Beauty salons criticise government’s ‘sexist’ reopening guidelines


Beauty salons in England have been forced to delay reopening fully after Boris Johnson postponed lifting lockdown restrictions further due to a rise in Covid-19 infections.

Salons were initially permitted to reopen, along with tattoo parlours, tanning shops, and nail bars, partially on 13 July and were meant to reopen fully on 1 August to allow treatments involving the face. However, this has now been delayed to the increase in coronavirus cases in the north of England.

Salons have been told that facial treatments are still too dangerous due to the increased risk of spreading Covid-19 between workers and customers. This is because splashes and droplets from the nose and mouth could be easily transmitted from one person to another. Although workers understand the science, they have criticised the details of the plan as “sexist” because the list of permissible treatments deem a beard trim safe, but eyebrow threading unsafe, when both require close proximity.

The discrepancy has sparked outrage in the beauty industry. The Beauty Guild, the UK’s largest trade body representing over 16,000 beauty professionals, has written an open letter to Boris Johnson, urging him to reconsider, stating: “While it is understandable that some treatments must remain off-limits, there is no scientific reason why eyebrow treatments pose more of a threat than beard trimming.”

Beauty Guild director Rebecca Archer says the large majority of its members are female entrepreneurs who have suffered financial hardship during lockdown. “Imposing further unnecessary restrictions on their livelihoods is grossly unfair,” she tells The Independent, adding that the rules “favour the grooming needs of men over women”.

Salon owners are equally frustrated by the restrictions. “This is such a patriarchal issue to allow barbers to provide facial treatments for men, while women can’t get any facial treatments at all,” says Aya Hassan, founder of Portobello Girl beauty salon in west London, who pointed out that barbers often administer facial treatments themselves on men. “They all have steamer cabins for hot towels, so what is the difference?” she asks.

Several beauticians have argued that the rules don’t make sense in terms of proximity to the client, given that you have to be just as close to someone to trim their beard as you do to wax their eyebrows, for example. “I find it hard to believe it makes a difference if you are cutting hair, trimming a beard, doing nails or facials,” says Katie White, facialist at Re:lax in east London.

“We haven’t seen any science that confirms the virus can tell the difference between 10, 20 or 30cm distance, nor if the facial hair belongs to a man or a woman. In all of these treatments you are touching the client, hence the need for PPE, taking temperatures on arrival, having hand sanitation stations on entry and very strict cleaning protocols. It does feel like it is one rule for men and another for women.”

Many salons will lose out on a significant portion of their business due to the rules. Sam Marshall, owner of The Beauty Guru in Salford, explains that facial treatments are one of their key services, making up almost a third of the business. “This will be a major blow,” she adds. Similarly, Penny Weston, director of Moddershall Oaks Country Spa Retreat in Staffordshire, says that not being able to offer facials will result in a 25 per cent loss in revenue. “However, it is not just treatment revenue we will be losing, as we use our facial treatments as a springboard for the retail of our products,” she adds, explaining that the spa profits significantly from the facial products purchased after a treatment.

This will be a major blow

Sam Marshall, The Beauty Guru

While salons offering a wide range of services have opened up, those that offer specialist brow or lash treatments have been forced to remain closed.

Brow specialist Liarna Jessica Yearwood, director of Liarna Jessica London, explains that her company has not received any support from the government because she uses a shared space and is therefore not eligible for any grants. “We have not had any income since 23 March, but we still have ongoing business expenses to pay out. There is a real risk that we may not survive if we do not start working very soon,” she says. “I know this is the same situation for many other beauty-based businesses. I would urge the government to reconsider and our clients would support us in this.”

For some salon owners, it’s already a case of being too little, too late. Edyta Kurowska launched a new lash bar in Oxford Circus shortly before lockdown began and after one week of successful business, has been forced to close down. “To me, it seems like pure sexism,” she says, stressing that her treatments do not require close contact. “I sit behind my clients, there is no face-to-face contact,” she says.

“I can’t imagine you can trim a beard without getting closer to the person than eyelash extension applications require. I am absolutely heartbroken at how beauty businesses have been treated by the government during this pandemic.”

Many industry professionals complain the rules highlight how the beauty industry had long been wrongly perceived as superficial, despite the fact that it’s worth nearly £30bn to the UK economy. This view was highlighted in Prime Minister’s Questions last week, when Mr Johnson was criticised for his response to an enquiry from William Wragg MP about when salons might be able to open. “I am sure that one day I will go with my honourable friend to Lush Beauty, but it is a sad reality for many of those excellent businesses that they cannot yet open in the way they
want,” he said.

Leisa Roberts, who runs a brow studio in Chester, says such a response shows how the industry is disregarded by those in power. “It’s evident from recent comments and laughter from Prime Minister’s Questions, as an industry we are perceived as frivolous and unnecessary when in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says.

“We treat thousands of clients suffering after chemotherapy, from alopecia, polycystic ovaries, or low self-esteem and take our roles in their recovery and safety very seriously.” Roberts adds that not being able to administer any eyebrow treatments is “catastrophic” for her business. “Beauty businesses as a whole are now under severe financial strain and at risk of closure.”

A government spokesperson told The Independent that the guidance had been developed alongside the beauty industry and did not indicate any change of rules would be forthcoming, despite the widespread criticism. “Treatments, for example, eyelash extensions, which require the practitioner to be very close to the client’s face for an extended period of time, put workers and customers at a much greater risk of transmission of the virus. These should therefore not take place.

“The guidance is clear that intricate detailing, outlining or shaving of beards should also not be provided and very basic trimming of beards should only take place if away from the highest risk zone – the area in front of the face.”