After many weeks under stay-at-home orders, states are gradually easing their COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, meaning people can widen their social bubbles, spend more time outdoors and in public (while still practicing social distancing and wearing masks), and—apparently a crucial step forward for many—get their hair done.
But before you throw all caution to the wind due to the excitement of putting your neglected locks in the hands of someone who actually knows what they’re doing, some pretty big questions need to be answered first: Is it safe to go to the hair salon? And if you do decide to see your hair stylist, what are salons doing (and what can you do) for protection during an appointment?
What's so risky about going to the hair salon during COVID-19?
The biggest issue with going to the hair salon during COVID-19 hinges on how the virus spreads—mainly through close person-to-person contact with infected people (and the respiratory droplets they produce). In a hair salon, people are typically pretty close together—especially when a hair stylist is coloring, cutting, or styling someone else's hair.
That means the greatest risk right now in visiting a hair salon is coming into contact with a client or employee with COVID-19, even if they're asymptomatic (the virus can still spread even when someone isn't showing symptoms), Claudia Skinner, DNP, former critical care nurse and director of clinical excellence at St. Jude Medical Center in Orange County, CA, tells Health.
Another risk—though significantly less so than person-to-person contact—is coming into contact with commonly-shared surfaces, like salon chairs and tools, which could have virus particles on them.
So what are hair salons doing to keep customers protected?
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help non-essential businesses reopen don’t address hair salons specifically. But other official bodies, like the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), have provided detailed guidance for hair and nail salons, which includes cutting down on the number of customers who are in the shop at any time, limiting face-to-face interaction by standing behind the client at all times, and wearing a face shield or mask.
In addition to this guidance, states and local municipalities have issued their own extra recommendations for safe salon operation, post lockdown. For instance, Wisconsin’s guidelines recommend that, along with other precautionary measures, hair stylists should also carry a towel at all times, so that they can cover their nose, mouth, and mask if they get the urge to sneeze or cough. If it’s possible to delay the urge, they’re advised to “immediately leave the building or get as far away as possible from clients and coworkers.”
Hair salons are also taking it upon themselves to put even more regulations in place to protect their clients, says Danielle Cohen-Shohet, co-founder of spa and salon software company GlossGenius. Along with wearing masks, accepting only contactless payments, separating work stations, and carrying out frequent hand washing and cleaning, many salons will require clients to use an infrared thermometer before entering the salon, and have stopped offering blow dry services, due to fear that the virus could be spread more easily through the air.
What else can you do to protect yourself from COVID-19 during a hair salon visit?
Even with the precautionary measures put in place by salons, there are still things you can do to protect your own health and the health of those around you.
First: You can call the hair salon ahead of time and ask them what their new protective policies are and what will be expected of you before and during an appointment, Charles Bailey, MD, medical director of infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange County, CA, tells Health.
Additionally, Skinner recommends asking what cleaning and disinfecting practices your salon has in place, particularly with frequently-touched areas such as door handles, counters, arm chairs, etc. And of course, don’t schedule an appointment if you feel ill, or wouldn’t be able to tolerate wearing a face mask during your visit.
Ultimately, the decision to go to a hair salon right now is a personal one, depending on how far along your state is in its reopening process, and how comfortable you are with the risks associated with visiting a hair salon right now (the risk of COVID-19 isn't zero anywhere, so you have to weigh the benefits and risks of exposing yourself). But, if you decide getting a haircut is at the top of your to-do list right now, make sure to review your salon's new policies, come prepared to wear a face mask (if one isn't provided to you), and maintain social distancing as much as possible during the appointment.