Something ghastly is happening in America, whispering through the gaps in our picket fences, hitchhiking on springtime breezes. An invisible threat that waits, Boogeyman-like, in the deep ridges of our brain, cultivating a kind of pure, illogical fear some of us have not experienced since we were children and find ourselves unprepared to experience now: the inexorable passage of time.
Severed from aesthetic maintenance rituals during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are seeing things unfamiliar to them — things like root growth and a loss of skin elasticity. They are looking older. But not if they can help it.
"I've been asked by a few patients to come out to the Hamptons and go house to house," says Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist and psychiatrist, from her practice on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "That makes no sense to me." It's simply dangerous to enter several different homes in the span of a few hours, Wechsler points out. "But people are feeling stressed out about the way they're going to look, and women are worried that their Botox is going to wear off and their partner is going to see them in a way they haven't."
Under Governor Cuomo's "New York State on Pause" directive, public human interactions must occur at a distance of six feet or greater. And although "non- essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations, book clubs, Taco Tuesdays, or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time," there is no specific language to foreclose the invitation of a doctor into your living room and ignoring advisories issued by medical societies like the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and the American Med Spa Association.
Dermatologists and some other cosmetic professionals like Wechsler are able to keep their practices open even as hospitals have suspended all elective (which certainly includes cosmetic) surgeries. Wechsler is still seeing patients, but only for medical purposes, to keep urgent care and emergency room volume as low as possible. (Although if the parent of a child with an inexplicable rash has their own personal dermatologic question, Wechsler will be polite.)
Lance Brown, a dermatologist in Manhattan with a satellite office in East Hampton, has transitioned his practice to digital encounters only. Like Wechsler, he refuses to make cosmetic house calls, citing his civic duty to flatten the curve. "I will tell you that a few weeks ago, when the city was starting to get hit [but before the governor’s order went into effect], I had a huge number of cosmetic patients come in," Brown says.
He acknowledges the ironic intersection of a mandatory quarantine and cosmetic procedures: The imperative to stay indoors for weeks makes this an ideal time to undergo a treatment that might otherwise require days of convalescing in secrecy. But Brown says his patients have been understanding about his house- calls stance, and in fact willing to forgo their cosmetic procedures.
Gabbay's practice has been conducting telemedicine consultations for potential future surgeries but is not performing any cosmetic procedures during California governor Gavin Newsom's statewide shelter-in-place mandate. (Gabbay is at home with family; a coordinator fields office calls from her home.) "I am definitely getting patients routinely calling me and begging me to do Botox and fillers," Gabbay says. "We’ve had some people who have [unsuccessfully] pushed us to do surgery during this time."
Many dermatology and plastic surgery practices have furloughed employees and donated relevant equipment to the fight against COVID-19. Some are also flush enough to still make rent. The same cannot necessarily be said of other beauty professionals, like hairstylists and colorists, who have seen their businesses grind to a halt without the same coffers to fall back on.
On Monday, Jessica Wall Innella, a salon owner on Long Island, got a text from one of her hairstylists: I need to vent to you. She immediately called her. "'Can you believe it, so-and-so reminded me of when they did me a favor, and now needs their hair cut now,'" the stylist told her. "He was so adamant. She said, 'No, I can lose my license.' It’s ridiculous."
Wall-Innella points out that this group of customers transcends tax brackets, but asked if she has received any demands from the nearby Hamptons, she answers with full laughter. "Did my snicker when you said 'Hamptons' give my answer away?" (It did.)
Turning down house-call requests may be the right thing to do, but it's not always easy for hair pros who are struggling right now. One option for some has been charging for video consultations for future appointments and dropping off hair-color kits on doorsteps. "I feel like it's my social responsibility to abide by the stay-at-home order," says New York City colorist Rachel Bodt, who has been accommodating her clients with free FaceTime consultations and product recommendations for safe at-home color. "I've told people I'm happy to do house calls once the dust settles, but right now, we haven't even hit the peak. All of my clients have been understanding when I say no."
Salon owner Annagjid Taylor temporarily closed her Philadelphia salon, Deeper Than Hair, but has been able to furnish her employees with a relief check in the interim, due to her popular YouTube channel and lucrative Google AdSense revenue. "People have reached out about, can they come in? Everybody's kind of in that selfish space," she says.
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