I Broke My Pandemic Quarantine to Go to the Beauty Salon: Here's What Happened & Tips for Your Visit by Elisa Schmitz
The coronavirus pandemic hit just as I was due for my biannual trip to the hair salon for highlights and a haircut. That means it had been about a year that I had not highlighted or cut my hair, and it was really getting to me. When I looked into the mirror, it seemed like there was more and more gray hair, and my hair was so long, the only thing I could do was put it into a ponytail or two.
Because of my compromised immune system, I have been in serious quarantine since March. That means no visits to retail establishments of any kind, including the salon. While I’ve been mostly staying upbeat during these challenging times, it seemed like my hair was becoming the symbol of the near-complete shutdown of my life.
Once a global traveler, the six trips we had planned for the year were abruptly canceled when the world came to a screeching halt. Instead, I found myself traveling within an endless loop, from my bedroom to my kitchen to my home office to my backyard and – on a good day – around the neighborhood (rinse and repeat).
While I’ve been making the most of this focused time and spending hours each day on FaceTime, Zoom or phone calls with family, friends and work associates – not to mention lots of quality couple time spent with my husband/quaran-team partner – there’s no doubt the situation can get a girl down.
But with important business meetings and upcoming seminars all happening “on camera,” something had to be done about the hair. As the coronavirus testing positivity rate in my state had stabilized at about 3.5 percent, and with the cold weather approaching, I saw a small window of opportunity to break out of lockdown and get my hair done before the second wave of coronavirus infection was upon us.
Feedback from Friends
After a visit with my doctor (which included getting a flu shot), I decided to make an appointment at the salon. To get advice from those who had ventured back into the world of beauty, I posted this photo/text on my social media:
"I’ve officially given up on my hair. It hasn’t been cut in so long that all I can do is put it into ponytails. I made my first salon appointment of the pandemic for next week. Totally nervous. Any tips for visiting the salon during these challenging times? Thank you!"
Here’s the feedback I got:
- “I was a nervous wreck ... salon was beautiful clean social distance ... but I haven’t been out in an indoors space besides grocery stores Walmart and Hobby Lobby since February.” – Beth R.
- “’I’ve been cutting my own hair. I have curly or wavy hair. I just put it in a ponytail in the back and then add another ponytail holder where I want to cut the length and chop! Your hair is long. You could attempt to cut some off at least on your own and if it needs to be ‘straightened up’ after then go to the salon. I care about your health, sister!!” – Stephanie C.
- “You look adorable. Keep the tails!!” – Kelli P.
- “Wear a mask, gloves if you have them. Make sure your stylist is wearing a mask. And if you're coloring, have a disposable mask for hair dye that will get on the ear straps.” – Cassandra C.
- “No tips from me. I’m OK with my pandemic hair. I don’t want to sit that long with a mask on. A few hours with it on, I’ll pass out. I’ll ride it for now.” – Meredith S.
- “Maybe see if a trusted hairdresser will come to your house.” – Kristan W.
- “Get the first appointment of the day.” – Dawn L. and Arden N.
- “I've had a couple appointments and felt safe. Wear your mask.” – Donna J.
- “I've been a couple of times since reopening here in Massachusetts. I know my stylist well, and she told me before I came the first time what she would be doing differently, so that helped to make me more comfortable. I do wear the mask the entire time, but occasionally I take the earpieces off (so she can work more closely around my ears) and simply hold the mask over my nose and mouth for that brief time. But that only happens in the last stages of the cut. The mask doesn't interfere with the shampoo and condition process at all.” – Rebecca D.
- “Wear an N95 mask the whole time.” – Lauren F.
- “I haven't had my hair colored, but they can wash and cut surprisingly easily with the mask on. I'm told that it's best not to dry with a hairdryer as it can spread germs, although my stylist did use a dryer. I've had two trims since the pandemic and I've felt completely safe, but my stylist has her own space, so it's just been me and her in the room. I have to say that I was nervous the first time, too!” – Terri K.
- “I went for a cut in September, knowing I won’t brave it again as we head into the second wave. My hairdresser is the only one in the shop, so it felt quite safe. We both wore masks. I used a disposable surgical one instead of my usual cloth one. And with just a cut, I wasn’t there long. I decided to stop coloring my hair. I’m wearing a ponytail and ball cap when I go out! Turns out my natural color is now ‘arctic ice’ (aka Snow White). I’m letting it grow out and hope to just add some fun splashes of bright color eventually!” – Ruth T.
- “My hairdresser has come to me twice, and we are in my garage and masked. I hold my mask to my face while she is cutting my hair so no issues with the straps. I colored myself.” – Jennifer E.
