Q&A with UC Davis Health expert: COVID-19 advice on barbers, salons, tattoo parlors, massage services

Q&A with UC Davis Health expert: COVID-19 advice on barbers, salons, tattoo parlors, massage services


The full range of personal services and grooming businesses are now open to the public, but health officials and a UC Davis Health infectious disease expert say all the activities come with warnings.

Masks and face shields reduce the risk of a COVID-19 infection at hair or nail salons.
Masks and face shields reduce the risk of a COVID-19 infection at hair or nail salons.

Sacramento County’s June 19 order allowed the opening of personal services including nail salons, tattoo parlors and massage therapists, joining recently opened hair salons and barber shops. The order includes mask and social distancing requirements for employees and clients.

Natascha Tuznik, UC Davis Health associate professor of infectious disease, has a range of tips to help people stay safe if they go – but she starts with a strong caution.

“Just because more businesses are open, that does not mean COVID-19 is any less of a danger,” Tuznik said. “I understand how much people want to get out and get things done. But please remember, we’re in a public health crisis, not a beauty crisis. Be careful and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to do this?’”

Q: Is there advice that applies to all personal services?

A: As with almost any activity now, plan ahead and learn about their cleaning and safety protocols.

“Ask what they are doing to disinfect after every patron and how many people are allowed in at one time,” she said. “Also ask how they are screening their employees. I realize no one wants to sound demanding, but if they won’t tell you, go somewhere else.”

In addition:

  • Only go where it’s “reservation only” so they can control the number of patrons.
  • Be sure they really are requiring masks for everyone – customers and employees – in accordance with state and country rules.
  • You and the service providers are safest if they wear face shields over masks. If you can, choose businesses that use them.
  • Avoid any waiting areas unless you can easily remain 6 feet apart.
  • Do not get services that break the skin (more on this below). “That just allows another unprotected port of entry for the virus,” Tuznik said.

Q: What can you tell us about hair salons and barber shops?

A: “This takes some of the fun out of it, but no drinking any of their offerings,” Tuznik said. “And don’t read their magazines. Either bring a book or read your phone.”

More bad news: It’s best if you don’t let your stylist or barber blow dry your hair. “That propels particles much farther,” she said. “If your stylist is asymptomatic, this puts you and other people at risk. It defeats the whole reason for distancing.”

It would be safest if your stylist minimized the time when you are face-to-face.

“This last one is going to be tough,” Tuznik said. “But try to limit the conversation with your stylist. Talking expels a lot of particles. When you’re in the chair is the time to read that book.”

Q: How risky are nail salons?

A: “The governor voiced some very valid concerns,” Tuznik said. “You are face-to-face and closer than six feet for an extended period.”

Face shields are very important at nail salons. “You might call around to find a salon that uses them,” she said.

Try to get by with minimal services. “Now is not the time for a long, lingering service, though a pedicure is less risky,” Tuznik said.

Avoid having your cuticles done. “That risks a microtear in your skin,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t see or feel them, and you don’t have to be bleeding, but that is an unprotected place for the virus to enter your body.”

If possible, bring your own polish so you aren’t handling samples or swatches.

Q: What about getting waxed?

A: Bad idea, particular any waxing on the face. That’s another risk for microtears in the skin.

“I strongly suggest you avoid getting your eyebrows waxed.” Tuznik said. “Besides risking the microtraumas, the mucous membranes of your eyes are right there. Your eyes are a very vulnerable port of entry.”

Q: Is this a bad time to get a tattoo?

A: “This is one of the riskiest services you can get,” Tuznik said. “Someone will be very close to you for a long period of time and they are inducing trauma to your skin. No matter how well they clean, you and they don’t know if someone is asymptomatic. You have to seriously decide if it is worth the risk.”

Q: Can I get a massage?

A: Besides all the cautions about masks and distancing, get very clear answers about how well they disinfect between clients and about their laundering procedures.

Avoid massages in small rooms. If possible, ask that they open windows. But do not go where they use fans – those create strong, directed blasts of air that can carry the virus a long distance.

Try to limit the massage to work that does not require your therapist to get too close to your face. “Almost everyone who goes relishes getting their necks worked on,” Tuznik said, “but this might be the time to really get the kinks worked out of your legs and feet.”