This week, spas were allowed to open again as part of New York City’s Phase 3 reopenings. They are navigating a brave new world that prioritizes health and safety over pre-pandemic relaxation.
Phase 3 began on Monday and includes spas, tanning salons, nail salons and massage centers. Requirements include keeping capacity at 50%, taking social distancing measures, requiring masks and providing detailed rules on disinfection between use. For spas that have already reopened in other states like California, these new measures combined with consumer concerns have slowed business, but owners say the worst-case scenario would be if they were forced to close their doors due to another wave of coronavirus.
Dermalogica has been working with its 6,000 spa partners in the U.S. to provide guidance on reopening procedures. The brand launched a Clean Touch Certification open to the industry in May 2020 to standardize hygiene practices across all U.S. states.
“There are 50 different state boards, and there are safety and hygiene protocols for each one of those state board regulations,” said Heather Hickman, Dermalogica’s senior director of U.S. education. “We’ve pulled all of the current safety and hygiene protocols from all 50 of the states, and pulled out the most stringent of the safety protocols. For example, the guide uses California’s protocol for double sanitation of equipment, although some states call for single sanitation. Aestheticians doing facial procedures are also required to wear both face masks and face shields. “Everything that the client touches and everything that that professional skin therapist is going to touch will be sterile and sanitary,” she said.
In California, spas have been opened for several weeks and are seeing that consumers interested in booking appointments tend to be the most loyal of clients.
Los Angeles-based Tonic Wellness boutique’s one location has been re-opened since June 17. Its stringent new measures mean a lower number of appointments can be booked due to shorter hours of operation and an increase in cleaning time between appointments, from 20 minutes before the pandemic to 45 minutes now.
Tonic’s owner Possetta Koujo said that customer bookings have been “more than we expected,” but “a lot of our clients are still not as comfortable to come in.”
“We’ve been talking to a lot of our professional skin therapists as [the spas have] opened, and a lot of them had an existing client base who are ready to go back in,” said Hickman of Dermalogica’s partner spas. She did acknowledge that “some locations have clients that are just not ready to come back yet.” As an alternative, the brand is also offering virtual consultations.
Spa owners are reluctant to pass the extra costs of new protocols onto their clients as they strive to keep their current customers happy. Jean-Michel Balensi, the co-owner of California-based Balensi Spa, said that although he has seen some businesses add a Covid-19 surcharge of around $5, his spa is keeping prices the same. “I think it’s not right,” to add a surcharge, he said. “We shouldn’t put it to the customer.” The spa reopened June 23 with added measures including temperature checks, digital check-in, screening questions, a closed waiting room and UVC light sanitization.
“For this year, everything has to be baby steps,” said Koujo. “We just have to do as much as we can.”
Not all New York City spas have reopened immediately on the date they were allowed to. New York wellness spa Chillhouse announced on Instagram that it will be reopening in mid-July. New hygiene measures will include mandatory temperature checks, masks at all times, touchless hand sanitization, screen guards, six-feet social distancing, digital intake forms and no walk-in appointments. Aire Ancient Baths reopens in NYC on July 9. Shape House has not listed a reopening date, telling eager clients on Instagram that it is “unable to re-open NYC at this time.”
Rescue Spa said in an Instagram post on Monday that it is reopening for retail and hair services in New York with new sanitization, temperature checks and social distancing procedures in place. It will also be looking into virtual consultation services. Instagram commenters expressed their desire to return for facials.
“It’s going to be challenging. Definitely,” said Balensi of what business is going to be like for spas. “We’re going to need to change and to adapt. Before, you used to think about how you can improve new services, how you can bring more guests to your spa. Now, you have to figure out how to manage it.”
The Covid-19 shutdowns have already led to some permanent shutterings. Chillhouse announced last Wednesday that its Lower East Side location at 149 Essex will be closing permanently, and it will be focusing on its Soho location.
“It’s not what it used to be, and we have to accept that,” said Koujo. “We have to not rush into having more people come in. We just have to accept the fact that it’s going to take more time to receive the client and to check out the client. Definitely the best thing to do is to follow the CDC. This will help the city to keep staying open and not shut down again.”