Here’s What You Need To Know About Hair Salons Reopening

As cities and states begin to lift COVID-19 stay at home orders, you’re likely wondering: When can I get a haircut? And what’s visiting the salon going to be like? The AEDITION has the answers.
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Written by Krista Smith
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It’s not just nerves that are frazzled. From neglected roots to split ends, being cooped up in COVID-19 quarantine has done a number on our hair. As cities and states slowly reopen, you’re likely wondering: When can I get a haircut? And what’s visiting the salon going to be like? Though regulations and best practices vary from state to state, it’s safe to say we won’t be returning to the same salon experience. In order to understand what the ‘new normal’ might look like, The AEDTION spoke with hair salon owners, hairstylists, and clients from around the country to get the lowdown.

Can I Get a Haircut?

Let’s start with the good news. Beginning in late May, most states started giving hair salons the OK to resume services — albeit with some social distancing-inspired restrictions. The bad news? Your stylist might not be ready to open just yet. Stylist Deirdra Vierra of OM Holistic Hair in Valencia, California, says that between the ever-changing government mandates, difficulty obtaining the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to meet new regulations, and the recent protests, nailing down a reopening date hasn’t been easy.

Roberta Dudszak, the owner of Relax Organic Salon in Washington, Pennsylvania, has faced similar challenges. “We rescheduled our clients four times after our governor said we were opening and then we weren’t,” she says. “He was relying on data that kept changing.” The stylists we talked to are booking anywhere between a month to two months out. Many have been busy contacting the clients whose appointments were cancelled back in March. From there, they are reaching out to their larger customer base to schedule services.

Though it varies by municipality, services that require a beauty professional to have close contact with a client’s face — like facial hair grooming, eyebrow shaping, or eyelash tinting — are largely off the table at the moment. In states like New York, however, eyebrow treatments are considered okay, since they don’t disturb a client’s mask. While most states are allowing blow drying (experts have said it’s fine, so long as everyone’s wearing a mask), some salons have nixed it for now, just to be safe.

How Salons Are Keeping People Safe

Amidst so much uncertainty and upheaval, stylists and salon owners have been doing their best to navigate regulations and establish best practices. “For the most part, the regulations are the same across all states. California and, more specifically, L.A. County has stricter guidelines,” says Eric Taylor, the founder and CEO of Salon Republic, with 22 locations and about 2,000 beauty professionals across California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington. “For instance, seeing one client at a time has been required in L.A. County. [In other] states it is just a recommendation.”

While many states — including California, Connecticut, and Colorado — require anyone inside the salon to wear a face covering, mask-wearing in states like Florida and Ohio is mandatory for employees but only suggested for clients. Once salons meet the minimum state and local requirements, it’s up to each business owner to decide how far they take their COVID-19 safety protocol. “We’ve received no guidelines from the state of Pennsylvania, so we’re following the guidelines set out by the Professional Beauty Association,” Dudszak shares.

New Salon Protocols

With this in mind, here are some of the most common requirements that have been set for hair salons around the country:

  • Signage for customers notifying them of the rules and best practices
  • Symptom checks (either remote or in-person) for all employees on each shift
  • Staggered shifts to maximize social distancing
  • Masks that cover the nose and mouth must be worn by employees at all times
  • No eating or drinking in the salon, except in designated break rooms
  • Occupants must maintain a six-foot distance, except while cutting hair
  • Plexiglass partitions installed throughout salon if social distancing isn’t possible
  • Salon doors should be kept open whenever possible
  • Upgrade the HVAC (the heating, cooling, ventilation system), if possible
  • All shears, clippers, and tools must be sanitized between clients
  • High-touch surfaces must be sanitized regularly
  • One client per stylist at a time (think: no double booking)

Dudszak points out that many of the salon sanitation rules — like disinfecting tools and washing robes — have been in place for decades. “If you’ve been following what you’re supposed to be following, it’s not all that new,” she notes. But that hasn’t stopped salons from making upgrades. “We installed UV virus-killing light filters that destroy microbes like mold, bacteria, fungi, mildew, mold spores, viruses and other pathogens,” says Taylor of Salon Republic. “It’s similar to what hospitals use.”

New Client Protocols

While the list above encompasses the steps salons are taking to safeguard the employee and customer experience, here’s some of what will be expected of clients:

  • Mask or face covering required (varies by state)
  • Arrive with freshly washed hair (varies by state)
  • No hood dryers (varies by state)
  • Come alone to the appointment
  • Wait in your car or outside until stylist is ready
  • Verbal screening for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival
  • Amenities (coffee, magazines, seating) removed from the waiting area
  • No product samples or testers shared

What does it feel like to be serviced at a salon with this new normal? “When I arrived, I waited in my car wearing a mask and texted my stylist, who came to the door to get me,” explains Nicole Mitackek of her experience visiting a hair salon in La Canada, California. The stylist took Nicole’s temperature and instructed her to put on an individually wrapped disposable mask and gown prior to entering. “I had to sign a waiver saying I hadn’t been sick, been around anyone sick, or traveled outside the U.S.,” she continues. Throughout her haircut, Nicole’s stylist wore a mask and washed her hands frequently.

What the Future May Look Like for Hair Salons

Typical of the times, beauty professionals tell us that there’s no way to tell how long these new regulations will be in effect. “I believe a key theme for the short and mid-term will be prioritizing safety over comfort and convenience,” Taylor says. “We want to make sure that our clients trust that we are doing everything we can to keep them and ourselves safe.”

But that vigilance comes at a cost. “The industry was hit very hard,” Vierra laments. “I know of four salons that have closed because of the quarantine, and I expect to see more.” While some business owners, like Dudszak, applied for and received a small business loan through the CARES Act and worked out rent deferments with landlords, a decrease in capacity and increase in operating costs could pose long-term challenges. “My cost of goods has risen exponentially,” Vierra says. “I can only work at 50 percent capacity, so I can see only half the clients per day that I used to see. My profit and loss will most definitely be changing.”

The relationship between stylist and client will be impacted, too. Pre-pandemic, hairstylists did much more than touch up color or trim bangs. Visiting the salon was a chance to escape the everyday, focus on self-care, and maybe even enjoy a mini-therapy or gossip session. “I think we will be losing more beauty professionals over time, as the lack of human interaction with all the PPE will take a huge toll on us as service providers,” Vierra says.

Even so, there is hope. “We as hairdressers are important for mental health,” Dudszak maintains. And clients seem to agree. “Getting your hair done builds your morale,” says Pasadena resident Laura Scarsi. “It was a little awkward going to the salon with everyone wearing masks, but I was so grateful to get back and have someone coloring and cutting my hair. It was like therapy.”

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KRISTA SMITHis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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