After what’s felt like an eternity to those of us sheltering in place for months, beauty services are finally starting to open up shop again. As of this week, all 50 states have re-opened to some degree—and with guidance differing by area, salons are having to decide what measures they think are best.
By nature, hair and nail salons are dependent on prolonged close contact, which as we know by this point, goes against coronavirus social distancing guidelines. Earlier this month, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that the cause for the state’s first cases of community spread were traced back to a nail salon. Reports also continue to surface over growing concerns that beauty services might not be safe, even despite additional measures such as wearing masks and extra sanitation.
It’s added to the already mounting hurdles nail salon workers have been facing. “There’s a ton of pressure to re-open,” says Austin-based Cute Nail Studio‘s owner Jason Darling, who has opted to keep his store closed for now while others around him start taking customers. “Our phone rings off the hook and our DMs are full of people asking to book.” Many nail artists are now facing the incredibly difficult decision of having to prioritize getting a paycheck over their health—or vice versa.
So, is it safe to get your nails done right now? And is it ethical? Here’s what you need to know before considering an appointment.
The precautions salons are taking now
First things first: Social distancing means salons can take fewer clients per day. This means the days of walk-ins are likely over for the foreseeable future. Instead, many nail salons are now requiring that you call a few days ahead to book an appointment time. Also plan on being asked to wait in your car or outside if you arrive before your appointment begins. This is both to eliminate people sitting closely together in waiting areas (another thing of the past, for now at least) and to give the salon time to sterilize between you and the previous customer.
Speaking of cleaning, many salons are now are investing heavily in sanitation education, something Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of Glosslab in NYC, says has been missing in the industry for too long. “I went to nail technician training, and they didn’t cover sterilization or sanitation guidelines whatsoever,” she says. “I’m hoping that the new guidelines push the entire salon industry in a positive direction.” One way professionals have answered the call is by enrolling in Barbicide’s new COVID-19 training class, which goes over proper use of PPE and refreshes nail techs on how to properly disinfect their tools.
While not every state is requiring it, it’s possible you may require getting your temperature checked when you walk in, as well as be asked to wash your hands thoroughly when you arrive (and if they don’t ask, you should do that anyway). Shared items like magazines and drinking glasses will probably also be off-limits.
Others are getting creative to try to eliminate more ways the illness can spread. Darling, for example, says he has plans to get the front door of his Austin salon swapped out for one that requires less touch. While Bellacures, a small chain with six locations in L.A. (set to open June 1) and one in Dallas (which opened last week), will now be using light sterilizers to clean the upholstered chairs between clients. As for Glosslab, Apfel Glass says, “We’ve installed plexiglass screen partitions at all manicure and pedicure stations. And our staff will now wear face shields in addition to masks.”
What the experts say about safety
Unsurprisingly, according to the experts we spoke with, there’s no such thing as a completely risk-free nail appointment—no matter how many precautions are taken—until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19.
“Just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean you should or that it’s safe, unfortunately,” says Shoshana Ungerleider, M.D., an internal medicine physician in San Francisco. “In the case of a manicure and pedicure, people need to weigh their own individual risk factors like age, underlying medical conditions, and potential for family member exposure, especially if you live in an area where COVID-19 cases are still active.”
The somewhat good news is that experts agree the new precautions being taken—masks, gloves, partitions, spacing between stations, eliminating walk-in appointments, and increased sterilization—all do add up to reducing your chances of picking up the virus. “If you do decide to go, I would recommend you wear a face mask and maybe even goggles to reduce the risk of respiratory particles reaching your eyes,” says Ungerleider. “Wash your hands immediately after with soap and water, and be sure not to touch your face while you are there.”
Another thing you can do to minimize exposure is limit the amount of time you spend in the salon. “The longer you are in the chair, the greater your risk of acquiring the coronavirus,” says Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, associate dean of global health sciences at UC San Diego Department of Medicine. That means going for a polish change instead of a full manicure and skipping the longer specialty pedicures with all the bells and whistles.
Some nail experts, like Marcela Correa, owner of Medi Pedi NYC, also recommend bringing your own tools (like a stainless steel foot file with disposable pads) and polish to cut down on cross-contamination. In fact, you might find that some salons are requiring it.
If you do book an appointment, what else can you expect?
This should also go without saying, but remember with all the necessary precautions, getting your nails done right now might not be the luxury experience you’re used to. Be kind and amenable to the changes at your local salon and know that your nail techs are probably putting in overtime despite being able to see less clients.
“There’s no way around it, because of social distancing, we will work longer hours to serve less people,” says Tiffany Amorosino, owner of Bella Sante salon, which has locations in Boston, Wellesley and Lexington, MA. “My hope as a business is just to survive the next few months and then perhaps thrive again sometime soon.”
To help bridge this gap, some salons are adding a $5 charge or small percentage fee to the final bill—both to help cover the extra cleaning between sessions and to make up for the loss in client volume.
Either way, you should plan on paying more—even aren’t there aren’t extra charges. While no one we spoke with planned to increase the prices for the services themselves (for now), you should budget to tip your nail techs well. That means tipping at least the cursory 20% for your service (here’s an explanation of why that should always be the case), but again, consider the risks your techs are taking to treat you and think about giving 25% to 30%.
How to support your salon if you’re not ready to book an appointment yet
Again, the only 100% safe mani-pedi is one you do yourself until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. If you want to help your local favorite or just give the people there an extra boost while all this shakes out, there are a few ways to go about it.
If you’re in California or New York, you can throw your support behind advocacy efforts for nail salon workers’ rights. On the West Coast, there’s the California Nail Salon Community Care Fund. In New York, check out the Nail Salon Worker Resilience Fund, the Nail Salon Accountability Act, and the Worker Bailout Fund.
Then there’s the general advice you hear of all local businesses, which is to buy gift certificates for future use and purchase items from their websites, if they sell them. You can also leave a positive review for the shop on Facebook or Yelp. Not only will it help keep thesalon visible and in good standing for new clients, but as Amorosino explains, it also helps morale. “It’s not often that we stop to thank our service providers for a great experience,” she says. “It will be greatly appreciated.”
As news about the novel coronavirus pandemic rapidly evolves, Glamour is committed to bringing our readers the most accurate and up-to-date facts. As a result, information in this story and others like it may change, and we will update when necessary. For the most recent news about COVID-19, please visit the CDC, WHO, and your state’s department of health.
Beth Shapouri is a beauty writer in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @bshapouri.
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