Embracing Salons in the New Normal by Glenn Poy

For the beauty industry, August is upon us.

Following lockdown, most skin care centres and salons are excited to see their clients and to return to some semblance of a productive work schedule.  Clients have been forced into a four-month hiatus from skin care treatments, and potential clients are now seeking help for skin conditions arising from the stress and impact of lockdown.

Salons are Essential Businesses

Salons provide the essential services and the human connection touch that their clients seek.

The British Beauty Council’s statistics highlight the significance of the beauty industry to the UK economy, contributing £28.4 billion to UK GDP and providing jobs for 370,000 employees, 150,300 of which provide services.

The salon industry comprises predominantly women entrepreneurs and business owners who seek financial independence.  Their businesses are significant job creators, employing predominantly women and contributing significantly in tax revenues.  Cosmetics Design Europe estimates that skin care services account for roughly 30% of the total client expenditures in salons, amounting to nearly £8 billion in 2017.  Salon businesses are clear providers of skin health and mental well-being to their clients.

As a comparison, data from the Office of National Statistics indicates that the UK automotive industry contributed £18.2 billion to UK GDP in 2018 and employed 166,000 people.  This highlights the relative significance of the beauty industry to our UK economy, one that has not been understood or acknowledged by our government.

In Parliament recently, Prime Minister Johnson and MP William Wragg took the floor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg5ZVWNB0_U) and provided a shameful exchange to point out that the beauty industry would need to be “COVID secure” prior to opening.  It is quite clear that as members and leaders in the industry, we have a long road ahead to educate and help our own government understand our industry and its value to salon clients and our economy, such that government may forward informed, credible decisions and guidelines to open or support the beauty industry, and not put it in jeopardy.

The value and contribution of salon owners and skin therapists as care givers in enhancing the physical skin health and mental well-being of its clients, and the resulting impact on community and economy cannot be fully measured.  However, it is clear the hindering this industry would be devastating overall.

The beauty industry deserves a lot more consideration, understanding and respect than our (honourable) MPs have shown in Parliament.

Salons are COVID Secure

Salons have generally always taken pride in providing an environment that is clean and sanitary, with fresh sheets, towels and gowns for each client appointment, sterilized equipment and trays, clean surfaces and, product containers that are wiped down, as it is their working environment and requirement to maintain the reputation of skin therapists, salon owners and the industry to have an enduring and viable business.

Many, if not all, of the main product manufacturers and suppliers, industry councils and governing bodies have provided carefully researched standards and protocols for cleanliness, sanitization and social distancing, as well as guidance on use of personal protective equipment, including masks and visors.  Detailed consideration has also been given to hand and product container sanitization, revision of appointment schedules to ensure client safety with sufficient time between bookings to clean and disinfect the treatment room, products, equipment and tools, in preparation  for reopening.

Given the impact of the COVID pandemic, the British Beauty Council, UK Spa association and industry suppliers such as L’Oreal, Dermalogica, Aromatherapy Associates and Phorest, among others, have set out guidelines, protocols and business guidance to help salon business partners to reopen.  The industry and its members have taken the pandemic very seriously, and have introduced workshops and certifications to support the wider industry post-lockdown, to ensure that client and staff safety is paramount.

Serving Clients is Salons’ Top Priority

One important area that has not had as much visibility is consideration of clients’ needs.  Each and every one of us has been in isolation from others, including close family, friends, co-workers, medical advisors, fitness clubs and social activities for a significant and abnormal amount of time.  We have all experienced the impact of isolation on mental well-being, either first-hand or through someone close.

A recent MentalHealth.org.uk study found that 24% of adults experienced loneliness in the previous two weeks compared to 10% pre-lockdown, with the biggest rise in the 18 – 24 year old age group, from 16% before lockdown to 44%.  It highlighted that mental health disorders account for almost one-quarter of the total burden of ill health in the UK.  Long-term loneliness is associated with the increased risk of mental health problems including depression, anxiety and increased stress which can be hard to manage, particularly for those living alone, in poor health or in rented accommodation.  This affects productivity, quality of work and unemployment, and peoples’ ability to cope and integrate with others outside the family.

