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Apples and Oranges: Coping with COVID coast-to-coast in the USA

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

So a new word has just entered my vocabulary: “Gray-Lo”, meaning a foxy mama who is letting her hair go “openly gray” during the pandemic.

Miss Lopez herself wouldn’t dream of doing so, we are sure. But La Lopez has most recently made headlines not with her usual sizzling couture, but by rocking a tie-dyed mask, gradient sunnies, oversized white sweatpants from The Mayfair Group, and a cute ribbed tank top by The Range, along with her signature bedazzled Timberland work boots. Other than the price-tag ($135 for the tank, srsly, J?), this is something any of us would wear every day IRL. We also took note of the mani, a deep red almond oval. Always good to see our favorite fly-girl fighting the powers of darkness.

But when we chatted coast-to-coast with beauty professionals, both Apples (NYC stylists) and Oranges (Californian counterparts), we found that their mood is generally, um, kinda tense.

David Stanko is a bi-coastal hair colorist working with The Salon Project by Joel Warren at Saks 5th Avenue ( and Cutler Salon NYC ( He divides his time between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Manhattan, and says, “COVID-19 has brought all hairdressers together under the umbrella of ‘We’re freaking out! Save our business!’ Whether or not to go gray is a major topic of beauty discussion, coast-to-coast.” David Stanko comments, “Rebooking in NYC for hair color is at an all-time low, and clients are extending visits to the extreme. For those who gave DIY hair color a try, some may keep it in-house, but most are likely to return to the salon when things go awry… and they will. A few might stay gray, but (fingers crossed), I’m hopeful the holidays will put them in the mood to get back to coloring. I predict it could be spring 2021 before we see all our color clients return.

Iconic beauty and brows guru Bobbe Joy Dawson is the author of the brand-new book, “Raising Eyebrows: Confessions of a Beverly Hills Makeup Artist”, ( and she cautions against the temptation to let it all hang out. She says, “Do not allow gray hairs to show in your brows, even when your hair turns gray. Start using a taupe powder brow pencil, since taupe is a cool color, like your gray. Powder brow pencils are softer than gels or lead pencils.

Here’s the larger sitch:


Although doors are open, and salons may operate at 50% capacity, we all know that New York City is not feeling like herself these days. The tourists are staying away, and locals who are able have headed en masse for the Montauks, the Hamptons, the Poconos, the Catskills, or maybe Bora Bora. As a result, NYC hospitality, entertainment venues and retail are all taking a massive hit, and even the Rockettes have hung up their dancing shoes until further notice.

One Manhattan-based brow specialist who asked to remain anonymous said, “Most of the salons and numerous small businesses had to close down. It’s a sad, unsettling feeling walking in the deserted city. Rows of empty chairs in the salons, protective plexi-glass partitions everywhere… and no clients. I’m working just a few hours, one day a week. Not much joy. There isn’t any glamour in any of it.

Salons in NYC are open, under strict pandemic guidelines. Meaning: no lobby area, no mingling, no torn, dog-eared magazines from 2009, no beverages offered, no food or drink in treatment areas, no meet and greet, no cuddles or hugs. Vaccuming, not sweeping, of floors is recommended. Exact change, check, or contactless pay system is de rigeur. It’s recommended that salons ditch their throw pillows and fabric-upholstered furniture. Testers are to be removed and discarded. The coffee-machine in the break-room has got to go! Everyone wears a mask, health-questions are asked at the door, and everyone is screened for fever before any contact is permitted. Strict social distancing is enforced between clients. 

Kali Ferrara, stylist for The Salon Project by Joel Warren at Saks Fifth Avenue, NYC, comments, “Every time you pay for a service by your stylist, they get a portion of what you pay. Their take-home is solely commission-based. If you are close to your stylist, and feel comfortable, ask them for their Venmo handle or send them money via Zelle. Not every stylist is employed the same way and may not be able to file for unemployment, so it could turn out to be a blessing to them at this very difficult time.

On the topic of going gray, she suggests, “No one cares more about the way your hair looks than your hairstylist, so do them and yourself a favor and take this time-out to just do nothing to your hair other than nourish it.” Since our usual appointments are on ice until TBD, Ferrara recommends fewer shampoos (2-3x per week), lowered settings on heat tools, and air-drying as much as possible. “Weekly Olaplex treatments will help to keep your hair growing strong, and weekly conditioning treatments will add moisture and luster. Keep your hair healthy from with inside out with a vitamin for hair and nails (I like Vitafusion’s Gorgeous Hair Skin and Nail gummies).

Gigi Manapat, Bloom Beauty Lounge ( in NYC, takes it all in stride. Her salon located on West 19th Street was vandalized during the riots, so smashed glass and stolen computers delayed re-opening until July 1. Among the current challenges: “Clients loved long, luxurious head massages from our assistants, but we don’t have assistants or cleaning staff anymore. Also, because we all wear masks, I can’t see the faces of new clients, a challenge since we use bone-structure and face-shape to sculpt the haircut. It’s also difficult to talk all day with a mask on over the blow-dryers. Working with a mask and protective eyewear is draining. I am in the beauty business and it ain’t cute. There is no end in sight.

