“I have a moustache now,” chuckles Manavi Reddy, who has been working from home in Hyderabad. “The same evening that Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao announced the lockdown to be lifted and that salons be reopened, I called my regular beautician to schedule a revamping routine.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has got people talking about a whole new salon and spa experience, due to growing awarenesses about hygiene and cross-contamination. Already, social media has shown how salons and aestheticians are adapting to the new norm: head-to-toe plastic suits, continuous washing of hands and of the space, and crowd control.
The re-standardisation of hygiene and salon capacities will be a seismic industry shift. There are three main areas changes will be reflected across: procedural (introduction of strict standard operating procedures), technique-based (so there’s little to no touch), innovation-led (new instruments being designed to minimise infection). In addition, there will also be a re-training of aestheticians, and a heightened awareness among visitors of health and safety standards.
- How spaced out are the appointments?
- What are the hygiene protocols for the client, and for the staff and salon, respectively?
- Does the salon have an option of personalised kits?
- How often are the tools sterilised?
- How often are towels washed and disinfected? Can I bring my own towel?
Medha G Seth, a cosmetologist and aesthetician with 15 years of experience, says for the spa industry to regain some momentum post-lockdown, complete transparency between client and aesthetician is mandatory. “Pre-booking is important so that the area is sanitised as thoroughly as possible, and the spa may send a questionnaire online for the client to fill out, asking if they have recently been unwell or around people who have been unwell,” she says.
People may choose to pre-pay as well as plan trips in advance, clubbing many services together so they bring the number of visits down. Medha also says there may be some relearning, so with threading, the thread is hooked to a loose plastic neckband for anchoring, instead of going in the mouth as it did before.
Dermatologists may also be in greater demand. Treatments (like facials) that may have earlier been done in both a salon and at the dermat’s office, may now see more takers in the latter. This will also push salons to up their game. Dermatologist Dr Abhijit Desai, of SkinSense in Mumbai, says salons may need to invest in smaller autoclave instruments for better sterilisation of the contact tools: cuticle trimmers, wax spreaders, blackhead extractors, foot files. “It’s strongly advisable to take your own cotton, reusable mask,” he insists.
Measures salons have taken
L’Oréal India’s Back to Business has been conducting hygiene and safety guide will be distributed to its 45,000-strong salon network and over 1,70,000 hairdressers, ahead of lockdown restrictions being lifted. More than 4,250 e-training sessions with 50,000 hairdressers and beauticians. Some of the changes to expect include spaced-out appointments with no walk-ins, a health history inquiry of both client and aesthetician, contactless e-payment of bills, frequent hand-washing and sanitising by the aesthetician, wipe-downs and fumigation of the space before and after procedures, and more.
Naturals’ close-contact beauty procedures will be replaced with equipment to minimise touch. Facials, cleansing, polishing, buffing as well as massages will be done using equipment designed by industry brands. A new threading procedure will be adapted in order to minimise touch and shaving will be done only for those customers who give a written undertaking for contact-heavy procedures. Naturals, a 25-year-old brand, has about 650 franchises, including 140 salons in Chennai.
Urban Company, formerly Urban Clap, is reopening its at-home services in a phased manner. All UC professionals, who undergo daily temperature checks, (the results of which are visible to consumers via the app) are equipped with three-ply masks, gloves and hand sanitisers, with an increased usage of single-use products and disposables. Aestheticians are also standardising on roll-on waxing and low-contact threading, as well as frequent sterilisation of instruments before and after services. Because UC services come to the clients’ home, it is advisable to have the service in a disinfected area of the home away from common areas.
Shahnaz Husain, who has been in the beauty game for decades, explains that trust will play a big role in the relationship between a salon and its clients. Where earlier certain services (like leg and arm waxing) may not have seen great loyalty, this may change. She agrees with Dr Desai on the importance of visual cues like sterilisation equipment.
According to Review of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (14th Edition) , sterilisation is “the killing or removal of all micro-organisms, including bacterial spores, which are highly resistant. Sterilisation is usually carried out by autoclaving, which consists of exposure to steam at 121°C under a pressure of 15 lb/in2 for 15 minutes.”
Ideally, anything that touches the skin should be sterilised. But what about communal tubs of wax which get dipped into by perfectly clean tools? Some companies are opting for wax rollers which are easier to sterilise. Dr Desai suggests one can take their own tub of wax to lower risk of cross-contamination due to dip-back, despite using sterilised tools.
CK Kumaravel, who co-founded Naturals, says his chain is now offering individual kits for certain procedures such as pedicure, manicure, facials, in addition to the house kit at the parlour. “There is an emerging business potential in this area of personal kits,” he says. These “monodoses” as Medha calls them, could be the new norm, but how sustainable and cost-effective will that be? The waste salons will produce may increase due to single-use products and their packaging.
For those who may not want to go into a spa or salon, because they may have health complications or live with a senior or a young child, there is always an online service. During the lockdown, Apoorva Shah*, an aesthetician in Delhi, whose many jobs before the pandemic were on-site through Urban Company, found her financial future fractured. She used to make ₹20,000 a month before the pandemic, but the last few months meant ₹8,000 a month, most of which would go to her living expenses.
She had to adapt quickly, she says, “I didn’t have a choice. I used WhatsApp video to demo face massages and guide clients who I have had long relationships with through the waxing process. I also guided some clients through cutting their kids’ hair.” She is not sure how procedures like threading, which require more expertise, will pan out. Perhaps, we will have more courses for laypeople to groom themselves, opening up a whole new scope for business.
*Name changed to protect identity . With inputs from Chitradeepa Anantharam