If you’re used to going to the nail salon every other week and getting your hair done every couple months, the pandemic has probably left you feeling less than satisfied with your new quarantine look. Slowly but surely, it seems more and more people are starting to make their way back to their favorite salons, but things are far from being the same as they were pre-pandemic—and I don’t know about you, but I’m erring on the side of caution when it comes to leaving the house and deciding where to make an appointment.
Before you visit any kind of salon, you should definitely call and ask about what they’re doing to keep themselves and their clients safe. What really matters, though, is if they truly follow through with their promises and are abiding by all of the CDC’s safety guidelines. Here are some red flags you should be on the lookout for that might indicate that the salon owners and employees aren’t taking your safety (or theirs) as seriously as they should be.
The employees are wearing thin masks—or none at all
At this point, we know everyone should be wearing masks—and if anyone isn’t wearing one at the salon you’re visiting, run. What people might overlook, though, is the quality of the masks being worn. Salon visits can last hours, which means a whole lot of time spent being close to someone else. The CDC recommends wearing masks with two or more layers and advises against solely using gaiters or face shields as PPE. According to Christina Madison, MD, infectious disease expert and founder and CEO of The Public Health Pharmacist, most fashion face masks only protect against 5 percent of airborne particles and paper masks only protect against 55 percent. If the mask your beauty professional is wearing looks too thin, it probably is. To keep yourself safe, Dr. Madison suggests wearing masks with multiple layers and nano-silver technology to block 99.99 percent of all airborne particles, like these tri-layered masks that are woven with real silver (and proven to reduce maskne) from Boomer Naturals.
Clients are allowed to wait in the waiting room
To avoid a gathering of several people in one area, many salons require their beauty professionals to only allow one of their clients in the building at a time. Otherwise, clients waiting for their appointments should wait outside or in their cars until told otherwise. “You are already taking a risk by visiting the salon,” says Abra McField, founder and CEO of Abra Kadabra Hair and Healing. “You only want to be in there when you have to be.” Magazines and other communal items should also be tucked away out of reach. They’re usually left in waiting rooms to occupy clients waiting for their appointments, but since there shouldn’t be anyone in the waiting room in the first place, it makes sense that there aren’t communal items left out.
Walk-ins are accepted
To monitor how many people are coming and going in the salon, a reservation-only rule should be implemented. This way, the salon can keep track of how many people are in the building at one time to make sure they’re complying with the COVID maximum capacity limits. Plus, they’ll know who has visited in case someone does happen to get the virus. “Schedules are usually pre-set and any exceptions drive up the risk of getting the virus,” says Kadabra. “You don’t ever want to put yourself in the position where you can get distracted by the schedule being switched and you miss your precautionary steps.”
There are no plexi-glass partitions up at nail salons
Although there isn’t a law requiring them, some nail salons have taken the extra precautionary step of installing plexi-glass partitions between the technician and the client at each station. While the technician still has to work on the client’s nails through the opening at the bottom of the partition, they can both feel more at ease with the shield adding that extra layer of protection. “We have found that these partitions provide an extra level of comfort for everyone receiving and providing a service so that they can feel confident that every measure is being taken to protect the health and safety of those entering our studios,” says Stephanie Coffey, co-founder of Frenchies Modern Nail Care.
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The stations aren’t six feet apart from each other
We know it’s impossible for beauty professionals to remain six feet apart from their client at all times. So at the very least, the stations should be spaced out six feet apart from each other, per CDC requirements. If you’ve been sat down a little too close to another client, don’t be afraid to speak up—or leave altogether.
There’s little to no ventilation
How does the salon smell? Like it’s full of chemicals? If that’s the case, it’s probably not well-ventilated. “Recent reports suggest continuous ventilation and supply of clean air is crucial for fighting infection and the spread of disease,” says Coffey. Some salons have individual ventilation systems (on par with hospital ventilation protocol, nonetheless) installed at every manicure and pedicure station to ensure there is a consistent flow of fresh, clean air throughout the salon.
There’s no required temperature check or hand sanitizer at the door
The second you step into a salon, you should be having your temperature taken and sanitizing your hands. “EVERY service at Frenchie’s begins with the nail technician and guest washing their hands to create a sanitary start for everyone,” says Coffey. We’re all human, so you should be putting in the extra effort to protect your beauty professional just as they should be doing for you—which means a quick temperature check should also be done. “Your body could be fighting off an infection and you are not aware so certainly the next person would not have a clue. A thermometer is the best way to detect that and get ahead of it before the coronavirus starts spreading around in the salon you visit,” says McField.