- “I’m with you. My grays are out of control. But I’m high risk, so I’m waiting.” – Monica N.
- “My stylist has her own space and takes one client at a time, leaving time in between to sanitize. She wears a mask and gloves, I wear a mask, no bulky coats or bags and no blow dry. It has been just fine. For the colder months, I’ll ask her to braid my wet hair before I leave.” – Angela G.
- “Let the gray come in!” – Anne Marie R.
- “It's been 13+ months since I had anything done to my hair. Last appointment was August 2019. Had an appointment scheduled for mid-March, but of course salon was closed and I never rescheduled after it opened again. She is in a Sola Salon so has her own little room, but I can wait.” – Bibbi E.
With all that feedback, I was tempted to just stay home and try to cut my own hair. But I “needed” layers and highlights, which I knew I couldn’t do on my own. After consulting with reps at my salon – who assured me that they were taking every precaution in terms of masks, cleaning, social distancing, etc. – I secured the first appointment after they reopened post-weekend and decided to go.
I put on my N95 mask first. (Early on in the pandemic, before masks were even a thing, I was lucky to get one because of my health issues. I take good care of it and am hopeful it will last.) Because it has two straps that go around the head, I had to put them down low, below my ears, which made it not as tight of a fit as usual, but I figured it was still better than not wearing it. On top of the N95, I put a disposable surgical mask with ear loops that I hoped would not get in the way.
Next, I put on my glasses as usual. Over my glasses, I put on a pair of safety glasses that have a bit of protective rim to cover above, below and to the side of my glasses. The result of these safety measures was that I looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, and I was pretty embarrassed as I walked from my car to the salon. But then I checked myself. The reality is that it feels like we ARE living in a sci-fi movie, so if I look the part, so be it. And who really cares, anyway?
I didn’t wear a coat, and I wore my waist purse (AKA fanny pack, but cuter), so there would be nothing to remove or set down once I arrived.
At the Salon
I walked into the salon and immediately saw the hand sanitizer station. After I used it, I walked up to the front desk, which had been retro-fit with plexiglass screens to separate guests from staff. I checked in and was told to proceed back to the coloring station. There, I was greeted by a staff member who led me to a chair by the window. While the windows were not open-able, at least there was lots of light and it was cooler than elsewhere in the salon.
Stations are set fairly close together, but the salon was only filling every other chair. Even with every other chair measuring probably 8 feet apart, I was still uneasy because all of them were filled – and, of course, staff were present as well. I hadn’t been around that many people in months, so it was fairly uncomfortable for me. But it was about to get worse.
The colorist doing my highlights was wearing a mask, and she was professional and kind as she draped me in a towel and a salon cape. But as she got to work, she had to get in really close, obviously, and that was uncomfortable. In addition, there were several times when, in the course of applying the chemicals and foil for my highlights, she accidentally knocked my mask and glasses. We both laughed nervously and apologetically as I adjusted everything again.
By the time she was finished applying everything, I was overheated and overwhelmed by the smell of the chemicals, even through the masks – or maybe the masks made it worse. When she told me to sit tight for 15 minutes or so, I let her know I would be waiting outside, not in the chair. She was fine with that, so I bolted. Outside in the fresh air, I felt so much better. I even snapped the photo you see here (looking crazy and all).
I went back inside to finish the highlights process. After going through the head-in-sink foil unwrapping, rinse, toner, shampoo and conditioning cycle, I was so ready to be done. But the haircut was next. The colorist walked me over to the stylist’s station, which was – thankfully – in a more open area with fewer customers.
After explaining that I wanted at least 3 inches cut off the ends and plenty of layers, the stylist got to work. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the cut was complete (with only a couple of uncomfortable knocks on the glasses and face masks). Following the advice I got from friends, I declined the blow dry. I went back to the front desk, paid my bill (including gratuities) through the plexiglass partition and quickly left, wet hair and all. It was a relief to be done and outside again.
Back in the car, I took off my glasses and masks and breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to be done. I headed straight home, threw my clothes into the wash and stepped into the shower. After washing and blow drying my shorter hair, I felt so free. Seeing my reflection, I felt more like myself and happy to be heading into winter with a lighter look.
Would I do it again? The haircut, probably. The highlights, not so sure. It was pretty intense, and as the COVID risk increases, my “need” for highlights will certainly decrease. Ultimately, it’s up to each person’s comfort level. In the meantime, I’ll be at home, back in quarantine, enjoying my more manageable hair (until it grows back, anyway).
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