How Hair Salons Are Changing As They Reopen During The Pandemic

The coronavirus is changing the way we're able to get haircuts. Here's how.

It’s hard to imagine what a post-pandemic society will look like. All over the world, businesses are working hard to figure out how and when to come back from coronavirus-related closures, all while grappling with financial consequences from those closures.

Though nonessential, hair salons have found themselves at the center of that conversation. Many people want to know when and how they’ll be able to get back in the chair.

In some parts of the country, it’s already an option.

Deborah Birx, the coordinator for White House coronavirus response efforts, warned that she did not believe hair salons and barbershops should be included in the first phase of lifted restrictions, but Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) included salons when he lifted his state’s shelter-in-place orders on April 24.

One of those salons, Salon Skanda in Sandy Springs, Georgia, officially reopened to the public on May 1.

“So much has changed,” Kristal Kaiser, co-owner and senior stylist at Salon Skanda, told HuffPost. “We really had to change the way we do things at the salon because we are team-based, sometimes working three stylists to one head, which would be insane right now.”

Salon Skanda shared its list of new protocols with HuffPost, which include virtual consultations ahead of appointments, temperature checks before entering, curbside product pickup and no longer accepting cash payments. Kaiser said that as the salon has adapted to this new reality, the challenge it faces is to maintain the same kind of experience for clients. There are currently no more than three stylists working at a time and no double-booking, meaning there are never more than 10 people in the salon at a time, including support staff.

Skanda believes that these restrictions will results in safer and more sanitary practices within the hair industry and more respect for what hairstylists do.

“We are excited for the future, and happy that by implementing these new safety practices we can love on our people we’ve missed so much” ― with air hugs, of course, she said.

In New York City, nonessential businesses continue their mandated closure but are looking to the future as well. Manhattan-based salon Next Vanity released guidelines on its Instagram account Monday outlining the measures it will take when it eventually reopens, including the elimination of the waiting area, removal of communal items like magazines and newspapers, new air filters, spaced out stylist stations, hand sanitizer at each station and required masks.

At the Wayward Hairdresser in Brooklyn, there are also strict changes planned for when it reopens its doors, including 30-minute time slots between each appointment.

“We will not be taking new clients for an unknown period of time,” Haley-May Block, a stylist at the salon, told HuffPost. “There will be no talking in the shampoo area ― our faces get so close to clients in these positions ― and no beverages will be served. We no longer have a waiting area, or shared magazines, will be requiring no-contact temperature checks, have large amounts of hand sanitizer and will be encouraging no-contact payments as well.”

David Jones-Munoz, owner of Salon Dumbo in Brooklyn, is working out how things will look in his salon, too.

“We will change scheduling, expanding our hours to gain more social distancing,” he said. “Our receptionist will work off-site or with limited hours to limit contact with clients and staff. We have reached out to our clients with new procedures implemented ― clients will come in alone, no waiting inside the salon, wearing masks during services. Our staff will wear masks, gloves, shields and aprons. We’ve also ordered station dividers to keep distance between clients while in the salon.”

Jones-Munoz also plans to take the temperatures of clients before entering the salon and says he has been consulting with medical professionals to “develop and maintain new procedures.”

With these new guidelines, however, there is a fear we’ll lose the intimacy and connection typically associated with the haircutting experience.

“I worry about keeping our business personal without becoming too clinical,” Jones-Munoz said. “The beauty business is based on those levels of personal touch and contact, and we don’t want to lose that. I want to be able to maintain the connections we’ve built over the past 12 years being in business.”

Elizabeth Pennimpede, director of operations at New York City-based salon Blackstones, has been working hard alongside co-owner Joey Silvestra to stagger schedules, changing the way services are booked and doing everything they can to keep their customers and staff safe and comfortable when the time comes to reopen. They have begun ordering supplies like gloves and masks and look to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for guidance on what comes next. Health, though, takes priority.

“Although we are still working out day-to-day details, clients should know that no matter how bad their roots are or how out of shape their hair is, their health and safety come first,” she said. “We are going to make sure that every staff member who comes in is healthy and following guidelines, and clients should expect to as well.”

And while Jones-Munoz says he is worried about his staff, who he calls the “backbone” of his business, he reiterates that while there’s a long road ahead, there is a brighter path forward.

“This pandemic has been an obstacle, but it has made us rethink what we do, and made us even more confident that we will be back,” he said.