Is it Safe to Go to The Hair Salon Amid a Pandemic?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

As hair salons reopen around the country, many people, many of which have longer hair than usual, find ourselves asking the same question: Should I get my hair cut?

Still, personal care providers do have one edge — since their business is built on person-to-person touch, they're already used to thinking about hygiene. Each and every salon owner we've spoken to emphasized just how thoroughly they've considered safety in their reopening plans.

Read on for the long list of precautions that salons across the country are taking to help their clients feel safe. Of course, it's important to remember that even the most thorough planning doesn't guarantee protection.

The Center has provided 11 questions to consider before venturing outside, including “Am I at risk for severe illness?", "Will I need to take public transportation to get to the activity?", and "Do I know what to do if I get sick?"

Experts agree that your location should play a large role in your decision of whether or not to book an appointment. "Risk will be somewhat variable depending on the level of community transmissions," Susan Wootton, an associate professor of pediatrics at Houston's UTHealth, tells ishonest. "When we think about risk, [we consider] risk to yourself, risk to the people who are in the salon, and then risk to the greater community of that salon, so the families or contacts of people in there."

If you do decide to venture to the hair salon, Wootton suggests limiting the time that you spend inside. "Rather than staying there for four hours for a cut, a highlight, and a blow-dry, you could not do the blow-dry…or skip the highlights. Get in and get out," she says. Other precautions are the same ones that apply to other activities: "You definitely want to wear a mask, and you don't want to go when you're sick."

Ultimately, as Wootton reminds us, salons are a non-essential service. (No matter how difficult it may seem to, say, dye your own hair pink.)

Amid the health and safety concerns, salon appointments are still in high demand. "The minute the governor announced that we could open on Friday, May 8 — the word had literally just left his mouth — and our phone started ringing off the hook," says Eric Vaughn, Matrix artistic ambassador and owner of Rev hair salon in Houston. "

With some clients clamoring for a return to getting their cuts and colors, salon owners have worked hard to ensure that, if clients do choose to return to the chair, they can do so safely. We asked salon owners across the country to share how they've prepared to return to work amid the ongoing pandemic.

Delayed reopening date

Even if salons are technically allowed to open in your state, your salon may take some time to regroup before opening doors. Salons were allowed to open in Ohio on May 15, but Penzone took a couple of days before officially opening to "help [employees] get comfortable with our safety protocols and wearing masks all day," says Huffman.

No mask, no service

Virtually every salon we contacted confirms that both staff and employees will be required to wear masks at all times. Like her peers, Amy Bush, the owner of Ohio's Ambushed Salon, has instated a no mask, no service rule. "If we're going to protect you from ourselves [by using masks] then we have the right to have that same consideration back."

Upgraded layout and cleaning procedures

"We clean all day, every day," says Abra McField, CEO and founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing in St. Louis. Her salon has a staffer whose sole duty is to keep surfaces and tools clean during each shift. "We even have tags that read: 'This seat has been cleaned' or 'This area has been cleaned,' so that our entire team, as well as clients, feel safe and protected."

Anh Co Tran, co-owner of Ramirez Tran salon in Los Angeles, plans to "adhere closely to state and federal laws set for everyone's health and safety, wear a face mask, and wash [his] hands between each appointment when the salon reopens."

In Houston, Vaughn allows 15 to 20 minutes in between clients to completely sanitize and disinfect each station.

At Blake Rose Salon + Spa in Columbus, Ohio, owner Bryan Beaver has "moved around drying stations and shampoo bowls" to ensure a six-foot distance between clients, as well as added a plastic barrier around the front-desk area.

No more double-dipping

If you've dyed your hair in a salon before, you know that the process involves a lot of waiting for the dye to take hold. In the Before Times, a colorist may have taken advantage of that time by working on multiple clients at once. Now, you'll likely get your colorist's undivided attention.

At his Houston salon, Vaughn has been working overtime to meet client demand amid the new rule. "We can only take one client per stylist at a time…so we've been working extended hours and extra days to try and fit as many clients back in and try to get our schedule somewhat regulated."

For now, less person-to-person pampering

The scalp massage, the beverage service, the comfy waiting room with communal magazines — these small niceties may have to wait. "We've recommended dry haircuts when possible," says Beaver. "Instead of a waiting room, clients are asked to wait in their cars." The changes are made to reduce contact and time spent in the salon.

Whiteroom salon in Brooklyn has cut out blowouts all together. "Out of an abundance of caution we will not be offering blowouts with your service at this time," reads an email sent out to clients. "We want to limit airflow around the salon to continue the effectiveness of social distancing within the space. If you are coming in for a haircut we recommend arriving with clean dry hair. If that is not possible, you want a shampoo or your stylist feels they need to cut your hair wet, we can offer drying under an air-free heat lamp."

These shifts reduce a haircut or color to the service itself: You can get your hair done, but for all of our protection, it won't feel the same as it used to.

As with so many other activities amid the pandemic, the final decision is left up to you. We advise reading up on your state's latest guidelines, checking the level of community outbreak, verifying safety practices at the salon, and having an honest conversation with yourself and your stay-at-home partners before making an appointment. And always, but especially now, be sure to tip at least 20 percent.

If you do choose to forego the visit to the salon for now, Wootton has some words of wisdom: "It's temporary. We won't be without our highlights forever."

More next steps:

After COVID-19, the Salon Experience Might Never Be the Same

I Opened My Dream Salon, Then COVID-19 Shut It Down

What This High-Risk Person Wants You to Keep in Mind as Cities Open Back Up

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