Beauty expert outlines new post-pandemic normal for salons and spas

Salons and spas need to know what to do to prepare to open their doors after lockdown. An industry expert is suggesting significant changes in the workplace and a “new normal” for the beauty industry, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. | article | video

Beauty industry new normal

The coronavirus has changed the way many people behave and will continue to do so for a very long time. Despite the fact that COVID-19 is still a lingering threat, people are trying to hang onto any semblance of normalcy they can get, even if it puts their lives at risk. Businesses are starting to open up to varying degrees around the world, so that means people will start going to the salon to get their hair and nails done, getting facials and treatments, waxing, exfoliating, plucking, shaving, trimming and manscaping, steaming, scrubbing, sloughing and massaging away the anxieties of an unruly year.

On the surface, hairdressers, nail technicians, aestheticians and massage therapists will help us put our lives back together again, and possibly, extend that touch deeper to affect our well-being. In most cases, these beauty industry professionals have no choice but to come into close contact with their clients, while they pamper them into relaxation, rejuvenate them and eventually coax them out of self-isolation. 

It’s simply a part of the job. “Our businesses are based on warmth and human-touch,” says Joe Romeo of Teknik Salon in Kitchener, Ontario.

It’s a demanding role for these professionals but they “do not have the luxury of distancing themselves from their clients or working behind Plexi-Glass,” while on duty, says Jeff Alford, president of CBON Group, a company that provides infection control education to the beauty industry.

Beauty industry post-pandemic new normal

Alford has been in the beauty supply business for over 25 years as owner, manufacturer and distributor, advisor, an innovator in body sugaring and publisher of Canadian Hairdresser Magazine, the country’s original beauty magazine. Over the past year the CBON Group has acquired and integrated a Western Canadian distributor, a medical foot care division, a hair division and is in the final stages of integrating a manufacturer of nail products. Alford says, salon and spa professionals will have to make up for this risk factor, close contact, by taking extra precautionary measures when they return to work after the coronavirus lockdown goes into reverse. 

Some workers already practice safety measures like wearing personal protective gear, such as smocks, gloves and masks when they interact with customers, wash their hands, and sanitize touchable surfaces and equipment between clients to prevent the spread of other bacteria and infectious diseases. That’s the obvious stuff.

Alford is suggesting new ways in which the beauty industry will need to adjust and more stringent methods to use in dealing with the new normal brought about by the pandemic. He wants to implement rules that will serve a purpose now and stay in place after salons and spas are given the green light to open their doors again.

Alford says that COVID-19 has made it clear that more effort is needed to prevent infection. Atlanta, Georgia, just opened up and Alford had a chance to review their regulations. He says the city is requiring customers to practice social distancing. Clients have to have space between each other, which means that customers cannot always sit in the waiting room. In some cases “they have to wait outside in their cars or out on the street. It’s really quite onerous what the governments are thinking of doing, and rightfully so. They’re obviously wanting to make sure that everybody stays safe,” he says.

Other U.S. states like Florida recently opened up and in some areas sun seekers were flocking to the beach in large numbers. This is an activity where body care is a focus. Some people groom and shape their bodies for opportunities to flex on the beach. In the middle of a global virus outbreak it sends a message that everything is fine when it isn’t. 

Canada is also a patchwork when it comes to rules for the beauty industry in general. British Columbia had some fairly good laws for people in the haircare industry some years ago but those were abandoned. The country’s beauty industry currently operates on recommendations rather than regulations. In recent years though, the government has started stepping up. Ontario, for example, is starting to do proper examinations and they are publishing the results, pass or fail, on a public website, says Alford.

They are starting to step up, from an inspection perspective too but there still are no proper, detailed, regulatory protocols. This opportunity that led Alford to design some himself. He has gone one step further by coming up with a system to address the new reality of working in the industry by creating a checklist to help salons and spas prepare to adjust to even more to change as businesses start to open up. The list is helpful during the coronavirus lockdown and afterward. It includes measures like social distancing, screening, tracing, increased sanitation and a “coronavirus surcharge.” He even suggests that a designated person be put in charge of monitoring supplies and personal protective items.

There’s going to be substantial financial impact on the beauty industry and we’re doing a lot of work with various associations, helping them to figure out how to do the math so that they can, not just open, but survive after they’re open, he says in a video interview. Alford anticipates that the changes will also require retraining and preparing salons and spas for a new life in the age of coronavirus and enable them to respond to future outbreaks.

His company has set up a website called InfectionControlEducation.com, where visitors are able to download all the protocols in addition to information about tracing, a measure that everyone’s talking about now. “We have a program there that, interestingly, Ontario had passed into law in 2017 but very few people even know about it, or are following it,” he says. Every time you go to a nail, hair, or aesthetics salon in Ontario, they’re supposed to take your name and email address or phone number, just in case there’s an outbreak. Well, that is something that is now in our protocols for everyone in Canada because, just in case there is an outbreak, the salon can track them down. 

In fact, they’re putting out an app where all the salons can immediately record those people, so that if there’s an outbreak in Nanaimo, B.C. or Halifax, Nova Scotia, that establishment is immediately able to give Health Canada the names of all the people who were there during that period of time. This is now the requirement, from our perspective, that should be in place for the beauty industry to open up and operate safely in the future. That will give a lot more confidence to you and me when we go to these salons. We’ll feel more confident also that they are following all the proper protocols.

Following the rules may mean decreasing income though. Lowering the number of clients a salon serves in one day, or increasing the number of staff work hours will allow all clients to be seen. Alford gives an example during our video interview. When he was talking about people waiting on the streets to be served in Georgia, he said if one salon in one city has 18 employees, 18 regular staff members, there’s no way they can have 18 staff members working now. They’d be doing well to have nine staff members working. So, they look at longer hours, opening up on Sundays but even then they won’t get enough time to service everybody. If they could take 12 customers at one time, now they can only take four or five or maybe six customers at one time, he added.

The investment is not only financial but “involves education, training, protective equipment strategies, and the right sanitation program that includes proper disinfection between each and every client service and treatment,” emphasizes Christine Wickson, a nurse practitioner and owner of Boost Clinics whose team of nurses perform cosmetic procedures.

From the time that they open their doors, medi-spas, hair and nail salons, and spas, could find themselves in uncharted waters navigating preventive COVID-19 procedures. New protocols will have to be put in place. Things will look quite different and businesses will have to make an extra effort to train their staff and take particular precautions.

These services will need to comply with new regulations based on federal and provincial guidelines. Businesses will also need to explain what they’re doing so their clients can feel safe. In general, they’ll have to be prepared to address workplace risk. 

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird


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