I Had My First Hair Appointment Post-Quarantine—Here’s What It Was Like

Like so many other people during coronavirus, I attempted DIY hair care and failed. When my salon reopened, I was ready for my stylist to undo the damage. Here's what happened during my first hair appointment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

To be honest, I can get by without a haircut for several months. My wavy locks don’t require much maintenance except for a bang trim, but I have color-treated hair that requires touch-ups every six weeks. When April rolled around and after weeks in quarantine, I had sprouted gray roots with a vengeance. I attempted to cover my roots with an at-home touch-up kit, but let’s just say it didn’t work out well.

Resolved to accept my grays, I quietly joined the other gals on social media in the “We’re in this together—embrace your gray roots during coronavirus!” campaign. But my vanity won out when I read my stylist’s post on Instagram saying her salon would be reopening soon. I live in Baltimore County, Maryland, and my salon is there too. The stage one reopening in my state was effective May 29, and hallelujah— my stylist was taking appointments for opening day.

Am I risking my health for vanity?

My giddiness at getting my hair done was short-lived once the reality set in that there was no way to social distance unless my stylist morphed into Edward Scissorhands to cut my bangs and color my hair. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach and was anxious contemplating the risk of getting sick or just as horrible, unknowingly giving coronavirus to my stylist. (The CDC estimates 40 percent of coronavirus transmission happen before people feel sick.)

Medical organizations won’t definitively say whether you should get a haircut or not, because one person’s risk isn’t the same as another’s. But Dr. Nikita Desai, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, is reassuring. “Getting a long-overdue haircut in a salon practicing social distancing and thorough sanitation between clients is not equivalent to gathering in a group of 100 people indoors in a poorly ventilated building where no one is wearing a mask,” Dr. Desai says.

But don’t just dive in without giving it some thought first. “You should consider your own health risks and the health risks of those in your household with whom you have close contact on a regular basis,” says Saadia Griffith-Howard, MD, an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente and its Mid-Atlantic medical director for emergency and disaster management. “You should also understand what precautions are being taken at the salon. Are they wearing masks, sanitizing between customers, performing temperature checks or spacing chairs, and limiting customers inside?”

Also, Dr. Griffith-Howard says, consider how long the service you want takes. “We know the risk of infection increases with the length of contact. Therefore, you may want to consider services that take less time.”

Who shouldn’t schedule a hair appointment

I didn’t have Covid-19 or feel ill before my appointment so I could check those screening questions. Unfortunately, we don’t always know if we’re sick with coronavirus. Locations like gyms, salons, and restaurants are locations where many people can be exposed at the same time, which is why we must exercise caution,  says Dr. Desai. “A person is most infectious with the virus in the immediate one to two days before they present with symptoms, so it’s still possible that spread will occur. That’s why it is absolutely essential to wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose and to wash your hands frequently,” says Dr. Desai.

Still, Dr. Howard urges caution for anyone with health conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness with Covid-19. “You should consider the risks you want to take. Going to a salon, even with precautions, has some risk. The best thing is to talk with your doctor about what is safe at this time given your health and the virus’s spread in your local community,” says Dr. Howard.

What should salons and barbershops do to minimize risk?

Every state and/or county has its own orders for reopening. Baltimore County’s reopening requires salons and barbershops to operate at 50 percent capacity, including staff, and by appointment only and with appropriate health and safety guidelines. But what exactly does “appropriate health and safety guidelines mean?” The CDC lists reopening guidance for public spaces, such as salons and barbershops. I combed through even more specific protocols by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, including requiring clients to wait in their cars until their chair is ready, setting up prepay or self-pay stations, and installing portable HEPA filtration units. Armed with plenty of info, I knew what my salon should be doing to protect clients and employees. Next, I checked my salon’s social media accounts and messaged my stylist to find out the steps my salon was taking to protect clients and staff from Covid-19. (Here’s what kills bacteria and viruses and what doesn’t.)

hair salon during coronavirus pandemicvalentinrussanov/Getty Images

What my salon is doing to minimize risk

There is a long list of safety measures my salon is taking to keep clients and employees safe from coronavirus:

  • Staff will wear masks at all times.
  • Clients use disposable eye protection.
  • The salon is a glove-free zone. Dispose of gloves and wash hands.
  • Keep a limited number of stylists and clients in the building.
  • Stylists must be certified in Barbicide Covid-19 sanitation.
  • Follow CDC guidelines for sanitation of tools and brushes.
  • One employee handles laundry.
  • The entire salon is sanitized and cleaned daily.
  • Employees to maintain social distancing.
  • Employees’ temperature is checked and they must report symptoms.
  • Limit seating and retail handling.
  • Limit number of stylists, and keep one empty workstation between clients.
  • Have a separate bathrooms for clients and employees.
  • No coffee maker, water, refreshments, and magazines will be available.
  • No touching retail shelves or products.
  • Bring only your keys and wallet.
  • Come alone to the appointment, unless you are with a child under 10 years of age.
  • Clients must maintain social distancing in the salon and in the outdoor waiting area.

