As covid-19 starts to reach more corners of the United States, nail and hair salon owners are starting to make changes, such as instituting more lenient cancellation policies, asking clients to stay home if they are sick and more closely enforcing hygiene practices. 

“Usually, we strictly enforce a same-day 60 percent cancellation fee,” said Marcela Correa, a medical nail technician and owner of Medi Pedi NYC. “However, in the wake of things, we have been lenient if a client expresses that they are feeling ill and cannot make it.”

The salon industry is bracing for a potential downturn in business, according to Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association, a trade organization for industry professionals. “There will no doubt be an impact” on salons because of covid-19, he said by email. “Thus far, we’ve seen several industry events be canceled or postponed, as well as a decline in salon visits in infected communities. The full extent of what this will look like has yet to be seen.”

 At this writing, there are more than 1,200 coronavirus cases in the United States. Because tests for covid-19 were slow to go out, some experts think the number could be much higher.

 Jagdish Khubchandani, associate chair and professor of health science at Ball State University, said there will likely be economic losses and fewer people using beauty services if covid-19 continues its current trajectory, “in part due to actual threat of disease and in part due to fear.” “Service industries like salons are more likely to be affected due to the personal contacts that occur in such places and the nature of work,” Khubchandani said. “If you can smell a client’s perfume or body odor, you are close enough to acquire infections, and extreme caution is needed.”

People will have to make choices, he said: “Can it be done at home? Can it be avoided? Is it a necessity?”  

Best practices to help prevent the spread of covid-19 in hair and nail salons include those that proactive owners are already utilizing, said Khubchandani, such as cleaning hands and surfaces multiple times a day, adding signage, providing disinfectants and offering free cancellation. “What also needs to be kept in mind is that while protecting the client is key, we also must think of salon workers who could be at greater risk due to volume of exposure to people they have,” he explained. “Managers should keep an eye on sick salon workers and take immediate action to provide sick leave to affected workers and make suggestions to visit health-care professionals.” 

On top of that, owners should remind stylists and technicians to keep their distance “no matter how close the personal relationship is, avoid hugs, handshakes or close contact with clients and co-workers,” said Khubchandani. 

For clients entering the salon, similarly, it’s essential to avoid close contact with your service provider. “It’s not rude to ask for workers to sanitize hands and appliances, wear masks or aprons, and use disposable gloves,” Khubchandani said. “Get a sense of your service provider. If they seem sick or sneeze too much, initiate a polite conversation. Try not to schedule appointments at very busy times and keep an eye on local news to assess community spread.” 

Even though her salon is located in a place with confirmed covid-19 cases, Correa said she has not yet seen business decline. “We are in New York City, the city that never sleeps,” she said. “We are not quite concerned about business changing. We just don’t want any of our clients panicking or in a frenzy when they should be relaxing and enjoying their treatment.”

She might be right that not everyone is panicking, especially in areas that have few confirmed cases. Ceclie Finney, 28, of Brighton, Mich, said the idea of canceling a recent nail appointment didn’t even cross her mind. “As of now, I don’t think it’s something I need to worry about,” she said. “I have always practiced good personal hygiene, and I believe that is all I can do. . . . I won’t live in a state of worry.”

 The covid-19 outbreak is a key illustration of the reason beauty professionals are licensed, and salons are “regulated, inspected and have oversight by a state level regulatory body,” Sleeper said. “It’s all there to ensure that the health and safety of everyone in the salon environment and their public customers are protected.” 

Some salons have instituted a variety of new practices. In addition to stepped up cleanings, Correa said, receptionists at MediPedi NYC have stopped passing pens to clients to avoid the spread of germs. She said technicians also wear a fresh set of gloves when handling every new client and are instructed to wash their hands thoroughly before and after each appointment.

Kim Ensign, owner of Adorn Nail Boutique in Bloomington, Ill., has posted a sign asking clients to wash their hands for 30 seconds before a service, sneeze into their elbow and not touch their face during service. If she notices a client touch their face, she’s been asking them to sanitize their hands. “I have also stopped giving hand massages, instead just putting lotion on their hand for them to rub in themselves,” she said.

Michon Kessler, owner of Haven Salon Studios in Reno, Nev., said she has discontinued the use of glassware and instead will be using paper cups. She has placed hand sanitizer at the entrance of the salon and has also been suggesting that stylists wipe down their cellphones. “A lot of us here in the West are independent contractors, and our clients pay us on a Square app on our phones,” she said. “Phones are one of the most bacteria-ridden devices we all own, which is why I have provided all of my stylists with a Clorox disinfectant wipe dispenser for their stations.” 

Kessler said she sent out an email after her first cancellations. “People are scared, especially my older clientele,” Kessler said. “I am trying to reassure them with extra precautions that we at the salon are taking. And if clients are feeling under the weather at all, my email . . . addresses the fact that we will all be working flexible hours so they won’t have to wait four to six weeks to be seen again.”

Tee Hundley, owner of Suite Tee Beauty Wax Studio in Jersey City, said she’s “concerned about the near future” as she watches the number of covid-19 cases rise in pockets of the country. “High season for beauty services is around the corner,” she said. “If the number of cases jumps, it will definitely cause people to second-guess coming in for such intimate services.” 

Two weeks ago, Hundley sent an email notice to clients, reminding them that she follows all industry requirements for keeping the studio clean, including using bleach and virucides. “As of late, I have ramped up the cleaning of doorknobs, light switches, the bathroom faucet and waiting room chairs,” she said. “I’ve also placed hand sanitizer throughout my studio.” 

She said she washes her hands more often, as well. “After that, all I can do is hope for the best.”