While personal grooming was forced to take a backseat during restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, UAE residents are now slowly revisiting their hairdresser's chair as life returns to a new type of normal.
Salons and barbershops began welcoming clients for hair and nail services again in late April, after they closed for a month to stem the spread of Covid-19.
And while many salons across the country reported huge initial demand and overflowing waiting lists, there are still plenty of people who are too nervous to venture out in search of a haircut.
We visited Pastels Salon in Mercato Mall, Dubai, for highlights and a trim, to report back on what exactly you can expect from a trip to a salon amid the pandemic.
Before your treatment
The experience now often begins before you even step foot inside the salon. The day prior to your appointment, Pastels sends a WhatsApp message to inform clients that they are running at 30 per cent capacity and the team are "running a fully booked column with a waiting list".
You're then asked to give 24 hours' notice for a cancellation, as well as being sent a form to fill out – which asks for your name and details, whether or not you've been suffering from a sore throat or cough, if you've been in contact with anyone self-isolating, and confirming you won't be attending the appointment with anyone between the ages of 3 and 12 or over 60.
A helpful checklist is also sent via WhatsApp, outlining what exactly to expect from your appointment. It asks that clients have been in isolation for two weeks, that they fill out the aforementioned client declaration form, that they wear masks upon entering the salon and during the appointment, have their temperature checked at the door, sanitise and wash their hands on entry, cancel their appointment if they're feeling unwell and download the TraceCovid app.
Entering the salon
When I go in for my appointment, I'm perhaps a little eager to get into the hairdresser's chair, as I swing open the door without seeing the sign that asks clients to wait outside to have their temperature checked before entering. As such, I'm told to wait just outside the door, where a staff member comes to check my temperature, and only then am I allowed to go inside.
A sign on the counter sets out clear guidelines for how the salon is currently operating at 30 per cent capacity, and the strict health and safety measures in place.
"In addition to our already stringent standards as set by Dubai Municipality and DHA, we are regularly washing hands before and after every client, as well as sanitising surfaces, handles and chairs continuously throughout the day," it states, amongst several other points, such as making the use of hand sanitiser compulsory for both staff and clients.
Inside the salon
Hairdressers must now wear face masks throughout appointments, according to government regulations, and it's seemingly up to each salon to decide whether clients must follow the same rules. Pastels ask clients to keep them on.
My hairdresser, Emma, while understanding the importance of the rule, laments the loss of "connection" between her and her clients, and admits that now it's hard to tell if they actually like their new haircut.
As soon as I'm seated, Emma ensures I have my hands sprayed with hand sanitiser, and there are several bottles placed around the salon, so you'll never have to look far for a squirt. There are no magazines, and a huge focus on cleaning and sanitising – in the first 10 minutes I'm there, I witness two rounds of spot cleaning. There's only one other person in the salon having their hair done, and we're sat on opposite sides of the room.
Emma sits a safe distance away as she chats through options for my hair, but it's obviously not possible to stay this way the entire time. However, the face masks and gloves being worn provides extra peace of mind.
During your appointment
Getting used to having your quarterly life catch-ups with your hairdresser through a mask, and deciphering emotions through eye contact, is quite an adjustment, but you soon get used to it.
However, the mask does start to get itchy and hot during the appointment, which is the only real enduring reminder that this isn't your typical haircut.
No tea or coffee is offered, but this is reflective of the fact that it's Ramadan rather than a side effect of the pandemic. Before and after Ramadan, refreshments are offered in disposable cups.
There are about half a dozen staff around – two hairdressers, attendants and cleaners. The staff now work on a flexible rostering system, Emma tells me, where they will work one or two days and then have a day off. So if you have a particular hairdresser you prefer, it pays to check which day they're working.
All utensils are thoroughly cleaned between uses, as are the hair-washing chairs and common areas. Gloves are worn as the bleach is washed out of my hair, as well as when it's being shampooed, and only when I'm back in the chair and ready for my haircut, am I asked if it's alright if Emma removes the gloves. She does so with an extra squirt of hand sanitiser.
With the lack of reading material lying about, it is slightly trickier to pass the time, so it pays to bring your own book or have something to do on your phone.
Overall, I felt very safe in the salon. For starters, you are in a highly controlled environment. There are few people there at any one time, it is meticulously clean, and not once through the three hours I was at the salon did I feel at risk.