Beauty Chains Are Lagging When It Comes to Masking Policies. Why?

Despite their commitments to "self-care," too many spas, makeup superstores, and salon chains are lax about mask-wearing, putting customers and employees at risk.
July 23, 2020, 6:51pm
woman using eyeshadow tester at makeup store
Photo by RuslanDashinsky via Getty Images

As more and more businesses reopen in the midst of a global pandemic (haha!), major retailers have rolled out heightened safety measures for customers and employees alike. As a part of those heightened measures, grocery stores, pharmacies, big box retailers, and even Panera Bread have all instituted a national “no mask, no service” policy aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

There are, however, several major retailers in two of the most touchy-feely industries—cosmetics and personal care—that have yet to impose nationwide mask requirements in their stores.

These makeup stores, tanning salons, massage parlors, and hair salons may have stowed away their lipstick testers and mandated masking for employees, but when it comes to dictating customer behavior, they’ve hesitated.

Research shows that mask-wearing mandates are effective when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19, which means that retailers that reopen but fail to require mask-wearing for employees and customers alike are failing to do one of the simplest things they can to keep customers and employees (and, ultimately, the general public) safe.

On July 17, a few dozen CEOs from companies like Best Buy, JCPenny, IKEA, and AutoZone even published an open letter (trendy!) begging the government to follow suit and require mask-wearing—both to help preserve rapidly deteriorating brand-customer relations, and protect their employees from irate customers willing to bicker, scream, and even get physical over being asked to put on a lightweight, temporary facial covering. But while some businesses have gritted through issuing and enforcing their own mask policies for customers, personal-care businesses by and large seem to be holding out.

Some of these companies, like tanning salon chain Palm Beach Tan, massage parlor chain Massage Envy, and body hair removal chain European Wax Center, make no mention of customer face-coverings in their websites’ COVID-19 prevention plans.

When asked why the company is not requiring customers to wear masks in its 500+ locations, a representative from Palm Beach Tan told VICE, “Masks are required for all employees and we strongly encourage all of our customers to not only abide by their own local and state regulations, but also wear one out of an abundance of caution.” (As of July 23, Palm Beach Tan’s online COVID-19 guidelines still did not mention mask-wearing for customers.) Massage Envy and European Wax Center did not respond to a request for comment from VICE.

Other businesses are effectively passing the buck for enforcement back to elected officials (which, like, fair enough, but at this point… c’mon), choosing to only require masks for customers when it’s necessary to comply with “regional” rules. A representative for Sally Beauty, a national beauty supply chain and shopping mall mainstay, told VICE that the company is currently mulling over a national mask requirement but has yet to make a final decision. For now, customers only have to wear masks “if local regulations require it.”

Other retailers are just opting to say “Pretty please?” to their clientele and hope that’s enough. Supercuts, the salon chain where your boyfriend gets his little bangs trimmed, is also “kindly [asking]” that customers wear a “well-fitting face mask” while inside the salon; representatives did not respond to a request for comment from VICE about whether this translates to a “no mask, no service” rule in practice.

Confusingly, several brands in the beauty sector, including Lush, Bath & Body Works, and Sephora also “ask” customers to wear masks in their online guidelines. But when VICE reached out for comment, all three brands said customers are required to wear masks when shopping in their brick-and-mortar locations. This “ask” language could theoretically be an easier pill for mask-resistant customers to swallow, but it also creates an opening for customers trying to dodge the requirement, as some people famously have.

“As of Saturday July 18, face coverings/masks are now mandatory in all Lush stores across North America,” a Lush representative told VICE, though the rule “is applicable only to stores that are allowing entry inside,” meaning customers at locations doing contactless shopping or curbside pickup are exempt (though this explicit requirement was not present on the Lush website as of July 23).

A representative for L Brand, the parent company of Bath & Body Works, told VICE that “associates and customers in all of our stores are required to wear masks for everyone’s protection,” and pointed VICE to the customer care section of the Bath & Body Works website, where the mask requirement was stated more prominently prior to VICE’s inquiry.

A representative for Sephora told VICE that “all Sephora store employees are required to wear face coverings, and due to the rising cases of COVID-19 across the country, we are requiring our clients do, too. Clients will not be permitted to enter without a face mask or covering.” Representatives for Sephora and L Brand did not respond to inquiries about when they instituted their mask requirements, but neither mentioned the policy in the requirements as of July 23.

We’re all pretty desperate to feel better right now; for a lot of people, that means doing something to care for our bodies. Whether that means getting a professional haircut after months of at-home trims, a wax job on overgrown brows, or even just a few sheet masks, we turn to beauty retailers and personal care chains for comfort. This means, after a months-long lull, these retailers are likely to be busy.

Beyond that, most of these services require a degree of close contact (a bikini wax? C’mon!) that workers and customers don’t usually have at, say, a grocery store—all the more reason to take heightened COVID-19 safety measures.

All of the beauty and personal care brands mentioned in this article confidently tout the care they’re displaying, and the pains they’re taking to ensure that visiting their retail locations is a safe experience for customers and workers alike. But when actual measures in place focus only on employee behavior and protecting the customer, workers are left vulnerable.

It’s an objectively bad look for brands that promote wellness and self-care to not extend the same consideration to the people they employ! In a pandemic, we really can’t afford to let someone get sick just because they’re on a certain side of the cash register.

Update 7/24/20 1:15 pm: Lush’s COVID-19 guidelines now state that face coverings are mandatory for all customers shopping in-store across North America.

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