Hairdressing: not allowed
  • After almost three months, beauty and hair salons will be allowed to open soon, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday evening.
  • But many have been offering their services illegally during lockdown - either from their back rooms or by bringing manicures and other treatments to clients.
  • Massages have been in particular demand.
  • For more stories go to

During lockdown, many South African beauty therapists and hairdressers have turned to underground work to put food on the table and avoid losing their clients.

Hair and beauty salons have been banned from working since the start of the lockdown, on 27 March. Government said the risk of coronavirus transmission with these services is too high, and warned that they may only open when South Africa reaches Level 1.  

But on Wednesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announced that the government intended to reopen salons during Level 3 soon – but no date was given.

Elna Hagen, president of the South African Association of Health and Skincare Professionals, during an interview, says: “We are very disappointed that there is no reopening date. We understand that the government needs to finalise all the industry-specific protocols before giving the green light.”

“The industry hopes that we will be able to open again on Monday, June 22. Others are saying July 1,” Hagen says.

During the almost three months of lockdown, many salon owners have turned to working illegally – some even openly from their premises.

“I have heard of a few salons in Gauteng that opened their doors, and the authorities came and closed them. The police arrested people and fined them,” Hagen says.

““Everyone is working underground in ways big and small,” says Brooklyn (not her real name), a Gauteng-based beauty therapist.

 “Most beauty salons operate on a day-to-day basis, and they have no choice but to work during the lockdown,” Brooklyn says. “Clients are begging me to sneak them in. The clients are just as much criminals as the therapists.”

She says there was tension between therapists working underground as opposed to those who shut their businesses.

“There is a lot of anger. The beauty therapists who are working underground are stealing and attacking our client base. Things are getting frustrating and ugly,” Brooklyn says.

Gizelle, not her real name, a Gauteng-based beauty therapist, says she is working undercover.

“I don’t accept these rules, and that is why I’m breaking the law. I don’t agree with them. It doesn’t make any sense,” she says.

Gizelle says the biggest priorities for clients are nails, waxing and eyelash extensions.

There is also a big demand from people needing a massage due to back pain as a result of being stuck at home, “attending Zoom meetings all day”, and not being able to move around, Brooklyn says.

Some therapists are doing underground work by visiting their clients’ homes, hiding their equipment in their cars in inventive ways, she adds. In her area, therapists are charging a travel fee of R200 to go to their clients’ homes.

Gizelle works from home where she has a room set up.

Most of her clients come directly to her. At the start of the lockdown, however, when South Africans could only go out for essential trips like grocery shopping, Gizelle brought some of her clients to her home in a clandestine way.

She would pick them up from a nearby shopping centre and ferried them to her home in the back seat of a car with tinted windows.

“All this sneaking around is terrible. At times I do feel guilty,” Gizelle says.

But she has gained ten new clients during the lockdown, partly because the major beauty salon chains are still closed.

Brooklyn says that some of the therapists had hiked their prices in response to increased beauty product prices such as waxing products and gels.

She says while cash was king, during lockdown therapists in the industry usually asked their clients to pay via electronic funds transfer to change the reference for the payment to that of a product to conceal the fact that it was for a treatment.

Outlook for the beauty industry: Not pretty

A recent industry report predicted that a quarter of local beauty salons might close for good due to the lockdown, Hagen says. They don’t have funds to pay for the personal protective equipment required when the industry reopens, she adds.

“Our industry consists of many one-man bands. These people can’t claim unemployment insurance. There is no help from the government,” Hagen says.

CEO designate Linda Sinclair of Sorbet, the biggest beauty salon group in SA, says that to deal with the hardship faced by the 3,500 people that work for their franchisees, the company had distributed R7 million in food vouchers in recent weeks.

“It has been extremely stressful. The whole industry has been hard hit. We are in a fortunate position in that Long4Life owns us,” she says. Brian Joffe, CEO of JSE-listed Long4Life, says that the company was “very concerned” about the effect that the lockdown was having on Sorbet staff.

Sorbet has 225 stores, closed since lockdown started on March 27.

Sinclair says that the company was in constant contact with their franchisees to see what support they needed.

“We have been helping to engage with landlords on their behalf to get rental relief. We have waived and deferred all franchisee fees,” she says.

Sorbet bought all their franchisees’ personal protective equipment, so they are ready for when the industry reopens, Sinclair says.


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