California Rules Allowing Outdoor Hair Styling Cut Both Ways

While some stylists are eager to get back to work any way they can, others worry the guidelines are impractical and unsafe

Hair stylists have been on a pandemic roller coaster of closing, reopening, and closing again. Yesterday, Gavin Newsom added a new turn, allowing hair salons and other personal service providers to get back to work, as long as they only see clients outdoors. But what is it really like to get an outdoor haircut in California–and it is even a good idea?

For some stylists, working outside is better than not working at all. The Professional Beauty Federation of California, a trade group that represents thousands of the state’s service providers, was instrumental in lobbying for outdoor services to be allowed.

“If you can waive rule after rule after rule for taking booze outside, you can let these people take their business outside,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson, an advocate for allowing outdoor haircuts, said on July 17 at a press conference held alongside representatives of the PBFC. “There are individuals who have put all their life savings and all their dreams into the operations of their shops, only to be told, ‘You can’t go outside. You can’t operate in a way that others operate.’ And it is arbitrary and unfair.”

The state agreed, and the Department of Public Health issued guidelines in conjunction with the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology that set up a framework for outside styling. New rules include that services should be performed under a tent or canopy, and that after cutting hair, the clippings should be vacuumed up after an outdoor haircut rather than swept away. While the guidelines allow for hair, nail, and massage services, any services that “must be done in a hygienic environment” must remain closed. Examples offered for those include tattoos, piercings, and electrolysis.

But all the suggestions for distancing when possible, disinfecting stations, and wearing masks don’t do enough to convince many hair professionals that working outdoors will be safe for them or their clients.

“Having hair salons operate outside is a bad bandaid on a large wound,” Margeaux Hamrock, co-owner of Salon Wire in Long Beach, wrote in a statement on Instagram. “There is no way cutting hair outside in the summer and dragging our shop in and out every day just for our guests to have to wear capes and masks in the heat (sounds like borderline torture) is a solution.”

Hamrock also noted that not all salons have access to outdoor spaces to begin with, and that, while permitting for outdoor dining has been fast-tracked in some parts of the county, it’s not clear that similar provisions have been put in place for businesses that want to provide outdoor haircut and personal care services.

Hair color, which some stylists report represents the bulk of the appointments at salons with primarily female clientele, presents a particular challenge. Not all salons are comfortable investing in outdoor sinks for rinsing hair, and the color may require clients to sit for long periods of time to process, extending the interaction with the stylist.

But for other hair professionals, working outside is better than not working at all.

“I’m very capable of moving my entire salon outside,” Christina Maniaci of Salon Toche in Redondo Beach told ABC 7. “It’s cleaner and it’s safer to come in to get a hair cut than it actually is to go to the grocery store.”

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