*Disclaimer: This piece was originally written in August 2020. Current hair and nail salon regulations for the State of California may not be reflected. Please see the Blueprint for a Safer Economy for updated regulations.
Recently, California Governor Gavin Newson gave nail salons the clearance to reopen at 25% capacity — news that salon owners and nail techs had anxiously awaited since the country shut down in March. However, with multiple U.S. states re-tightening restrictions, the future still feels uncertain. In the interim, while salons waited for this seemingly hopeless “okay”, some beauty professionals decided to get creative with their services, giving rise to the outdoor nail salon.
Since I hadn’t been to a nail salon since the first week of March, I’d been dying to get colorful gels back on. But, was I desperate enough to brave the 90-degree heat? Turns out, I was. I booked an appointment for early August.
In California, there is a nail salon on almost every corner. When I saw on Instagram that one of the salons I follow had opened for outdoor services, my curiosity was piqued. I called Glo Nail Bar in Villa Park, CA to schedule a gel polish manicure as soon as possible.
The day before my service, I received a text from the salon informing me of the safety procedures. Chief among them was the warning to wear comfortable clothes, as the temperature was expected to reach 91 degrees. A mask would be required at all times.
The day of my appointment, I received another text: The salon was running behind. Would I mind coming in 15 minutes late? At 4:15, I approached the salon, wearing a cotton, sleeveless maxi dress and a mask. The entrance had the usual signage and decals such as “mask required” and a foot-operated door opener to greet guests.
The receptionist explained that, because of the heat, polish had been drying so fast that it called for slower application, thus backing all the appointments up. “We can only polish one finger, then have to cap the bottle and close it full, before opening it again to do another,” she says.
She took my temperature and asked me to use hand sanitizer before I sat down and waited. The once-packed salon sprawled out in front of us was now completely empty.
Glo’s version of an outdoor salon is calming and airy, much like a cabana at a Vegas pool. There are six stations, three on each side, all under a flowing, draped tent. Down the center of the makeshift salon is a table with necessary soaks for pedicures. Since the stations had tubs, they could be used for pedicures with trays that folded out at the top for manicures.
I sat down and was grateful to immediately be offered a bottle of water. My nail tech, Ivy, even reminded me to take a sip throughout the service to stay hydrated. She also placed a cooling wrap around my neck, which helped immensely. A fan blew directly on the two of us, providing instant relief.
The outdoor salon was almost completely full; four of the six chairs were taken. Still, everyone wore masks, as well as gloves for the nail technicians.
Ivy tells me that the heat hasn’t deterred the clientele, although there has been a spike in cancellations on days the weather becomes extreme. (The week prior, Villa Park had seen a high of 104 degrees).
But, this was a Friday — traditionally one of the busiest days in the salon, and I knew Glo maintained its 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. hours. Being a SoCal native, I was well aware that by 10:00 a.m. in August, it could already be 80 degrees.
In a place where contact is inevitable, I was impressed by how the salon attempted to minimize touch points. In place of the traditional polish wall, there were outlines of bottles against a clear acrylic background. Each was colored in, showing the available options. Clear partitions separated each of the stations, and card payments were the only method accepted. Gone were the glass candy jars and magazines that sat up front.
During my appointment, I overheard a client from across the way say that hair salons might open as early as August 31 – three days from my visit. I perked up, and Ivy had heard it too. She turned to me and said, “I wonder if that includes nails.”
She had been out of work from March to June. Then, after another round of closures in July, she finally resumed working outdoors in early August. “I don’t know why he doesn’t seem to like us,” she says in reference to Governor Newsom, who okayed salon reopenings back in June, only to shut them down again five weeks later.
I hate to say it, but I realized then that I didn’t know when exactly I would be able to get another manicure. The heat from the LED lamp was nothing compared to the heat outside. In fact, I found it comforting to have my hands back in the care of another and in the warm glow of the lamp. It was then I remembered why we all need the pampering of a salon.
Ivy and I spent our last few minutes inside. Our release from the heat was a welcomed one, as she snapped photos of my nails in the salon lightbox.
I left my appointment feeling more like myself than I had in a very long time. I rubbed my fingers over the durable and glossy smoothness of my gel tips and stretched out my hand under the hot sun to take in the full scope of the artwork. I happily removed my mask and realized I had sweat through the top of my dress.
After returning home, I searched and found California’s new color-coded plan for reopening. I looked for details on Orange County nail salons and found my answer: “Can open outdoors only with modifications.” At the time, I thought of Ivy, who I’d asked if she worked the following day.
“Yes,” she replied, exhausted. “Hopefully it’s cooler.”