Why the strict protocols?

The reason for so many safeguards comes down to mitigating risk of Covid-19. “With precautions in place, the risk to hairstylists and customers can be greatly reduced,” says Michael A. Ben-Aderet, MD, associate medical director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

“The theory behind all that is to establish policies that allow social distancing and allow for surfaces that are easy to clean. The problem with things like magazines and coffee makers in a public setting is they are very difficult if not impossible to totally sanitize, and those surfaces can be very high touch and we know that respiratory droplets can get on surfaces and can last for an undetermined amount of time,” says Dr. Ben-Aderet.

What safety measures should I take?

Wear a mask and wash my hands—check. What else? What if I have to use the restroom? “Wash your hands after bathroom use and make sure not to re-contaminate them by touching faucets to turn off the water or touching the door handle. Use a clean paper towel if you must touch these surfaces,” advises Dr. Howard.

And what about that face shield my salon wanted me to wear? “Always remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer whenever you are about to remove your mask, goggles, or face shield, and after taking it off,” adds Dr. Howard. For payment, Dr. Howard says to ask for their payment and tipping process. Credit cards and apps like Venmo are good. Remember to wash your hands after the transaction if the salon doesn’t have a touch-free credit card option. (Here’s how to clean and disinfect your phone during Covid-19.)

woman sitting at hair sink in salon during covid-19amriphoto/Getty Images

Appointment day

On June 2, I pulled into the salon parking lot and put on my mask. After reading the instructions on the salon’s social media account, I knew to go to the front door and knock to signal that I had arrived. At that point, I could enter if the maximum capacity wasn’t met— 10 people, including the staff for my salon. If I was number 11, I could either wait outside in the chairs that were socially distanced or in my car.

The receptionist said there was room for me, so I entered and slathered on some hand sanitizer provided by the salon and sat down in the empty waiting area. It was unusually quiet compared with pre-pandemic days of boisterous chatter and hair dryers running. There were just two stylists, a person at the reception desk and two clients. Usually, there are at least six stylists, plus a couple of nail technicians, a couple of people shampooing, and someone at the reception desk, plus clients.

It was easy to see my stylist chair from where I was seated, so I watched her wipe down all the surfaces, including the chair. Of course, the trusty jar of Baricide (one of EPA approved disinfectants for use against coronavirus) was there to sanitize tools and brushes as usual. Although it took about seven minutes for her to sanitize the workstation for me, I didn’t mind the wait. It gave me assurance that she was doing everything possible to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.

In the chair

My masked stylist put a clean cape and towel over me as usual, plus a clear plastic covering that tied around the back of my neck and draped over my shoulders and hung over the back of the chair. My stylist said this was for extra protection, and it helped keep the chair clean. She gave me a disposable face shield that covered my eyes and nose that attached to my forehead with an adhesive strip —again for extra protection. While she applied the hair dye, we chatted a bit, but with my mask and the face shield, it was challenging to talk and hear, plus it was steaming up a lot.

When it came time to rinse the color, she told me to take off the face shield and dispose of it in the trash. She gave me a new face shield to put on before she started shampooing my hair. Dr. Ben-Aderet says the face shield doesn’t do any harm, but it is probably not necessary since my stylist and I were wearing masks.

Covid-19 is transmitted is via the mouth, nose, and eyes when you’re in close contact with someone who has respiratory symptoms like coughing or sneezing. “If a droplet makes contact with mucus membranes, that’s where everyone wearing a mask really comes into play because what masks are really good at is keeping respiratory droplets in,” says Dr. Ben-Aderet.

So why do I see doctors wearing masks and face shields? “Doctors wear masks and face shields because they are around patients who are sick and can not be masked.” I have more appreciation—and admiration for healthcare professionals who wear all that gear for several hours daily and I had to wear the extra protective gear only for a hair appointment. Yet even though I was a bit uncomfortable wearing all that stuff, I felt happy and grateful when I got back in my car. Not because I finally covered my gray roots and botched bangs, but because it felt so good to do something normal again.

Sources

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer and writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among others. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.