Hairdressers, makeup artists grapple with social distancing amid coronavirus outbreak

"People still want to look their best," one New Jersey hair stylist said. And "we're in an industry where we can't work from home."
A roadside barber wearing a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus gives a haircut to a customer in Hanoi on February 28, 2020. - The new coronavirus has peaked in China but could still grow into a pandemic, the World Health Organization warned, as infections mushroom in other countries.
A roadside barber wearing a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus gives a haircut to a customer in Hanoi on February 28, 2020. - The new coronavirus has peaked in China but could still grow into a pandemic, the World Health Organization warned, as infections mushroom in other countries.Manan Vatsyayana / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Except for doctors, maybe no one comes as physically close to their clients as hairdressers and makeup artists.

They literally get in your space.

Now amid the coronavirus pandemic, how can personal groomers and stylists abide by one of the most fundamental means of protection — social distancing?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people keep a distance of six feet from others to avoid spreading or catching the virus.

Hard to do when you are trimming a person’s hair, applying their makeup or giving them a new ‘do.

“We’re taking every precaution because this is definitely getting out of hand," said Carly Silva, who manages a salon in Jersey City, New Jersey, for the Bishops Cuts/Color chain. "But we're in an industry where we can't work from home."

Silva, like other stylists interviewed for this story, said her shop is sanitizing surfaces multiple times a day and urging employees who feel ill to stay home.

For customers willing to venture out, she's offering $25 coronavirus blowout and buzz-cut specials. A few customers have already taken advantage of it, she said.

"Even though they might not want to go outside, people still want to look their best. They know that we are safe and clean," she said.

In China, many barbershops were closed as of late February due to the coronavirus crisis.

In the case of shops that were open, barbers were required to call those who made reservations on the day of their appointments to ask if they had a cough or a fever, symptoms of pneumonia caused by the virus, according to information on the website of the Beijing Hairdressing and Beauty Association, The Associated Press reported. Customers were also required to maintain a distance of no less than 5 feet between chairs, the AP reported.

In the U.S., some salons have seen business dwindle.

“Our regular customers who have been with for us for a few years are still coming in because they know the precautions we are taking," Silva said. "But we have seen a decline in our walk-in service."

Timothy Lorincz, manager of another Bishops Cuts salon in Virginia Beach, told NBC News that he and his employees have removed some items that could spread germs, like magazines and books, and are using disinfectants approved by the CDC to sanitize doorknobs, computers, chairs and surfaces every hour.

"We've been going through gloves a lot more now," he said. "There's a lot more paranoia around this. But we are definitely paying attention to everything to make sure [Bishops] is a safe place."

Barber Elizio da Silva Gomes wears a protective mask and puts on his gloves at the Campos barbershop in Lisbon on March 12.Patricia de Melo Moreira / AFP - Getty Images

So far, business has remained steady, but the only thing his customers seem to be interested in discussing lately is the pandemic.

"A lot of our customers are in the medical field and the topic of conversation is about the virus," he said.

State cosmetology boards across the country have been posting tips on their websites on how to take preventative measures, including hand-washing immediately before and after working on a client.

“The profession of our licensees requires physical contact with consumers. It is essential for everyone to be proactive in washing their hands to prevent the spread of disease,” said Kristy Underwood, executive officer for the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, in a statement.

Makeup brands such as Ulta and Sephora have also made a number of changes in their stores. In a press release on Thursday, Ulta said it would no longer offer makeup and skin care services. Customers can still book hair appointments, the company said.

Sephora followed suit and said, for the time being, it is suspending paid and free in-store services and classes.

New York makeup artist Stephanie Paradiso primarily works in the bridal industry and said she's worried about how the virus will affect small business owners like herself.

"It is a concern that maybe the bride and groom may cancel their wedding. Right now, it’s not affecting me but it’s very real ... It could happen," she told NBC News. “We could lose out on money, and that’s scary.”

Paradiso, who's been in the business for 10 years, said cosmetologists need more information on what to do if a client they worked on develops the coronavirus. Typically, a makeup artist sanitizes brushes after each client and does not apply certain products, such as lipstick, directly on the customer.

It's "something we're worried about because it could cost a small business owner a lot to replace brushes and products," she said.

"We always practice great sanitation," Paradiso said. "We just need to be more cautious.”