Life

What It’s Like Working in a Hairdressers After Lockdown

With no clear directive from the UK government, hairdressers and beauty technicians are forced to navigate staff and client safety alone.
July 13, 2020, 12:56pm
When Are Brow and Lash Salons Reopening?
Photo via Alamy. 

For better or worse, the UK is opening back up. It’s been a long process: first, for reasons nobody quite understood, it was the garden centres, and then the cafes selling takeaway coffees, followed by the shops encouraging queuing, then the pubs and restaurants cautiously welcoming punters back inside. But there is one other industry that is just as much part of our daily lives as retail and hospitality that is still only partially able to reopen its doors – the beauty and grooming industry.

In a move that will have come as a relief to anyone who got or was given a “quarantine haircut,” the government allowed hair salons to reopen along with the pubs and restaurants on the 4th of July, albeit with a number of guidelines, including stylists having to wear massive plastic visors that make them look more like welders about to do the moves from Flashdance. Today (Monday the 13th of July), nail bars are also allowed to open back up, with the use of visors and screens.

For the rest of the industry – brow and lash technicians, and aesthetics businesses who provide Botox, fillers and other treatments on the face – however, there’s no news, despite a massive public demand, and the fact that there are over 41,000 hair and beauty salons in the UK, with many more freelance and mobile professionals in the industry too. This delay in reopening for some aspects of the beauty industry is essentially a result of the fact that beauty professionals have to touch their clients and get close to their faces, and therefore, the industry’s regulations are heavy, involving lots of protective gear and salons operating under capacity.

These new challenges and risks, paired with the fact that waiting lists are frankly massive, and the fact that many members of the industry feel left behind by the government, means it’s a weird time to be a hair or beauty professional. I spoke to three professionals from different areas of the industry about how they're adapting to the changes – because even in a pandemic, people still really want their eyebrows done.

THE HAIRDRESSER

Sarah Brass, director of Taylor Taylor London, a chain with salons in Shoreditch, Portobello and Soho.

“The majority of hairdressers in the UK are small, owner-operated businesses with limited resources to purchase the new protective equipment. Couple this with nearly 14 weeks of zero income and a new operating structure that will limit the amount of bookings that can take place, and you will understand what an enormous financial strain we are all under.

The need for hairdressing services has certainly not diminished and most of our stylists are already fully booked through to August and even September with the primary demand being 'colour rescues.' It goes without saying that our cleaning regime has been upgraded with an in-salon team on constant duty, sanitising between appointments and adding a deep daily clean. We are all getting used to wearing face visors.

The new safety screens between basins at one of Taylor Taylor's salons in London. Photo courtesy Taylor Taylor.

Some of the traditional salon extras have had to be removed, such as magazines, freshly mixed cocktails and even bringing a friend with you, as we are limiting the number of people in each salon. At some point, there was extreme talk in the industry of a 'no talking' and 'no blow drying' rule during appointments, but we have no intention of removing these personal and essential parts of our service. We can do as much as possible to limit the medical risk but we are hairdressers after all – we need a blow dry to check the finish and let’s face it, we will have an awful lot to catch up on!

We pride ourselves on being a super sustainable salon and many of these new initiatives pain us greatly as the use of disposable plastics is now unavoidable on so many levels. We are doing our best to mitigate this with our other initiatives, such as recycling 70 percent of our waste and converting all of our retail to sustainable brands. We continue to work on our sustainability credentials every day behind the scenes, but the impact of the mass use of items such as the disposable masks and visors is a heartbreaking fact.”

THE NAIL TECHNICIAN

Metta Francis, founder of Nails by Mets, a mobile nail business.

"I have spent hours creating a thorough COVID-19 risk assessment, which outlines all potential risks from the moment I leave my home to entering the client's home, and back again. I've updated or introduced protocols to help mitigate these risk, including a freshly disinfected pair of shoe coverings for every home I visit; masks, visors and safety goggles to be worn for every single treatment, a dust collector; sterilisation of all tools using a medical-grade autoclave and requesting clients to wear a face covering. Hygiene has always been a top priority so the use of single-use gloves, and the disinfecting of surfaces and equipment was already in place.

Despite all of the new PPE, I definitely don't want the Nails by Mets experience to become a cold, sterile or strange experience for my clients. I'll be doing everything possible to still make it an enjoyable, luxury home service. A lot of my clients understand the impact of coronavirus and I'll be contacting them to share the new protocols, so there are no surprises. In all honesty, I think we'll end up laughing at just how silly I'll look in all the PPE!

