Is It Still Safe to Go to the Hair and Nail Salon?

Plus, how salons and stylists are adapting to uncertain times.

Should You Go to the Salon During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Photo: Stocksy/Audrey Shtecinjo

UPDATE: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that effective March 21, 2020 at 8 p.m. EST, all barber shops, nail and hair salons, and tattoo shops will be temporarily closed. See his full statement below.

We all have that friend who is devoted to their regular blowouts and manicures, or who considers their hairstylist or nail tech both a friend and therapist. (Heck, maybe you are said friend.) But during the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing is recommended – and in some locations legally mandated — is it worth putting your health at risk for an hour of pampering?

Ahead, what a doctor has to say about the health risk of heading in for your regularly scheduled beauty services — plus how salon owners and stylists are coping as their futures hang in limbo.


Should You Keep Your Hair or Nail Appointment?

Depending where you live, heading to your hair or nail salon may not even be an option. Northern California has placed nearly 7 million residents in the San Francisco Bay area under a shelter-in-place order, with exemptions for essential activities. Salon visits didn't make the cut, no pun intended. Other major metropolitan areas are considering enacting similar orders, and many have already shut down restaurants, bars, and schools.

For local businesses ultimately taking it upon themselves to close, the decision hasn't come easy. "A couple of weeks ago, we had a client that just finished chemo, so we made sure no one was in the salon during her appointment," said Sunshine Broder, owner & stylist at Shine Salon in Fayetteville, AR. She has since closed indefinitely, a decision she said was made after seeing a video of Italian citizens warning Americans of the coming danger and talking to medical professionals.

However, even if your hair or nail salon is still open for business, Holly Phillips, M.D., a general internist based in Manhattan, doesn't recommend heading in for your appointment. "To protect each other, before heading to any places outside of our homes, ask yourself if what you're doing needs to be done at all. If it's not urgent, table it for later," she says. "Hair emergencies can feel like real emergencies, but in these critical times, they're not."

Dr. Phillips also shared some sobering statistics: "Contagious respiratory droplets can linger in place for 30 minutes (or longer) after the infected person has left." She also reaffirmed that the coronavirus can live on steel and plastic for two to three days, making manicures and beauty tools an additional risk.

When asked specifically if in-home appointments were safer than salon appointments, Dr. Phillips held firm. "While home appointments might get around the fewer than 10 people gathering suggestion, they still would involve contact closer than six feet with non-household contacts."

How Salons and Stylists Are Adapting to Coronavirus

Despite some national chains (like Drybar) and local businesses like Broder's closing shop for the foreseeable future, others, like James Corbett Studio in New York City, are choosing to stay open and adapt to the pandemic. In an email newsletter, the salon outlined the restrictions and precautionary measures that are being taken: No more than five clients in the salon at one time, available house calls in New York City and the Hamptons, and increased sanitization practices, including gloves and a rigorous cleaning schedule.

"Customers are grateful that we are open," said owner James Corbett. "We are trying to accommodate those who wish to have a service. It's a constant emotional struggle to stay open, but we are trained experts in sanitation," he continued.

Innovative stylists have created entirely new systems to continue serving clients during the outbreak. Corbett's colorists are offering to custom mix their client's formula and deliver or ship it to their clients. Others are now offering digital consultations and virtual assistance with things like at-home root touch-ups (grey coverage seems to be the most pressing issue), which most stylists say they are offering free of charge.

Even those who don't work in salons are getting creative. Celebrity hairstylist Danilo, best known for his work with Gwen Stefani, has had all of his studio work, press junkets, and other jobs canceled, but has been remotely instructing his clients with at-home cut and color-enhancing. And for those who would rather wait it out than DIY? "Thank God ombré still has its contemporary beauty appeal," he said.

How You Can Support Your Hair Stylist and Manicurist

Even as some salons attempt to weather the storm, the reality is that many hair stylists and nail technicians are losing both their source of income and health benefits due to the lack of demand. "I am concerned for my hourly employees and those people around the world that may lose their homes or businesses in this crisis. But I am a strong, smart business owner and my team and I will survive," Corbett said.

If you're eager to support your local hair or nail salon, one way to do so is by purchasing gift certificates for use down the road. Not all business owners that we spoke with currently have a voucher system in place, but Erika Wasser, Founder & CEO of Glam + Go, is considering it. "It will ultimately depend on how long this drags out and if the sales could help us better support the team," she shared.

Broder was surprised that after closing, some clients whose appointments were canceled still wanted to pay. "They understand that they are my only source of income, and for this, I am completely appreciative," she added.

Fortunately, most salon owners are hopeful for the future of their industry. Broder remembers back to when she first opened her salon, two weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. "While crying at the bar I had been working at, a coworker said, 'Sunshine, you make people feel better about themselves. And as a result, they go out into the world and are better people.' It's true — our industry is here to pay it forward."

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.

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