After Quarantine: What is the Future of Haircolor?

When beauty salons across the world began closing their doors due to the global health pandemic, most hairdressers warned their clients to not run for home box color.

“It’ll cost you a lot of money to do a color correction if you color your own hair and we have to fix it later,” they spurted, not realizing their entire clientele dynamic was in the balance. Clients believed them at first, clearing out any pharmacy or grocery store that carried root powder, a temporary cover-up that lasts until the next shampoo. This worked for the first week of quarantine, then faded to a dream by day sixteen.

With the government calling for another ten weeks before non-essential businesses reopen (salons included), clients may begin to rethink their hair strategy. After all, a grey rootline plus social distancing is too depressing for customers used to getting what they want, and what they want is great hair. States have banned curbside pickup, where colorists premix color and hand it off to guests without physical contact. This is expected, since keeping at six feet goes against a hairdresser’s nature-they are licensed to touch hair and skin, give hugs, and listen. Soon, even the most loyal of virus-fearing clients may begin researching how to color their hair at home.

When the ripples of unemployment begin to forge through the economy, one thing will become clear to those paying attention to the salon industry-things have changed. Even if the quarantine lifts within a month or two, 10% to 30% of clients will automatically fall away per industry norm when scheduling and location routines are disrupted, such as when a hairdresser moves to another salon or changes workdays. Although many stylists push through the income loss, and rebuild, some never survive the cut.

An impending recession will force another 50% of salon-goers to take a break as people are forced to choose which luxury service they refuse to sacrifice until things stabilize. Hair services stand a 16% chance of winning, as they compete with gym memberships, massages, lashes, nails, and Target.

Usually when clients break up with their hairdresser, they wait an extra year after their intended return date.

Thus, hair professionals are faced with a dire situation: 60% to 80% of their clientele will be wiped out by the plague that swept the world into quarantine, and that does not include clients who catch the virus and sadly pass away.

Once this storm breaks, however, the industry knows how to build. From beauty school, students are taught to talk to five people a day, use social media, show off their portfolios, offer promos, ask for referrals, attend networking events, and say yes to everything and to everyone until they have enough customers to pay their bills and feel successful. Then they turn it off and reap the return. Although most colorists are seasoned and have earned the right to refrain from marketing, they can do this.

Unless, of course, there is a second and third wave of the virus, or it simply won’t go away. Techinicians will have to use personal protective equipment for every service and disinfect the entire area between client visits, including the air, until there is a vaccine. Images of women getting balayage or a root touch up with their stylist in a near HAZMAT suit are not conducive to the salon experience- it simply won’t happen.

Eventually, clients will begin to embrace grey hair and many will grow their haircuts out, especially when friends and colleagues do the same. People may realize that an era of expensive grooming is over, and that they should have three months’ income in savings and get out of debt instead of buying bougie experiences that risk their bottom line. Hairdressing services will revert to the wealthy who are willing to risk their health for vanity, while the rest teach themselves how to cut hair at home, or succumb to budget chain stores known as “chop shops”.

There will always be human grooming, as seen in history from the beginning of papyrus and ancient scrolls. There will not, however, always be money for a salon tab that costs more than a week’s groceries, or the desire to risk infection by enhancing the look of hair. This beauty world cataclysm may cause a year to decade-long disruption-enough to turn beauty professionals to other means of employment, while huge corporations and online influencers sweep customers to DIY instead.

Rebecca Schembri is a writer and hair and makeup artist from Reno, Nevada, USA

Rebecca Schembri