- While salons may be reopening in states across the nation, they will operate much differently than before as states introduce new rules for operating.
- Salons might reduce capacity, require face masks for both stylists and clients, and hold back from offering certain services for the time being.
- One infectious disease scholar says there are hazards you can work to reduce if you must visit a salon.
Salons play a major part in many people's routines, but because the novel coronavirus pandemic forced all non-essential businesses to close, clients may be more eager than ever to have their hair cut or their nails done. More than 35 states are currently in the process of reopening businesses, including salons and beauty parlors, so Americans are gearing up to return to their beautician's chair — in fact, salons are expected to see among the most foot traffic after local restrictions lift, according to a recent Groupon survey. Many respondents indicated that they attempted cutting their hair or at-home manicures or pedicures, and 25% said they'd prefer to head back to salons the next time around. Unlike many other businesses, salons require that personal touch, a face-to-face experience that communities have been barring in times of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With increased demand and the intimate nature of a salon's business, is it really safe to resume a beauty routine right now?
Robyn Gershon, MHS, DrPH, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University's School of Global Public Health, says when salons reopen they will look and feel completely different than they once did. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new guidelines to help businesses reopen, with special instructions for restaurants, schools, and even transit providers. While salons aren't directly addressed in their recommendations now, states and local municipalities may be taking their own actions to regulate how business is conducted in salons, Gershon says. One such example comes from Connecticut, where Governor Ned Lamont initially blocked hairstylists from using blow dryers when clients return to their chairs later this month (he's since backpedaled on that decision).
Salons are usually crowded places with lots of activity happening at once — Gershon says that'll change, just as other businesses are forced to reduce their capacity to promote plenty of space between customers on a case-by-case basis. In Connecticut, professionals will need to wear face masks at all times, salon chairs will have to be six-feet apart, offer hand sanitizer at entrances, block reception lounges, increase sanitization and other cleaning sessions, and operate at half capacity. But Gershon says there are a few elevated risks to be aware of before stepping into a salon in any state.
What are the health risks associated with salons?
Unlike other services, hairdressers and beauticians will need to cross six-foot distance thresholds to touch you, which provides an elevated risk all on its own. These are more ways that salons can threaten your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Prolonged contact in close proximity. It's one thing to have a waiter quickly set down a meal in front of you or have a shopkeep hand you a bag containing your order. But Gershon says there's elevated risk in having a professional working on your scalp, hands, or feet because they're constantly close to you for a prolonged period of time. For hairstylists in particular, they won't be able to work with extended arms as proximity is key; for processes like coloring, they may be working on your scalp for multiple hours, extending the period where they're directly breathing above your face (and you below theirs).
- Shared air supply. Clients are still breathing in the same air as their service providers, and there's a chance that infectious droplets or aerosols can pervade the close space between you both. Gershon says that she recommends avoiding being inside confined spaces with limited air supply or movement for more than 30 minutes — but in the case of salons, there's a good chance you'll be inside for at least an hour, if not longer. Governor Lamont may have initially asked hairstylists to skip hair dryers because there's limited CDC-sponsored research suggesting that air conditioning may play a role in spreading viral particles through confined spaces, and blow dryers may produce the same results.
- Shared tools and surfaces between clients. Most states are directing salon professionals to dramatically increase the cleaning sessions they're undertaking during the business day, which should reduce risks of cross-contamination based on shared surfaces. But some beauticians rely on a single set of tools to style your hair, nails, or toenails — these are shared among all clients. Furniture itself can be an issue, too, as not every porous surface can be effectively disinfected.
While Gershon shares she's personally avoiding salons for now, she says it's ultimately up to you to measure your own risk factor in entering non-essential businesses. If you're among those at high risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms — seniors dealing with compromised immune systems or chronic health issues especially — or if you live with someone who is, any additional risks may cancel out the benefit of all the social distancing you're doing elsewhere.
How to minimize risks during a haircut or dye job:
If you're in a salon to have a hairstylist work on your head, keep Gershon's tips in mind to keep you both as safe as possible in these circumstances.
- Wear a face mask or covering at all times. It may be already required by law, but if it's not, you should do so as a courtesy to your stylist as well as other customers. A mask or a covering won't prevent you from breathing in infectious particles in the air around you — but it'll stop you from spewing them in case you're unknowingly infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. "You can be in close contact with that stylist for a quite a while, and they have to be in a mask and you have to be in a mask — I would not be comfortable without being in a mask," Gershon says.
- Sanitize your hands when you enter the salon. Before you sit in your chair, be sure to wash your hands or sanitize them, and if possible, put on a pair of gloves before you sit down. Gershon says that doing so might prevent you from spreading any germs onto the seat or the tools you might touch during your service — and keep you from coming into direct contact with any germs on these surfaces at the same time. Then properly dispose of the gloves after you pay on the way out of the salon. If you use the restroom, be sure to wash your hands before you head back to your seat (try opening the bathroom door with your elbow or a disposable paper towel, too). This all plays into keeping yourself safe in the chance that you touch your face.
- Skip any add-on services on your face. Now is not the time to ask about a new smoky eye or have your eyebrows threaded. Allow your stylist to focus on your hair, and you might be able to hire them digitally when you return home to discuss any other service involving makeup or treatments to the rest of your face. You want to minimize the chance of them accidentally touching the mucous membranes of your eyes, or using tools that might do so as well.
- Wear clothes that you can take off and wash when you get home. You may already do this when you go grocery shopping or take walks in crowded places. Since a stylist may be hovering above your shoulders for hours on end, it's important to wash your top thoroughly to reduce the risk of coming into contact with germs accumulated on this soft surface during your salon visit. Think about your pants in the same fashion — it might seem overzealous, but it's a precaution you should take nonetheless.
- Ask for services outside if possible. Or somewhere with access to fresh air. Gershon says the most apparent risk inside salons is the limited movement of air, especially while stylists work on your head. Politely asking your service professional to open windows or to prop a door open might help negate some of the risks that stagnant air presents during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they can't give you a full cut outside.
Is it safe to get a manicure or pedicure?
Even before the pandemic began, professional nail technicians often wore gloves and masks while working over your hands and feet due to the nature of chemicals used. "Nails don't worry me as much, because almost always inside nail salons, technicians are wearing gloves and masks already," Gershon explains. "You can sit back a little and extend your arms, which is better, even if you aren't exactly six feet away."
Take all of the same precautions listed above, and keep in mind that you don't have to pick out a nail color with your own hands. Simply ask your technician to do so, and save yourself from having to wash up again. While medical experts have yet to definitively declare any risks associated with blood and SARS-CoV-2 since it's a respiratory virus, be sure to mind any cuts or ripped cuticles on your hands or feet before you go to the salon. It's a good idea to cover cuts or scrapes with a bandage. You can also bring your own tools if that would make you feel more comfortable.
In her native New York, Gerhson says she's noticed that some nail salons have created enclosures where customers can stick their hands or feet into an area where nail artists can work without face-to-face contact. These kinds of partitions can help customers and employees avoid breathing directly on each other, which works to reduce that transmission risk, Gershon says. If the salon is set up to do nails outside, that's a great option, since these technicians don't always need an electrical outlet to perform their service effectively.
As the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this story may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department. You can work to better protect yourself from COVID-19 by washing your hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, and sanitizing your home, among other actions.
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