It was an exciting moment when the British government declared that on Saturday 4th July, hairdressers, barbers, pubs and restaurants were permitted to open their doors for the first time since lockdown measures saw them close in March. We could finally tend to our roots and split ends, and – if we felt comfortable enough – meet our friends for a socially distant pint or two. But for beauty salons, the announcement felt like a kick in the teeth.
Although a close cousin to hairdressers and barber shops, salons and clinics specialising in beauty treatments such as waxing, nails, facials and aesthetics were not authorised to open. As of yesterday however (eight days later) beauty businesses were given the green light to resume trade, starting on Monday 13th July. There are, of course, countless restrictions in place.
Treatments on the body such as manicures, pedicures, leg or bikini waxing will be allowed, but a list of treatments that will not be allowed has been provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It includes: face waxing, sugaring or threading services, facial treatments, advanced facial technical (which essentially means electrical or mechanical, such as laser hair removal and electrolysis), eyelash treatments, makeup application, dermarolling, dermaplaning, microblading and eyebrow treatments. In fact, no facial treatments are allowed, as the face is considered a ‘high risk zone’.
Frustratingly, beard trimming will be permitted. The statement reads that it should be limited to “simple beard trims, thinning or removing bulk or length which can be done using either clippers or scissors”. It goes on to say that beard trims should be carried out from the side or by circling the customer in a bid to avoid the ‘high risk zone’, the face.
According to the National Hair & Beauty Federation website, the government’s decision is founded on scientific and medical advice. “Treatments or services provided in the ‘high risk zone’ directly in front of the client’s face are the most risky in terms of catching or spreading the virus, because splashes and droplets from the nose and mouth are present, even when they can’t be seen.” The federation is calling for this advice to be published, so that businesses can better understand the decision.
For its part, the beauty industry is in uproar. Beauty services are dominated by women, including salon owners, employees and customers, and to many, it feels as though there is a double standard at play. To the thousands of women for whom the beauty industry represents their livelihood, the steady lifting of lockdown seems to cater more to the needs and wants of men, with beard trims and haircuts, than it does women. As it stands, the decision to restrict certain beauty services feels unequal and arguably sexist.
Dija Ayodele, skin expert and founder of boutique clinic space West Room Aesthetics, says that the decision to allow beard trims but not other facial beauty treatments could be seen as inadvertently sexist. “Whether that is what the government has intended or not, it comes across as sexist because the beauty industry is dominated by women.”
“If barbers can do treatments closely to the face why can’t we?” asks Nez Hasan, beauty expert and founder of Nez Hasan salon in Kensington, which specialises in microblading, nails and lashes. “My main treatments are eyebrows,” adds Nez. “Clients must wear a mask, which would not affect the treatment. However, when a barber works, they will not be able to trim or shave a beard when the client is wearing a mask. The mask would need to come off. I feel as though women and beauty salons have been disregarded and made fun of by parliament. It’s like we’re not important.”
During a recent Prime Minister’s Questions, MPs appeared to mock the beauty industry. William Wragg MP asked Boris Johnson if beauty salons would reopen any time soon, including a salon in his constituency, called Lush Beauty. Johnson replied: “I am sure that one day I will be going with him to Lush Beauty [laughter in the benches] but it is a sad reality for many of these excellent businesses that they cannot reopen and I certainly share his sense of urgency and I know that people feel it across the country.” In just a few seconds, MPs belittled an industry worth billions (£14.2 billion in 2018, according to a report by Oxford Economics, commissioned by the British Beauty Council) and ridiculed the women behind its success. Frustratingly, Johnson did not provide a reason as to why these businesses cannot fully reopen.
This argument isn’t solely about us clients and our unruly brows. Beauty businesses are experiencing enormous losses. For Nez, closures have meant incredibly high expenses. “It’s been four months since we have closed and my salon is based in High Street Kensington. As you can imagine, the expenses are quite high. I had to pause certain outgoings to manage the months we were closed, as we knew we were going to have no income. It’s scary and I can’t imagine how so many businesses in this sector must feel that we still can’t fully open.”
Sherrille Riley, beauty expert and founder of Nails & Brows Mayfair, seconds this. She tells Refinery29: “The news is definitely disappointing and worrying financially. Not just for us at Nails & Brows but for the whole beauty industry. Beauty salons are businesses like those in any other industry. We are losing money every single day and despite being closed, we still have to pay rent and other reoccurring fixed costs.” Sherrille says she understands that the government has been trying to strategically manage the phasing out of lockdown but that it appears the beauty industry is at the bottom of the priority list. “Beauty has often been seen as frivolous and non-essential,” she says.
For Dija, the losses have been disheartening. “We are still paying rent and insurance and have lost around £60k worth of income,” she says. “Summer was supposed to be our busiest month and if we don’t open soon, we expect to see £90k worth of losses. We had many plans for the business that have all been put on hold. We have no degree of certainty, nothing.” The effect on smaller beauty businesses and self-employed beauty therapists can’t be ignored, either. Zoe Mawby, founder of Lash Artistry by Zoe, a business she runs from home, has not worked for six months. “I now have no business, no clients, no money, no savings,” she told R29. “I only have debt and anxiety. The wellbeing of men has been put before women. It’s saddening.”
Sherrille continued: “It’s just really disappointing, especially considering that beauty salons tend to practise good hygiene standards and are a sterile environment.” If you’re a regular at any beauty clinic, you’ll know that hygiene is a top priority and the government’s decision to allow beard trims and not other facial treatments just doesn’t wash with many salon owners. Even more infuriating is that beauty businesses up and down the UK are ready. Just like barbers and hairdressers, beauty therapists took the same measures in regard to stocking up on PPE (including masks, visors and sanitiser), making sure beauty stations adhere to strict social distancing requirements and doing away with waiting areas. At Nails & Brows, clients will only be accepted if they have an appointment, disposable tools including gloves and towels will be used, and customers are encouraged to bring in their own nail polish if they have booked in for a regular manicure. Surfaces will be cleaned thoroughly throughout the day and clients are expected to wear a mask during their appointment.
At West Room Aesthetics, Dija has sharpened practices. “We have visors, masks, gloves, antibacterial gel, disposable hand towels, disposable cups for coffee, a new payment system that is a wipe-down iPad and no more communal magazines or refreshments. I even ask deliveries to come to my house so that I can disinfect them first and I do a four-hour round trip to work to avoid public transport. We are doing everything to keep clients and employees safe.”
There is no clear reason as to why salon doors have been forced to stay closed for so long and facial treatments banned over beard trims, but Dija suspects ignorance. “It suggests the government doesn’t understand how the beauty industry works. Beauty and hair are closely related and this is the first time they have been separated like this. It shows that the government does not have an appreciation of beauty. It’s always been a sterile environment. Clinic health and safety is taken very seriously. In college, there are entire modules on how to keep your space safe and clean. The government simply does not have a good grasp of what happens in a beauty business.”
As it stands, there is no firm date as to when treatments provided in the ‘high risk zone’ will be able to resume. But beauty businesses and bodies like the National Hair & Beauty Federation are pushing hard for financial and business support for those who are unable to open just yet, not to mention better, clearer answers from the government.
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