Is It Safe to Go Back to the Barbershop During COVID-19?

Yes, my friends, the madness is almost over, at least for now. For the moment, some of us can move on from the sometimes frightful consequences of at-home haircuts and beard trimmings (or sometimes equally gnarly results of letting it all grow out), to putting our heads back into the hands of professionals. As our nation takes its first tentative steps into a post-COVID-19-lockdown world, barber shops across the land are slowly reopening.

covid haircut
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Does heading into any situation where social distancing is clearly going to have to be violated (with sharp objects, to boot) make you a little nervous? Well, of course it should; we’ve spoken to barbers to hear what they are doing to try to make barbershops into a safe haven for the hirsute, along with more cautious input from the medical community. 

Is It Safe to Get a Haircut?

As the adage goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Understandably, some folks are still feeling a bit nervous about getting back into the chair. To allay — or perhaps add to — those fears, we talked to Dr. Matthew Fox, a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Global Health at Boston University.

“Everything carries risk. There are no completely safe places other than living on an island by oneself,” says Fox. “Getting a haircut increases your risk compared to not getting one because you are typically indoors. Air circulation may not be great and you are in extended contact with someone who also comes into contact with many others.”

covid haircut
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That’s a call individuals will have to make as to whether a haircut is worth the risk. Fox further advises to find a place that takes infection control seriously, which includes protocols to minimize the number of people in the space and for disinfecting. Also, make sure that barbershops open their windows, require masks, and so on. Then, minimize the number of times you need to do this activity.

Dr. Michael Melia, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, sounds an even more cautious note. “I would always have been hesitant, and even more so now with the increase in cases we’re seeing. If you are considering taking on this risk, there are things that should absolutely be in place at your salon before you make an appointment.”

Melia echoes our barber panel’s suggested measures, adding that hairstylists should consider wearing face shields, and going into details like not allowing customers to congregate in the waiting area or entrance, so that they enter the shop and go directly to socially distanced chairs.

“Customers may also want to carry hand sanitizer into the shop,” he adds. “If all of these things are not in place, I would not take the risk. If they are all in place, I would still advise against it, as it’s a non-essential risk. Recognizing that the quality won’t be the same, can you bridge the gap to your next haircut with one done at home? There are a number of web tutorials available.”

To minimize the risk of infection while getting a haircut, barbershops should be implementing the following practices:

  • Practice proper infection control with cleaning and disinfection, as directed by the boards of every state. That means every non-porous implement gets cleaned and disinfected prior to use, as well as other shop surfaces like reception areas, computers, and phones. (Some states are even requiring shops to use only digital files and contactless payment systems to further minimize risk.)
  • Per the Center for Disease Control, patrons and barbers should be wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing measures.
  • Waiting areas are closed. To minimize face-to-face interactions, barbershops should only allow appointments, no walk-ins.
  • Barbers are regularly temperature checked for fevers.

How Barbershops Are Opening During COVID-19

Still, for those who are willing to take that risk, barbers say that they’re trying to take as many precautionary steps as they can to disinfect their shops. After all, cleanliness is next to COVID-lessness. Well, not literally, but if the shop doesn’t look sparkling clean in the first place, it’s not likely that management has taken the necessary steps to ward off the virus. Watch that barbers are cleaning and disinfecting every surface, and making arrangements for you to behave safely, as well. 

“If you see dust, dirt, and hair everywhere, head for the hills,” says Michael Gilman of  Grooming Lounge, a grooming product website, barber shop and spa with multiple locations in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.  “If the shop isn’t complying [with state and local guidelines], men should avoid it.  The basics are that all barbers must wear cloth face coverings and require their guests to do the same. Social distancing must be maintained in the shop, including eliminating the waiting area. Finally, look for jars with Barbicide and disinfectant for scissors and combs.”

Benjamin Mohapi is the founder of Benjamin Salon, with locations in Los Angeles and New York. He points out that “Every customer should, before sitting down in the chair, look to make sure that any salon or barber shop is following all protocols, like conducting temperature checks and making sure everything has been sanitized. Having hand sanitizer available for everyone to use is a must!”

“Both the chair and station need to be sprayed and wiped down with a medical grade disinfectant between services,”says Gilman. “Also, a new cape for every guest. That’s key.”

Bearing those precautions in mind, barbers say they’re trying to go above and beyond to make sure their clients feel safe. Vernon Scott, a bicoastal barber, says that people in his industry have received online sanitizing certifications.

covid haircut
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“The barber should make sure to use hand sanitizer if he ever walks away from the client to grab anything,” adds Mohapi.  “That will protect both the barber and the client. Keep all the tools used on the client in a different area then the rest of your things and disinfect everything when done with each service.”

And, Scott argues, the reopening of salons across the country has helped empower barbers who have been out of work these past few months.

“I think most in the field have returned to barbering with a renewed sense of how much they enjoy the profession and their clients.,” says Gilman. “When you do it every day, in and out, you forget about the craft of barbering and the individual joy from making each client look and feel his best. Time away has re-invigorated the spirit of most barbers.”

But those who are still cautious about returning to their beloved barbershops can still support their barbers remotely. Scott was part of an initiative led by Schick Hydro to get us, and the barbers we miss so much, through lockdown: The #ShaveFromHome program employed out-of-work barbers to create virtual grooming tutorials to help us men master facial hair at home. Schick Hydro also partnered with the National Association of Barbers to encourage consumers to donate to a gofundme page that would help support barbers who had taken a financial hit during the pandemic.

And until you’re ready to put your hair back into the hands of professionals, this DIY guide will help keep your mane in control for the time being.

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