiting areas indoors. In fact, I was early and had to wait outside for a moment before Buller let me in. Customers are encouraged to turn up to their appointment on time and late arrivals may have to book another appointment. Rather cleverly, Buller & Rice has built an outdoor waiting room in the form of a socially distanced tiki bar in the back garden, where customers can wait until their stylist is ready for them, kill time while their color develops, or get some work done.
Face coverings must be worn throughout the duration of your appointment.
Yes, even when you're at the sink and having your hair colored, but it's actually not that annoying. While I was having my hair washed, Rice asked me to unhook my mask from my ears and hold it to my face for ease, so I was protected the entire time. (I didn't realize just how much I missed having my hair washed by a pro — it's the little things!)
You are permitted to remove your mask for a couple of seconds at the very end of your haircut to get a true feel for the finished result. My face mask didn't feel as weird as I thought it would, and it certainly didn't get in the way while coloring, so it's incredibly important to wear one. Had I not brought my own face covering along, Buller & Rice sells handmade face masks for £12, with half of the price going to Black Pride. Disposable masks are also on hand for those who've forgotten theirs at home.
All staff will wear full PPE, but it's not as scary as it looks.
Buller & Rice is big on sustainability. During my appointment, staff wore full plastic-free PPE, including visors made from cellulose derived from wood pulp and sugarcane, biodegradable gowns, and face coverings when visors were not worn. But it all felt weirdly normal; I felt really safe. I also wore a plastic-free covering with a salon gown on top for extra protection.
Refreshments are limited.
If you look forward to kicking back with a glass of Champagne or a cup of tea, I'm sorry to tell you that they are not offered on arrival, nor during the appointment. Sad, but totally necessary. Buller & Rice encourages customers to bring along refillable water bottles, or you could stop off for a takeaway coffee before your appointment. As well as refreshments, magazines are not offered to customers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can bring along your own magazine, though, and personal items such as phones, laptops, iPads, and books are also allowed.
Cleanliness is key.
Gowns are washed after every use, hairdressing stations and equipment are disinfected regularly, and hand sanitizer is available at the door and throughout the salon, including in the bathroom. Buller & Rice has also done away with cotton towels in favor of single-use biodegradable versions.
Everything is now cashless, too. Of course, you can ask to leave a tip as usual, but this must be paid via credit or debit card to minimize contact.
No walk-ins allowed — you must have an appointment.
One of Buller and Rice's main concerns is walk-ins, for fear of crowding the salon space. For this reason, you won't be seen to, and it's important to book an appointment online via the website. You must also arrive to your appointment alone, as any friends or family members won't be permitted to wait inside or outside, unfortunately.
A one-meter social distancing rule will be in place.
Buller & Rice is a relatively large space, so hairstyling stations are fortunately already one to two meters apart, or roughly three to six feet. There are no screens at the sinks, as reported by some news outlets, but seats have been spaced out evenly. Rice wore a visor while washing my hair and I still wore my mask.
There's no switching off between hairstylists and colorists, though, to prevent cross-contamination. This feels much more personal, but means appointments are further apart to accommodate time, which explains extra-long waiting lists.
You might also have heard that any unnecessary conversation is banned, but this isn't strictly true. Face-to-face interaction is kept to a minimum and conversations regarding hairstyles, cuts, and colors take place in the mirror, with the hairstylist behind you, so not much has changed there.
Hairdryers are not banned.
Some news reports claimed that hairdryers will not be used in salons in case the virus is spread via airflow, but this has since been reviewed by the government. Buller & Rice's tool of choice is the trusty Dyson Supersonic, so I was still able to have my hair styled like normal. The process didn't feel rushed like I thought it might be post-COVID, and Anita wore her visor the entire time.
Overall, I was surprised by how normal the whole experience felt. I was worried that I might mess up by sitting somewhere I shouldn't, touch something by mistake, or get too close to Rice while showing her pictures of Dua Lipa for bob inspiration, but it seems hairstylists have got it down to a science.
Salon experiences are meant to be enjoyable and the professionals know exactly how to make it so, even in these unprecedented times — so much so that I'm genuinely looking forward to booking in for a trim. Until then, I'm back on the waiting list.