Blue disinfectant jars are sparse and tools aren’t properly sanitized and sterilized
Those blue disinfectant jars with combs in them? Yeah, they should be everywhere in a hair salon, says McField. It’s also important to note that some nail salons don’t actually sterilize their tools. Sanitizing is not the same thing as sterilizing. If you really want to play it safe, find a salon that does both. “Our metal implements used during a service go through a three-step cleaning process: They are scrubbed clean with soap and water, soaked in a medical grade disinfectant for a minimum of 10 minutes, and then run through a sterilization cycle in a medical grade autoclave,” says Coffey. “This third step is not required by law or by licensing boards but is the ONLY way to ensure these tools are fully sterilized.”
There’s no disinfection time set aside between clients
Speaking of properly sanitizing and sterilizing tools, if your beauty professional just dismissed their last client and invites you in immediately after, you might want to verify that they had enough time to adequately sanitize everything. Is there a clean, unused salon cape ready for you? Does the salon chair have that “just wiped” shine? Checking for Lysol cans, wipes, or other disinfectants nearby is a good way to gauge just how much time and effort your stylist or technician put into making sure you’re both safe.
The floors haven’t been swept
As soon as you walk into any salon, check the floors. Are there nail clippings? Piles of hair? A quick glance should be able to tell you whether or not the salon is sanitary, which is a pretty good indicator of how seriously they’re following CDC guidelines. “If the establishment isn’t training employees to clean as they work, the place is sloppy,” says Ghanima Abdullah, a hairstylist at The Right Hairstyles. A good rule of thumb: “If you see a mop going around, it should be as clean and fluffy as the towels. Otherwise, the towel on your head might be passing germs, too.”
Plus-ones are allowed
It’s always nice to have company while you’re getting your hair or nails done, but right now, extra people should not be allowed inside. More people means more chances of the virus spreading. Reducing the number of people allowed in a salon at a time is critical to maintaining a clean, safe space. Besides it not being safe, allowing extra people in the salon doesn’t make sense from a business angle. “Business revenues have already declined quite a bit, so if you can have a client in there and not exceed your 10-person limit depending on space measurements of the building, that is definitely the preferred route instead of having an additional body for no reason,” says McField.
Acrylic dip powder is still an option
If you’re in a nail salon and they’re still offering acrylic dip powder, that’s a definite red flag. Acrylic dip powder was a health concern before COVID, but even more so now. Besides the plethora of toxins it contains, its damaging effects on nails, and the irritation it can cause to your lungs, it’s also super unsanitary. Think about it: You’re sticking your fingers into the same container that tons of other people have also stuck their fingers in—and you don’t know how clean their hands were. “Even those who use the pour-over method will often catch the powder falling to put back in the jar,” says Coffey. “There is NO WAY to sanitize this acrylic dip powder and it opens up the possibility of bacterial infections.” Then, fast-foward to a few weeks after your appointment: It’s time to take those outgrown nails off and sand off the polish. Seems totally innocent, right? Not quite. According to Coffeey, “The removal process poses the highest threat during COVID. This emits plumes of fine dust that are easily inhaled into the lungs and cause irritation.”
Disposable beauty tools, like nail files and buffers, are being reused
Before your beauty professional uses any tools on you, take a second to check how clean everything looks—especially when it comes to disposable, one-time-use items. Chances are, if the disposable tools look like it has been used before, it probably has. “Tools that cannot be fully sanitized AND sterilized should NEVER be reused,” says Coffey. “In nail services, nail files, orangewood sticks, and buffers should never be reused. At Frenchie’s, we give them to guests to take home (where allowed by regulations) or we throw them away.”
The employees are touching their masks, phones, or other personal items
When working on your hair, nails, or other beauty needs, your beauty professional should be doing only that. Masks are supposed to block out particles, so if you’re touching it, you’re potentially getting viral particles on your hands. The same goes for phones or other personal items nearby. If your beauty professional does need to use their phone, they should be sanitizing it and their hands before working on you again. “If an employee touches personal items following that sanitation standard, that would open up both the guest and nail technician to possible infection,” says Coffey.
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They use pedicure bowls with jets
Similar to the use of acrylic dip powder in nail salons, pedicure bowls with jets have always been questionable when it comes to how sanitary it is. As it turns out, those jets with interior piping can be breeding grounds for bacteria—which are then pushed out into the bowl where your feet are soaking, says Coffey. While some nail salons opt for plastic liners to avoid contamination, it might be worth making an appointment somewhere that’s taking the extra precautionary step of using freestanding basins (sans jets or pipes) for foot soaks during the pandemic.