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8 Things You Won’t See in Hair Salons Anymore

Updated: Jan. 27, 2023

Hair salons and barbershops are open again, but some of the pandemic precautions remain.

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Salons are open again

The pandemic may not be over, but as COVID-19 cases in most states fall in accordance with increased vaccination rates, businesses in every industry are beginning to reopen. For many people, life is looking nearly normal again, although maybe not quite what we expected a post-coronavirus life could look like. One of the biggest booms has been in hair salons and barbershops, many of which are booked solid for weeks in advance. If you do manage to get in for a long-overdue appointment, you might be surprised to see that some of the pandemic-era measures your local salon implemented to help stop the spread of the virus have become permanent post-COVID changes. Things will vary somewhat from state to state and salon to salon, but we talked to some stylists to learn about the changes they’re making to their salons based on the CDC guidelines for reopening. This is what you can expect the next time you go in for a cut and color. Have you noticed red, white, and blue poles outside barbershops? Find out the significance of the barber pole.

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A crowded salon

Although some salons and barbershops are back to running at full capacity, many adopted a policy of socially distanced stations, a percentage of empty chairs, or even physical dividers during the pandemic. Lynda Le, salon entrepreneur and founder of the blog Polish Perfect, told Reader’s Digest that crowded stations will be “a thing of the past,” and many salons have yet to rearrange their seating, especially if the salon is large enough to still accommodate a number of clients. Changes to appointment bookings have also reduced the number of people waiting for appointments at any time, and the elimination of walk-ins in many salons has further thinned the crowds. The CDC guidelines for reopening businesses, which include recommendations of social distancing and mask-wearing indoors, have not been updated to reflect growing vaccination rates, and with variants spreading through other parts of the world, some salons may still be erring on the side of caution.

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Quick appointment turnover

Due to enhanced hygiene practices started during the pandemic, many salons are now taking extra time between clients to ensure that tools are cleaned thoroughly before they are reused. Le notes that salons are also using disposable gloves, cutting capes, and seat covers. Genn Shaughnessy, master stylist at The Backstage Stylist in Albany, NY, told us that as well as disinfecting tools and brushes and using disposables, she has also added air disinfectant sprays and HEPA filters to treatment rooms.

Bret Bonnet, manager of Niki Moon Salon & Spa located in Naperville, Ill., says his salon has taken many steps to ensure clients are safe, and is treating everyone as though they could be infected. In between each appointment, the stylists are required to change their gloves, masks, towels, and apron, and sanitize the chairs, bowls, desks, and tools. Stylists have to make sure to schedule enough time in between appointments to accommodate the extra cleaning. Shaughnessy has added checkout times to appointments to avoid client overlap. If your salon requires you to do any paperwork, they may send it over beforehand for you to complete.

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A client or hairdresser without a mask (maybe)

While some of the stylists and salon owners we spoke to have put mask-wearing in the rear-view mirror, The Backstage Stylist has not. Shaughnessy told us, “We will always wear a mask during a face-to-face service. None of us has gotten sick this year and we intend to keep protecting our staff from any potential illness an asymptomatic carrier may have.”

The CDC guidelines still recommend that clients and stylists both wear masks, but if you’re fully vaccinated (that means two weeks post second shot) and the salon doesn’t require it, it’s down to personal choice.

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Tools being reused

During the pandemic, salons began taking extreme cleaning measures to ensure that germs don’t transfer between clients, and those measures are most likely here to stay. After all, there are plenty of viruses you’ll still want to avoid, even if they’re less serious than COVID-19 (looking at you, common cold!). For tools that aren’t disposable, such as brushes, shears, and styling tools, they are used only on one client and then thoroughly cleaned. “We adopted a three-bucket system where all used tools go in one bucket. Once cleaned and scrubbed with soap and then rinsed, they go in the second bucket. Last, the third bucket soaks the tools in barbicide,” says Abra McField, hair industry expert, stylist and salon CEO of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing in St. Louis, Mo. “We also have tags that read ‘This seat has been cleaned’ or ‘This area has been cleaned’ so that our entire team, as well as clients, feel safe and protected.”

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Clients are used to looking for the perfect hairstyle in magazines while waiting for their turn in the chair, but sadly, as Le says, magazines are “high-touch items, which makes them a channel for the spread and even the breeding of germs.” Luckily, less time in the waiting room also equals less time for perusing a glossy or two. And if you really miss the ritual, bring your own.

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Walk-in appointments

Nearly every stylist we spoke to said that walk-in appointments were a thing of the past. Most salons are still limiting the number of clients they can host at once. The Backstage Stylist went so far as to move to a more secluded spot. “We closed our location on a Main Street that was open to the public and moved to a more private location in a medical, spa-like setting in an office building, to avoid walk-in foot traffic,” says Shaughnessy, explaining that the salon will no longer accept walk-ins for services like waxes. Add to this the fact that many salons are booked for weeks in advance, and the chances of getting that spontaneous bob cut drop even further. Better to call ahead, or book online or through an app.

RELATED: Hairstyle Terms to Know Before Your Next Salon Visit

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Reduced cash transactions and tips

Many businesses stopped taking cash payments during the pandemic in a bid to avoid viral transfer, and salons were no exception. For some, the ease of paying and booking solely with cards or online means that the new methods are here to stay. Bonnet’s salon has introduced a new, contactless payment system, and many salons prefer tips be paid via cashless apps such as Venmo. 

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Snacks or drinks

Most salons will at least offer you a glass of water when you come in the door; in the pre-pandemic days, some had self-serve coffee or tea, and some may have offered coffee, snacks, or even wine. Sadly, snack time is over. Shaughnessy told us that her salon would no longer have “a coffee bar or community food of any kind,” and won’t allowed BYO snacks or drinks either, apart from bottled water.