When Will It Be Safe to Get a Haircut? Experts Weigh In
It'll be some time before salons and barbershops reopen—and the experience won't be the same.
If the thought of having your partner cut your hair—or worse yet, taking matters into your own hands—sends shivers down your spine, you're not alone. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, countless people, suddenly shaggy-haired and split-ended, are left wondering: "When can I get a haircut again?"
While many industries—from food service to retail—have shifted their workplace practices to allow for appropriate social distancing, the same simply isn't possible for businesses like hair salons, where human touch is an integral part of the experience.
According to pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD, founder of Worry Proof Consulting, ideally, people wouldn't get haircuts outside of their homes until a vaccine is widely available, and a large portion of the population is immune to COVID-19. "Vaccines get us to herd immunity much more quickly because they fast-track immune systems to recognize and fight coronavirus," she explains.
However, with the first mass-produced vaccine unlikely to hit the market before September, Natterson says that the best bet for keeping salon owners and patrons safe for the time being is widespread COVID-19 testing.
"Once testing is accessible to all and we can use that broad testing to document that cases are on the decline, businesses that require people to be in close proximity will begin to operate cautiously—abiding by the guidelines set by epidemiologists and other medical professionals, not just politicians," says Natterson. And when salons do reopen, she says that both hairdressers and clients should wear masks and gloves to mitigate risk of coronavirus transmission.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the safety of touching another person's hair after the worst of the pandemic has subsided, some experts think there's still cause for concern.
In an interview with Today, infectious disease epidemiologist Saad Omer, MBBS, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, says that the coronavirus could likely live on hair, but not for a prolonged period of time. "Viruses survive for lesser durations on porous surfaces, such as hair, than smooth surfaces, such as stainless steel," which can harbor the virus for up to three days, he says.
What's even less clear at this point is what, if any, risk the use of blow dryers might have in terms of spreading the virus within a confined space. "We know that coronavirus is aerosolized and can linger in the air, but studies to date suggest that this isn't a very effective mode of transmission," explains Natterson. "That said, if you have a salon full of customers, all exhaling and coughing coronavirus, the risk of becoming ill might go way up."
As for salon employees and owners, whose businesses have been hit hard by the shutdown, there is some hope.
"What most people don't realize is that part of our extensive education, which is required to become a licensed professional, is sanitation and disinfection," says Michelle Cleveland, owner of Hair Addict Salon, who notes that even obtaining a license to open a hair salon requires passing strict cleaning and disinfecting requirements.
Ideally, Cleveland says that in order to keep both professionals and patrons out of harm's way, stylists should be able to ask clients if they've had contact with anyone sick, request that they wash their hands upon entering the salon, and even take their temperature at the door.
Until businesses start to safely reopen and herd immunity is achieved, however, there is one small silver lining to being overdue for a haircut: "The only people who are seeing us other than those who live under our roof are the people we connect with by video chat or Zoom," Natterson says. "These are very forgiving mediums—your grey doesn't come through nearly as well as it does in real life!" And for answers to another pressing COVID question, check out Can You Get Coronavirus More Than Once? WHO Says Yes.