Your favorite salon has reopened, but what are the risks of getting that much-needed trim?

By Erin Lukas
Jun 18, 2020 @ 5:49 pm
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I am fully aware that my haircut and color should not be one of my major concerns during a pandemic. However, after months of questionable DIY bang trims and getting sick of seeing my overgrown roots whenever I look in the mirror, I would 100% be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to getting back into my stylist's salon chair.

And it turns out I'm not the only person who has been thinking about their pandemic hair, either.

According to a survey update on post-lockdown consumer habits by Coresight Research that was shared on WWD on June 15, consumers are getting back to regular activities. In the past two weeks alone, 21% of the survey's participants got a haircut.

But I can't lie, even though I've been thinking about my next hair appointment since salons where temporarily shut down in March, I'm also hesitant about booking my first post-quarantine salon appointment.

So, is it actually safe to go to the hair salon right now? Will getting a haircut increase my chances of contracting COVID-19?

With lockdown restrictions lifting across the country, I reached out to a population health expert to find out the biggest risks at hair salons, as well as salon owners to discover how they're protecting their clients and their stylists.

What Are the Risks of Getting a Haircut at a Hair Salon?

The reality is that as long as there are cases of coronavirus in your community, it's not going to be 100% safe to go to the hair salon.

"The main way that people catch the virus that causes COVID-19 is by breathing while close to an infected person, especially in an enclosed space," explains Anna Bershteyn, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health. "It's impossible to keep a safe distance at a hair salon because staff need to be physically close to you to do their job."

Dr. Bershtyn says that you can lower the risk of exposure by going to a salon that is practicing social distancing by placing the chairs six feet apart, ensuring that your stylist is wearing a mask and eye shield, avoid using the bathroom, and ask for a chair near an open window, if possible.

And think twice before getting into an in-depth conversation with your stylist about the all of documentaries you watched on Netflix while quarantining. "Keep conversation to a minimum because talking can create droplets that spread the virus," Dr. Bershtyn adds.

Credit: Nancy Honey/Getty Images

What Are Salons Doing to Keep Everyone Safe?

The good news is that if you do decide to book an appointment for a haircut or highlights, salon owners are not taking safety lightly.

While the regulations may vary a bit from state to state, salons are given reopening guidelines by their governors and their state's board of cosmetology.

"To be a hairdresser in any state, you have to go to beauty school and you have to learn the laws and rules regarding sanitation, so there’s a lot of it that’s already a part of our culture," says Jason Backe, celebrity colorist and co-owner of STARRING by Ted Gibson in LA.

STARRING is a unique salon because it's unknowingly been practicing social distancing since it opened in 2019. The salon's chairs are eight feet apart in semi-private "clouds." There's a secure front and back entrance, no assistants or front desk person, and cashless. "When Ted and I came up with the concept of the salon, we were thinking about 'the salon of the future' and how that would be an intimate, luxury experience, not a safety precaution," explains Backe.

STARRING reopened on June 3, and while the salon's four stylists and clients are all excited, they're playing it extra safe by taking things slow. "We’re only open five hours a day," Backe shares. "We have a really small team of four, but we're working opposite days so if by chance one of us gets sick or a client who has come to see one of us gets sick, not everyone is going to get sick at the salon."

The stylists are also wearing masks, asking that clients wear mask, aren't double-booking services, and removing magazines and drinks from the salon.

While many salons are following similar protocols, for larger spaces, only booking a small number of clients is not a financially viable long-term solution. "Currently we are not double-booking clients and only operating every other chair," says Riawna Capri, celebrity stylist and co-founder of Nine Zero One Salon in LA. "This may not be financially feasible for many salons in the near future. Hopefully there’s a resolution soon, otherwise the hair salon industry will diminish. Something has to give. Is that a vaccine? Is that us raising our prices? Right now the future is unknown.”

Nine Zero One also re-opened this month, returning to its original location in West Hollywood. "Making things more intimate, more of that family vibe is how we started," Capri says. "Some of that got lost on Melrose Place [the salon's second location]. It feels amazing for us the staff to be back home, and also for our clients."

Capri shares that the salon is currently not doing blowouts as an extra precaution. In addition to spacing out clients, Nine Zero One stylists are working in morning and evening shifts and all staff members are wearing masks. "People should expect longer appointment times and expect a possible higher ticket than normal because there will be more work to be done and more color to be used."

Clients will wait in their cars if they arrive to their appointment early, have their temperature taken and apply hand sanitizer at the door, and wear a mask at all times while in the salon. It's also recommend that clients don't wear extra layers of clothing and leave their bags in their cars or at home. "We will not be hanging up any coats because we don’t want them hanging next to anyone else’s coats," Capri says.

Molly Black, co-owner of Gem Salon + Spa in Saint Paul, Minn. is following similar precautions to Nine Zero One. While Minnesota allowed salons to reopen on June 1, Black waited until June 17 to reopen to ensure safety measures were properly in place.

"Because our services are non-essential, it seemed unwise to add to the risk and potentially undermine all the effort and sacrifices being made to battle the pandemic," she explains.  "And because everything was changing so fast, we wanted to be sure we were not reopening on someone else’s agenda. We needed time to reach a consensus as a team about how to proceed."

In addition to social distancing and extra sanitation in the salon, Black says that Gem is offering virtual consultations ahead of appointments to minimize exposure time. "Virtual consultations have taken the guesswork out so we can be more prepared and efficient during the actual appointment."

What Should You Do Before Going to the Salon

Your personal health is your responsibility. Before booking an appointment, check with your salon to see that they are following the safety guidelines set out by your state. Salons will typically have their policies and appointments guidelines on their websites, but if you're unsure about anything, call and ask questions.

Once you do go to the salon, wear a mask, wash your hands, and if you don't live alone, check in with your family to see how they feel about it. "Make sure that everyone you live with is comfortable with you going, because everyone will share the risk," duggests Dr. Bershteyn. "If you decide to go, bring a mask that fits well, eye protection, gloves or a disposable tissue for high-touch surfaces like door handles, and hand sanitizer."

And please, cancel your appointment if you feel sick, or else you're putting the salon's health and business at risk.

So, what's the most important factor to consider when you're deciding if you should get a haircut?

"Most of all, look at the number of cases in your area, think about the risk and who around you is vulnerable to the disease, and make sure it is a risk you are willing to take," says Dr. Bershteyn.