In another study, Health.org.uk found that more than two-thirds of UK adults worry about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, with 63% of adults worried about the future and 56% feeling stressed and anxious.  The study concluded that the pandemic has resulted in a decline on average of 8.1% in mental health.  Young adults and women have been particularly affected by social isolation and the loss of coping mechanisms (for example, seeing an assuring friend or performing regular routines like fitness, visiting a salon or department store, sitting in a garden, or being at work).

Skin issues like eczema, rosacea, severe break outs, oiliness, dry skin or age lines can have a physical impact on the skin, as well as a dramatic impact on an individual’s confidence and well-being.  Many skin therapists have seen the devastating impact of skin conditions and problems on the mental state and health of some of their clients – young and old alike, that prevent them from setting foot outside their homes, either traumatized or just lacking confidence to do so.  Skin therapists contribute to their clients’ self-esteem and confidence through the results achieved with their skin care services and treatments.  As well, they have developed special relationships and bonds with clients who book regular appointments for skin care services – clients who would otherwise be isolated from the community.

A while ago, I read a letter from a young lady, who like countless others, was not able to leave her family home for a number of months because of how severe acne and breakouts had affected her skin.  She had lost all confidence and felt helpless and unable to find a solution.  With a chance introduction to a Dermalogica salon and skin therapist, her skin condition was appropriately diagnosed and treated, and home care products recommended.  Months later, with her skin repaired and recovering confidence, good fortune led her to train for a career to help others.  Her letter and photo conveyed her joy of having healthy skin and new confidence, wearing no make-up and serving as a community policewoman in her local town.

We can all relate to a parent, or person who has a regular appointment at the hair salon or skin care centre.  The skin therapist may be the only person the individual has contact and interacts with, that listens to her and provides the human connection that is such a special part of the beauty industry.  Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, spoke fondly about her early experiences as a skin therapist and an elderly client who regularly travelled across town on two buses to her skin care appointment as it was the only time that someone touched her.  This is an common example of what drives the industry – helping clients achieve skin health and building human connection.

The beauty industry changes lives – of both clients and skin care professionals – contributing to and supporting clients’ physical and mental well-being, and providing education and business support to give women business owners the opportunity to take control of their future to achieve financial independence.

There’s Much to Do

There is talk that a second wave of COVID may be upon us as the weather gets colder and for some time following.

In addition to the cleanliness, sanitization and social distancing standards that are already in place or being implemented, salons and salon professionals clearly contribute to the physical and mental well-being of the clients they serve, to enable them to confidently and positively contribute, within their families, their workplaces and to our economy.

There are a number of areas to consider for industry professionals and suppliers alike.  Salons and skin care therapists will clearly continue to ensure a safe, clean and sanitary environment for their clients, staff and reputation.  Importantly, serving their clients’ needs to address their skin health challenges or supporting their need for human connection, are key to building long-term success and reward.

Businesses and beauty brands, in addition to supplying the products and training to salons, play an important role to:

  1. Inspire salon owners and skin therapists and remind them of their value in building human connection, and their valuable role in helping their clients to maintain or improve mental well-being while addressing their skin health needs;
  2. Gather and share information, offer education and recommendations on sanitization, safety, personal protective equipment – quality, proper use and fit, and related suppliers based on their research and testing;
  3. Help salon owners and skin therapists define the new normal, and how to recalibrate their businesses to be successful;
  4. Participate with association bodies like the British Beauty Council, BABTAC, Spa and other trade associations, to educate Government to help MPs to appreciate, understand, and make considered and informed decisions that impact the industry in a constructive and respectful way, and to be prepared to do so should a future crisis arise.

We have a responsibility to uphold and create a foundation for success for all who participate in this great industry and community.

Written by Glenn Poy

Glenn Poy is a 25 year veteran in the beauty industry, and former Vice President and General Manager, Dermalogica (UK) Ltd.  He is passionate about ensuring a clear view of leadership, strategy, people and technology to build success in a changing world.