Americans on lockdown have been eagerly waiting for hair stylists and nail salons to open so they can touch up gray roots and tend to ragged cuticles.

But clients returning to salons in states where they’re back in business should brace for a radically different experience: Gone are the days when groups of friends could hang out while getting mani-pedis together. And getting your stylist caught up on your love life, or any other unnecessary chatter, is now a relic of the pre-outbreak world.

Beauty salon and barbershop clients should also prepare for the possibility of being charged higher prices, or a fee to cover the cost of extra disinfecting and equipment. They should be ready to wash their own hair before their appointment and wait in their car until it’s their turn in the chair. Many salons have ended walk-in appointments, which means the days of suddenly chopping off your hair after a traumatizing break-up are over for the time being.


Beauty salon and barbershop clients should prepare for the possibility of being charged higher prices, or a fee to cover the cost of extra disinfecting and equipment.

Going to the salon during the pandemic is “going to be a bare-bones experience,” said Steven Sleeper, executive director of the Pro Beauty Association, a trade group representing independent salon owners. “It’s going to be stripped down and back to the basics and getting your service and getting out,” he said. “It’s not going to be warm and fuzzy, at least for a while.”

For many clients, there will be no more browsing through hair serums for sale in the salon, sipping a complimentary glass of wine, or paging through magazines. Those extras have been banned in many states.

Customers should assume that their salon won’t look or feel the way it did before the coronavirus pandemic swept the U.S. — and if it does, they “should be really concerned,” Sleeper said. In many states, masks are mandatory for salon employees and customers, and so are symptom and temperature checks for both parties.

No hugs, no blowouts, no unnecessary conversation

The Washington, D.C. salon Rose and Sparrow recently told clients they can only bring their phone and wallet into the salon — no purses, books or crafts allowed. Also off limits: using the bathroom, hugging your stylist, blowouts and unnecessary talking. “Please keep conversation to a minimum (we can barely breathe in these masks),” customers were told in an email.

The risk of not following such protocols was highlighted recently in Missouri, where a hair stylist may have exposed up to 140 people to the coronavirus after working for eight days while they had symptoms of the virus.

Somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of U.S. beauty salons were back in action as of late May, Sleeper estimated, operating under varying restrictions depending on which state they’re in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention haven’t issued specific guidelines on how beauty-salon workers and barbers should protect against infecting themselves and their customers, but many states have detailed protocols the industry must follow, which the Pro Beauty Association has been tracking.

In Connecticut, for example, salons were allowed to reopen May 20, but services that require the removal of a face mask, like waxing upper lips or trimming beards, aren’t allowed. In Alabama, salons opened May 11 at 50% capacity, and in Florida, walk-ins and group appointments are prohibited, which could put a temporary end to the time-honored tradition of bridesmaids getting their nails done together.

Customers may also notice fewer gray heads at the salon: In states such as Arkansas and Texas, reopening guidelines suggest people age 65 and over stay home from the salon.

Some hair salons have reopened, and they aren’t quite as bustling as they were before the pandemic. Empty chairs are the new normal in states that limit the number of people who can be in a salon at one time.


Daisy McGuire

Urban Halo Salon in Arlington, Va. is warning customers about the mini envelopes often used for cash tips: “If you choose to leave a tip, please do not lick the envelope,” it says on its website. The salon is also charging a $5 “sanitation fee” — a measure many salons are taking temporarily to cover the expense of extra cleaning and equipment.

‘It’s kind of make-or-break right now to stay in business’

At Goldie x Bob, a four-chair boutique salon in Denver, Colo., customers will now see a $3 “PPE surcharge” on their bill. So far, clients seem to be fine with the extra charge, said Liz Burns, Goldie x Bob’s creative director and lead stylist. “They are so happy to be getting their hair done that they don’t care,” she told MarketWatch.

Goldie x Bob is struggling to meet pent-up demand, said co-owner Bruce Brothers, who also co-owns a Boulder salon and a Denver barbershop with his husband. At all three locations, demand was “bone-crunching” when the online booking system opened up again. “Within the first 10 minutes we were booked solid through the end of the month,” Brothers told MarketWatch.

That sounds like great news for his business, but it’s not: The salons are “suffering from under capacity,” he says. “Our 16-chair salon is restricted to five stylists and five customers at a time (no front desk allowed) and yet we have a five-figure rent in Boulder,” he said.


‘It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy — the clients are so happy to be getting their hair done, and I think it’s given them a stronger appreciation for our industry.’


— Liz Burns, creative director and lead stylist at Goldie x Bob, a Denver salon

Goldie x Bob has added $20 to its basic haircut price; men and women both pay between $100 and $130. Burns and other employees in leadership roles also took temporary pay cuts. Overall, clients have been extremely grateful and supportive of the changes, but one customer protested the price hike, Burns said. “She thought it was a strong-arm kind of move,” she said. “I just had to explain to her the reality of it. It’s kind of make-or-break right now to stay in business.”

Only 35% of adults are comfortable visiting businesses such as salons

While salons like Goldie x Bob are seeing a surge in appointment bookings, there’s also evidence of some skittishness on consumers’ part. Only 35% of adults said they would feel comfortable visiting local, non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, theaters, or hair or nail salons in the coming weeks if they reopened, even with enhanced safety measures, a May 18 BankRate survey found. More than half (55%) said they thought businesses were reopening too soon, and more than 43% said they expected to shop less in public than they did before.

Higher prices are one of many changes Goldie x Bob unveiled when it reopened May 12. Clients are screened for coronavirus symptoms, and they have to sign a waiver affirming that they understand the salon’s new policies. Customers must arrive alone, with washed hair, and wait outside until contacted. Both stylist and customer must wash their hands after check-in. Clients can’t touch products displayed in the salon, and they can’t pay with cash, even for tips. The salon has also added 30 minutes to every appointment to allow time for cleaning, Burns said.

‘It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy’

The face masks that clients are required to wear create some unusual challenges for stylists, Burns said. It can be difficult to judge how a cut looks on a client when part of their face is obscured, and it’s harder to see how a client is reacting to a stylist’s handiwork.

“You’re always kind of reading the client, their body language, their expression — but with this mask over half their face, it feels a little more impersonal,” Burns said. “When you’re using your eyes to create a shape and you can’t see part of the canvas, you just have to use your best judgment.”

With no hugs and no chitchat, clients may feel robbed of one of the unique aspects of the beauty industry: the relationship between customer and stylist, which can elevate a cut and color to a quasi-therapy session when customers are friendly with their stylists.

In many states, going to the salon could be a lonelier and quieter experience, because only a few clients and staff are allowed inside at once. Before the pandemic, Goldie x Bob was “a very social place” where customers brought along guests and clients liked to catch up with their stylists, Burns said. “Now it feels more sterile because we’re having to take safety precautions,” she said.

But while there may be less chitchat now, it will never go away completely, she added.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to stop people chatting with their stylists, masks or not. People are still doing it,” she said. “It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy — the clients are so happy to be getting their hair done, and I think it’s given them a stronger appreciation for our industry.”


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