After staying at home for weeks to ward off the coronavirus, going back to our local nail salon promises a slice of normalcy in our otherwise upturned lives. But as states let non-essential businesses open their doors again, beauty salons will have to look and function differently than they did pre-pandemic.
Is it too early to get your nails done? It depends, said Saskia Popescu, senior infection prevention epidemiologist at George Mason University.
“Since nail salons are one of those higher-risk environments due to the face-to-face contact for a prolonged period of time in small enclosed spaces, safety measures will be critical,” she said.
Widespread community transmission of the virus, a stressed health care system and limited testing are all reasons, Popescu said, that we should be cautious generally about reopening non-essential businesses.
“There are safe ways to do it, but it’s about vigilant infection control measures and those are often prone to human error. So business owners need to take care to follow stringent guidelines and also enforce them with customers,” she said.
As nail salons reopen or make plans to, managers are putting new strict safety protocols in place, sometimes even beyond what might be required by local governments.
In Miami, which has been a coronavirus hotspot in Florida, nails salons like Mano reopened on May 18. Mano requires customers not only to apply hand sanitizer but also to wash their hands, according to the salon’s founder, Monique Magnaye. Everyone inside the salon must wear a mask. Acrylic dividers have been placed between clients and employees at each manicure station, she said, and stations are set 6 feet apart. The waiting area is now outside the salon to minimize the number of people inside. And, of course, touchpoints within the salon are being repeatedly cleaned.
“It’s about vigilant infection control measures and those are often prone to human error. So business owners need to take care to follow stringent guidelines and also enforce them with customers.”
“Clients have responded great, and pretty much everyone comes in with a mask and keeps it on throughout their service,” said Magnaye. “I think they very much appreciate our efforts and know that their cooperation keeps everything running smoothly and everyone feeling safe.”
In Georgia, where the state started reopening despite a rise in daily COVID-19 cases, many salons were caught off guard.
“We were quite taken aback with Gov. [Brian] Kemp’s decision to reopen salons on April 24,” said one Atlanta nail salon owner, who wished not to be named. The owner said their salon didn’t throw open its doors until they could put the proper systems in place to keep staff and clients safe.
When this salon did reopen, the owner said it did so with strict protocols, most of which came from the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers. Everyone in the salon must wear masks, clients must wash hands before touching surfaces and they must take a health questionnaire.
Since opening, however, the salon has loosened a few of its restrictions. “We do accept some walk-ins and we uphold them to the same standard as our appointments,” the owner said.
They are also working with a reduced staff. “Currently, on busy days we have eight technicians, on an average weekday we have five. This is in comparison to 13 to 14 on a busy day pre-pandemic and eight to nine on a weekday pre-pandemic,” said the owner.
In California — where Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said the state’s first case of community spread involved a nail salon (he declined to be more specific) ― there is still no clear date when salons will be able to open. But when that date arrives, Kristin Gyimah, founder and CEO of Dime Nails in Los Angeles, said she’ll be ready.
“I have already begun working on this in order to be sure we have everything we need to reopen when allowed and to be able to train our staff prior to our reopening to avoid mistakes and confusion,” she said. “It’s going to be challenging to streamline some required safety measures, but training and clear guidelines will ensure our executing them consistently and correctly.
So far, Gyimah said she’s already installed sneeze guards at the front desk and all of the nail stations. She also put together a COVID-19 safety measures handbook and training guide for staff, which covers such matters as helping clients to browse nail colors without touching them, installing multiple hand sanitizing stations, taking staff temperature checks and wearing uniforms that function as personal protective equipment. And of course, the salon will require employees to wear masks, which will be swapped out midday for new ones.
But the big question remains: Are these safety measures enough to make nail salons safe?
Popescu said the salons’ efforts as described “are definitely great strategies.” She would also encourage them “to communicate with clients about not visiting when sick, [implement] enhanced cleaning/disinfecting measures for the business and between clients, and make sure people don’t bring guests.”
In addition to what nail salons are doing, Popescu suggested some ways that customers can protect themselves. “Avoid using your phone while you’re getting a manicure (cross-contamination is super easy), ask about what the salon is doing to prevent transmission, and when you’re visiting, see if they’re following guidance. If they’re not, that’s a red flag,” she said.
When asked if she would go to a nail salon right now, this was Popescu’s answer: “Right now I’m not seeing the continued downwards trend in Arizona cases where I’d feel comfortable with it, so a lot comes down to that and the safety measures salons are putting into place,” she said, adding, “But my plan is to touch base with my favorite artist and see what her strategies are and even offer to help refine them.”
With that said, it’s important to remember that getting your nails done at a salon is not necessary. You can try a full beauty routine at home or just stick with basic nail care for now. While salons are going above and beyond to protect themselves and their clients, any interaction carries a risk. So before you go, be aware of what’s happening in your community, take precautions and, most of all, be safe.
Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.