Other than seeing our friends and family, there’s probably not much that tops most peoples post lockdown wish list more than getting their hair done. There are men and women all over the world gradually resembling cave people, desperate for a trim or a root touch-up. I know so many of my friends can’t wait to be pampered, treated to a latte and a good old natter with their favourite stylist and confidant, but will it be like that, or will the reality be much more like a scene from the movie Contagion?
Recent media news suggests that our experience at the hair salon may not be the same as it used to be for a very long time yet. Various countries have allowed hairdressers to work again as long as strict health and safety guidelines are adhered to. The earliest possible date for UK salons to reopen is currently 4th July and salons up and down the country are frantically preparing for the onslaught to ensue.
In Germany salons have been allowed to reopen as long as the social distancing measures and very strict cleaning routines are carried out after each client. Fifty percent of salon chairs have been removed creating a 1.5 – 2 meter distance between clients. That means 50% of staff have also been removed too though, or they are working on a shift system, as one of the other stipulations is that staff can only be subjected to any possible threat for a certain amount of hours. That also goes for the client too. A lot of the time-consuming colour procedures can’t be done as they go over the time limit allowed for clients to be in the salon environment.
There are huge difficulties with preparing a large salon for COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Most backwash chairs are attached to each other in rows, therefore screens have had to be put in place at vast expense, so that clients can sit next to each other whilst having their hair washed. Talking of washing hair, in many parts of the world, one of the stipulations is that hair is washed and dried in the salon before colouring, adding at least half an hour to each colour appointment. The backwash, styling chair, indeed everything you touch will have to cleaned after you leave and before the next client is allowed to enter the salon. This will also add a good fifteen minutes extra between appointments, which will in turn increase the cost to you!
In certain states in America, blow drying is not allowed at all, which could mean you going home with wet hair. In all countries that have allowed salons to open so far, clients are not permitted to bring more than their phone and wallet/purse with them – so handbags, coats and umbrellas are all out. Very often the customer toilets are off limits, so make sure you go before you leave home. You definitely won’t be allowed to have your complimentary drink or snack and either way you will be obliged to wear a face mask, which in most cases you must bring with you. Your stylist/colourist will also be wearing a face mask, visor, apron and gloves. Having a good old natter and a giggle will be very hard indeed and you wont even be allowed to read a magazine! It makes for sombre reading doesn’t it?
Of course, as a hairdresser by day, I can tell you that safe social distancing will be all but impossible in a salon environment, although the safety measures I’ve mentioned will help greatly. Unless I purchase a pair of two meter-long scissors and a tinting brush the size of my yard broom, there isn’t much chance of me being more than a few centimetres away from my client. I’m sure you’ve all seen the hysterical videos online of spoof salon environments with stylists throwing buckets of water at clients to rinse their hair and using a mop to massage the scalp!
Joking aside though, being that far a distance from the client is actually the only way that a stylist can possibly be safe. If the two meter rule must be applied for all clients, then why surely is it not applied to the stylist themselves? Are their lives not as important? Collateral damage to make the country feel brighter? Of course, our amazing doctors and nurses in the NHS have been putting their lives at risk for all of us for months now and I for one could not be more grateful. However, having your hair done is not exactly essential or a matter of life and death, although I understand it might feel that way right now with an ever-increasing badger stripe and split ends for days!
So why are salons opening relatively soon you wonder? Well, in my opinion, it’s because everyone is desperate for a haircut and the government needs to gradually re-start the economy. Everybody needs a boost and we can’t allow the country to go down the pan. The industry is, of course, desperate to re-open salons again and millions, maybe even hundreds of millions of pounds has been lost since 23rd March. The safety measures we have had to put in place have also cost the industry vast amounts of money at a time when bank balances are almost at zero. Recently I decided to try and be slightly ahead of the curve by ordering PPE and a UV light sterilising machine, which will be required to clean all tools in between every client. I do feel bad about ordering PPE when it is still in short supply for the medical profession, but all the facts so far point to hairdressers having to wear it too. I spent a lot of money, money I do not have, but the measures are imperative and there isn’t really any choice if I am to earn a living again.
The majority of hairdressers are self-employed and a lot of them only get an income from actually doing the work, there is no sick pay or holiday pay or any company benefits. Stylists often rent a chair, so if the salon is closed then they won’t get any pay from the owner and won’t be entitled to any furlough scheme either. I’ve been worried about my own hairdresser who has a wife and family, as I know he’s in this very position. The industry is on its knees and I would not be surprised if many salons have already gone under. I work for myself, so the only money coming in is from the work I do. Luckily, I have been self-employed for years and submitting my tax returns accordingly, so I have been entitled to the government’s grant scheme for the self-employed, although that currently only takes me to the 1st June. Salons can’t offer anything online either, like a lot of retailers have been able to do, so the industry really is at breaking point.
Soon after lockdown I believe my husband and I both contracted the virus. We certainly had a lot of the symptoms and two of our friends, whom we had met at a supposedly safe distance just prior to lockdown, also came down with it, one of which had to go to hospital. There, he tested positive for COVID-19. We have all since recovered slowly. I am on the vulnerable list due to various health issues and have been self-isolating since the 23rd March. My 12-week isolation period is up on 30th June. I’m very much hoping that it now means that I can’t pass it to anyone and that I have some immunity too.
So, it’s a terrible double-edged sword, a Sophie’s Choice. Do I remain closed until the virus has subsided further, or at least until I can take the antibody test to find out if I definitely did have it, or do I open as soon as I’m allowed to in order to try and save my business? If I don’t open then we truly will start to suffer financially and some big decisions may have to be made. Will my clients stay with me and wait till I feel ready to open my doors, or will they after months of shaggy, grey roots feel a need to seek solace somewhere else? For most hairdressers there actually is no choice at all. I haven’t written this so that the violins start playing for the hairdressing industry and neither do I think that our position is any worse than other industries. In fact many other industries are in exactly the same position: dentists, nail technicians, massage therapists, chiropractors, the list goes on. I do think it’s important, however, for all points of view to be heard. We do not know what the UK government will decide for the industry as far as rules go. I do hope that they listen to the industry, rather than just deciding on things they know very little about. The next few weeks will be very interesting indeed. Either way, get ready for increased prices, a waiting list for an appointment and I’m afraid not an enormous amount of joy or fun whilst at the salon. I’m sorry I’m not my usual upbeat self, but some things you just can’t sugarcoat.