She adds: “I need to wear more cotton. I wear a lot of vintage, and the polyester is killing me. A mask, goggles, synthetic fabric… it just doesn’t work.” On the plus side, she says, “I talk to my family more, take the time to cook my food and actually sit down and eat it instead of running down the street with a slice of pizza in my hand.

The reduction of staff has a surprising upside: “I am loving taking my time and not feeling rushed. I kept in touch with a lot of customers over lockdown. We were happy to see each other. Some of these clients I have known for about 13 years. For most of them, I am the first service they are having done, so it’s a big deal.

Naili Velez cuts and colors at the flagship salon to the Australian brand OriginalMineral, O & M NYC (, located in the meat-packing district of Manhattan. The brand specializes in clean color and products free from harsh chemicals. She offers a ray of sunshine: “Despite it all, COVID was a positive experience for us. We have been wanting to open on Sundays, and this gave us the perfect opportunity to do so. We have also gotten so close with our clients, which makes being with them in these uncertain times so much more amazing. Honestly, our clients are just amazing all around and supported us the whole way through. There’s nothing like a good haircut or color to refresh your attitude and after so long of being on the brink of madness, its exactly what everyone needs. We are grateful to still have a salon, our health and our amazing clients.


Some salons in California are open, under even stricter guidelines. Meaning: The same strict precautions observed in NYC, plus the fact that all beauty services must be performed outdoors. However, not every county in California offers this “al fresco” option to salons. There is substantial pushback from professionals and their clients, who consider salon services “essential.” Many salons are expected to open in defiance of state orders, and various actions of protest by hairdressers, nail techs and other beauty professionals are taking place as our fingers fly over the keys.

Nail services are legal when offered outdoors, with specific new guidelines, but we couldn’t locate anyone willing to talk about it.  Massage, body waxing and threading are allowed outdoors in many counties of California. When searching online, Los Angeles nail salons list themselves as “temporarily closed”; very few urban nail salons have access to a patio, porch or garden where business may be conducted. The result: the mani-pedi underground. The code among consumers is, leave a voice-message at the nail salon, and chances are, you’ll get a callback from a tech willing to make a house-call.

Hairdressers in California are permitted to cut hair in their outdoor location. Period. No shampoos, no chemical services (i.e. color, straightening, perms) may be legally offered by hairdressers anywhere in the Golden State. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health states, “Chemical hair services and shampooing cannot be performed outdoors due to the inability to ensure adequate drainage and proper waste disposal.” Clients must arrive with freshly washed hair, ready to be cut. Clients must wait, masked, in their vehicles, to be beckoned into the chair by the stylist, and many other rules apply.

West Hollywood colorist Marco Pelusi ( says, “The silver linings are around us everywhere! These are what we have to focus on, in order to survive this difficult time. I believe in using what we have here and now in the moment.” Pelusi cuts clients’ damp, just-shampooed hair on the sunny patio of his salon, and offers home color kits and online educational tutorials. As a midsummer refresher for hair that may be showing the effects of salon-withdrawal, he recommends his vitamin E-enriched Marco Color Smoothing Gloss, to tame even the most sun-baked frizzies.

Austin Bakri is Manager of Operations for Sola Salons ( She manages 5 Sola locations in California, and more than 100 other locations are owned by various franchisees, rented to more than 3,000 salon professionals throughout the state. She says, “As a salon suites concept, our business is completely shut down. Providing services outdoors (hair, nails, esthetics, massage, tanning, waxing, permanent makeup, eyelash extensions) just isn’t a realistic option for a Sola location that provides private studios for 30-40 salon professionals. Because of this, no services are being provided at this time.

Sola renters are “…frustrated to say the least,” says Bakri. “They feel mistreated, misunderstood and abandoned. These licensed professionals have spent hundreds of hours being trained in sanitation practices to specifically prevent virus transmission. The reality is the demand for personal care services has not gone away because of the shutdown. Just one of the many negative effects of this shutdown are underground services, meaning house-calls or salon professionals setting up shop in a section of their own residence. These underground services occur under no scrutiny to maintain even the pre-COVID levels of sanitation, increasing the risk of infection far beyond what it would be in a licensed establishment. The demand has not gone away, and customers will find a way to receive the services they need.

Alicia Orabella, advocate for beauty pro’s and owner of Orabella Hair Studio ( in Oakland, says, “I miss my studio. Sometimes, I just go visit it and sit in silence, taking in all that I have created over the past 7 years to remind myself to stay strong. I miss my clients the most. I miss the feeling of creativity. I miss travelling and teaching. I miss my entire professional life. I feel like my right arm has been severed. I often feel I am struggling to find my purpose.” Orabella is not currently offering any beauty services.

A Keune Academy Trainer, Orabella was a recent panelist for live virtual roundtable hosted by the Professional Beauty Association discussing the impacts of California’s salon closures. The panel explored, among other related topics, the 84% drop in salon industry employment in response to the pandemic. She adds, “My studio is in Alameda County which has been in ‘paused’ status since 6/29/2020. We have not been allowed to open. I am remaining compliant.

By Victoria Thomas

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