How the Kansas beauty industry is keeping you safe from COVID-19

October 2, 2020 8:40 am

Nicole Hines, vice chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Cosmetology, says customers’ new understanding of safety precautions at salons “gives our industry a little more respect.” (Submitted by Nicole Hines to Kansas Reflector)

Let’s pause to congratulate the Kansas beauty industry for doing its part to fight the pandemic.

“We have had no known outbreaks in any of our hair salons, our barber shops,” Gov. Laura Kelly said during one of her news briefing a couple of weeks ago, after the Kansas Department of Health and Environment began disclosing the names of businesses with active COVID-19 clusters. She also noted that restaurants had done “a great job of opening in a safe manner” (bars were another story).

Remember how badly we wanted haircuts, back in the beginning? How scared some of us were that our roots might start showing? How political it got, like when that barber in McPherson threw a fit about Kelly’s temporary shutdown?

Business is booming now, says Nicole Hines, who owns Bella Bar, a waxing, sugaring and skin care salon in Leawood (she also has a location in Kansas City, Missouri) and is vice chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Cosmetology.

“I’m more busy personally, and my nail tech and my lash person have gotten more busy post-quarantine,” Hines says.

All of the fraughtness in the beginning was understandable, she says.

“We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” she says. “So many salons have such high volume, where a stylist or aesthetician could be seeing 15 or 20 people a day. That’s a lot of volume, a lot of people, and we needed to figure out what was going on.”

The Kansas Board of Cosmetology currently licenses 4,695 establishments that employ nearly 26,000 hair stylists, nail technicians, aestheticians, tattoo artists and electrologists. The board also oversees cosmetology schools (but not barber shops).

Most of us, I’m guessing, never spent much time thinking about how hard people in this industry work to keep their customers safe even when they’re not in the middle of a global health crisis.

“Our practitioners are already very familiar with a high level of infection control standards,” says Laura Gloeckner, the cosmetology board’s executive director.

When COVID hit, Gloeckner immediately began issuing bulletins with information, resources and guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and KDHE.

“In years past, people may have questioned why this industry is regulated. This is the exact reason,” says board chairman David Yocum, director of Bellus Academy, a cosmetology school in Manhattan.

David Yocum, chairman of the Kansas Board of Cosmetology, is director of Bellus Academy, a cosmetology school in Manhattan. (Submitted by David Yocum to Kansas Reflector)

Hines says she made it clear to all of her clients that masks were mandatory even before state or county mandates. And she’s grateful no one has hassled her or her employees about it. What she’s heard instead is gratitude — people thanking her for having protocols in place.

“Prior to COVID, people probably just came in door and didn’t think a lot about cleaning,” Hines says. “Now not only do they have to think about it, they’re involved — washing their hands, putting their items in bins, all of these things they haven’t thought about before. It gives our industry a little more respect, I think.”

But let’s be honest. Not everyone has been on their best behavior. Like, trying to book appointments after partying without precautions.

“That’s the more difficult piece: those who are exposing themselves and then coming in,” Yocum says.

That phenomenon isn’t limited to the beauty industry, of course — everywhere, people are navigating around others who obviously can’t be bothered by doing simple things to protect their fellow humans.

Hines sends all of her clients a wellness form before their appointment, asking if they’ve traveled, or been around anyone who’s tested positive, or are feeling sick themselves.

“So even for clients who maybe have gone to the Ozarks, it makes them stop and pause,” she says. “They don’t have to be honest — at some point this is about us pulling together as a community and deciding we need to take care of each other — but it does make people pause for a second and think, ‘Wait a second, I guess I’ll have to reschedule.’ ”

Hines isn’t surprised that she’s so busy. She’s been in business for nearly 30 years, and saw business boom after 9/11 and again after the housing market crashed — any time there’s been a crisis.

“Even more so in times of peril, pain, frustration, people want to feel good,” Hines says. “They also want to feel normal. So keeping a hair appointment or lash appointment when you’re only going back home afterwards, that keeps up that sense of normalcy.”

Keeping up a sense of normalcy requires extra work for everyone. You might not be able to give your stylist a hug, but you can leave a generous tip.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.