Heading back to the salon? An industry veteran shares what you need to know

Like most quarantiners, you’re probably overdue for a haircut or a new wash of color. Now you can get back in the chair, with Sacramento County salons allowed to reopen for indoor services again on Aug. 31 under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new color-coded reopening plan, a more carefully considered follow-up to an initial reopening attempt that began on May 18, and came to an abrupt halt exactly eight weeks later due to a spike in Covid infections. (Yolo and Placer counties have also reopened for indoor salon services.)

We talked to salon owner and stylist Jacquie Crabtree—co-founder of Strands Aveda salons (locations in Sacramento, Davis, Elk Grove and Natomas) and a member of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology—for the lowdown on what to expect when getting your tresses back to their non-DIY, pre-pandemic glory.

The Great California Hair Salon Reopening—take two—started this week. How are you feeling about it?

I mean, we definitely had a lot of calls while we were closed—at one location we had 180 messages on the phone. There are a lot of people wanting to get in, but also a lot of people who have used this time to learn how to cut and color their own hair with home kits or Zoom lessons. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know we’ll be as busy as we can be with only half the stylists working in the salons at a time.

What are some of the rules for reopening this time around?

[Per state guidelines], stylists’ chairs have to be 6 feet apart and everyone in the salon has to be masked at all times. You should probably bring a mask that you don’t mind getting hair dye on. Also, keep in mind that you won’t be able to remove your mask to drink from your water bottle or the Starbucks [coffee] you want to pick up before your appointment, so we’re asking that no food or drink be brought in. At Strands, we’ll be doing a temperature check when clients arrive, and limiting contact with them beyond the cut or color, which means you won’t be able to give your favorite stylist a hug like you normally would.

All of my stylists are certified to use Barbicide, which is a hospital-grade disinfectant. That’s what we’ll use to spray everything down between each client—the chair, the tools, door handles. But sanitizing between each client has been part of our protocol forever. One thing we will be doing that we couldn’t before is blow-drying hair. During the first closure, Gov. Newsom said we couldn’t do it, but this time around he’s taken it off the "list." [Editor’s note: Cedars-Sinai recently issued a report stating that the hair dryer is an unlikely tool of transmission.] We’re also limiting exposure in the salon, so there will be no four-hour balayage treatments for the foreseeable future.

You’re on the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. What is the role of the board in the pandemic?

The board’s role has always been about addressing the health and safety of the consumer. We monitor service providers and their safe practices and give that information to the governor’s office. So we oversee safety measures like making sure, for example, that hair dye or wax is being used properly to avoid burns and that sanitizing protocols are being met to prevent the spread of any infections.

Have you seen any compliance issues with salons during the pandemic?

Our inspectors did some field work [during the first reopening] and brought back some data. What they were seeing was like 85% of salons in compliance with the mask rule. It’s so uncool because the [other 15% or so] is what’s going to bring the industry down. If contact tracing comes back to salons and spas that weren’t practicing procedures, then we’ll close down again. It’s not fair to the people who are following the rules.

What changes to the salon industry will stick in a post-pandemic world?

Well, I think that the industry is going to change a lot. As I mentioned, a lot of people are doing their hair themselves now, or maybe just going longer in between appointments. A lot of people have just decided to go gray. I did not put together at-home color kits for my customers because there are some safety concerns, and also because our dyes are very specific to the client. I personally don't know if our industry will really recover unless people get to that point again where they want the luxury of being pampered at a salon. This is such an unknown territory.

On a lighter note, you’ve done the hair of some famous women of state politics, including California Senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, and former California first ladies Maria Shriver and Anne Gust Brown. What were they like, and more importantly, what’s their hair like?

Kamala has beautiful hair. It’s naturally curly, and I gave her a blowout for her California attorney general inauguration. [Harris was the state’s AG from January 2011 to January 2017.] She seemed to me like a very powerful woman, someone who knows what she wants, and I admire that about her.

Maria likes her hair curled. Like a lot. In 2009, for an event in San Francisco with Michelle Obama [to promote volunteerism], she was going over her speech while I was curling her hair. And she was like, “What if I forget it?” And I just looked at her and I said, “Girl, you’ve got this.” Another time, I did her hair for a Mother’s Day event and again she read me her speech—it was about her, her mom and mothering her mother. I really like Maria. She's a very personable, kind person, humble and down-to-earth.

I still do Anne’s hair. She’s easy-breezy about it—cut, touch-up, blow-dry. But she’s such a badass, really smart and interesting to talk to. And she cares so much about California. I couldn’t possibly divulge stories from the chair about her. There are too many!

You certainly revamp your clients' headspace in more ways than one.

For sure. There is some mental therapy when you come to get your hair done. I love it. A lot of our stylists do. We like to have that close bond with our clients. They get to come in, get stuff off their chest, and leave not only looking good, but feeling good.

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