For the last few months, I have remained pretty positive and optimistic but this month, I am frustrated. I'm frustrated that the government has not yet shared a clear reopening roadmap for the beauty industry and there's no end in sight. We understand that we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and we of course want to go back only when it's safe to do so, but it's unclear as to why other countries reopened beauty at the same time as hairdressers, but the UK has not. Why the discrepancy? This hasn't been explained and I do feel like the government underestimates exactly how hygienic we are and the lengths we are going to, to ensure we are "COVID secure."

Every day, I receive calls and emails from new clients wanting to book in. People have asked if I can do their nails in the garden, others have offered to pay extra. It's very frustrating to have to turn down work, especially when I've not been able to work for almost four months now. I have not scheduled any appointments and will not until there is a firm reopening date. I have my usual, regular clients who will leave me booked out for the first few weeks, and then I'll reopen the books to a waiting list. The waiting list is looking healthy but I'm not sure how many will really wait, or whether they'll end up going to an underground nail salon or nail technician.

Without wanting to sound too negative, there will definitely be people in the industry who won't come out of the pandemic. Some solo therapists and nail technicians will most likely have to take on another job to pay the bills and may never return. It's heartbreaking. Many salon owners are anxious about potentially having to close doors and let their staff members go. We have missed out on four months' worth of income. A lot of people have fallen through the cracks of government financial support.

On the positive side, I do feel like clients will be calling to book in as soon as a set date is announced by the government. We'll be extra busy as soon as we open, right up until Christmas and beyond. I also feel that the pandemic has forced everyone in the industry to revisit their standards. Clients will be looking for super hygienic establishments and nail technicians or beauty therapists. Whilst many of us already had high standards, those who may have previously cut corners will have taken extra measures to follow suit. COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for more stringent regulation and the need for a representing body within the nail industry.”

THE BROW AND LASH TECHNICIAN

Beth Camillieri, owner of The London Dolls, an east London beauty salon specialising in brows and lashes, as well as aesthetics treatments like Botox and fillers.

“I’ve actually been using PPE for years. I’ve never done a treatment without a face mask on. And I’m adamant that if the girls can’t wear their face masks, they can’t work – nobody likes breath over them! With my aesthetics treatments, my Botox and fillers, and microblading [for eyebrows], we have to wear PPE up and down because we’re breaking the skin, so we always wear a throwaway apron, mask and gloves. So, it’s just going to be a step up from that – we’re just going to do that for lashes and brows too. We’ll wear visors and I do have the option of goggles.

At the start of lockdown, I started my own PPE company. We thought, 'What else can we do? Money is not coming in.' So, I focussed my efforts on helping other businesses with PPE. We’ve been supplying beauty industry and aesthetics businesses, and offering advice – there’s so many masks out there, it’s a minefield. The government are throwing out so many different guidelines – from one day to the next, they’ll ban different masks. I don’t think PPE will affect most of the treatments at all, though it might during lash extensions: staring at someone’s face through a visor for an hour and ten minutes is going to be quite hard!

I watched the House of Commons debate recently, and they threw in two questions about beauty. The Chancellor didn’t even answer the question about beauty. He just said, “Yeah, we’re still discussing it, but recreation campsites are allowed to reopen so we’re really happy about that.” We’ve not been given a date, and it is so ridiculous. I’ve got a group of local beauty businesses in Hackney where we all chat together and we were so excited to know if we were going to get a date, and we’ve had our dreams crushed again. We’ve been so upset. We feel like our contribution to society – they haven’t even thought about us. We’re all women, we don’t have anything else to fall back on. The £10,000 grant I got went in two months. It’s such a Groundhog Day.

There’s probably about 70 people on my waiting list, but a lot of our clients are going away for the summer now. August does generally drop down a little bit because people leave London anyway. We’re now missing out on all that trade we could have done before. It’s going to take us a lot longer to get through, we’re going to earn a lot less. My landlord hasn’t given me any rent reductions, and I’ve decided that I’m actually going to work from home a lot, and send my staff out mobile, concentrating on lash extensions, brows, and lash lifts, so I’ve adapted my business that way.

As a business owner, it’s been a complete whirlwind. We’ll get through it. I think this is the first time in months that I feel really positive again. It’s still an uncertain time, but knowing that my business is going to push forward in a different way, it takes time to accept that.”

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.