How Edinburgh’s Beauty Industry Survives COVID-19


Following the Scottish government’s decision to close ‘non-essential’ hairdressers and beauty salons on 23rd March, Opulence Magazine caught up to two of Edinburgh’s leading beauty establishments to find out how they survived the economic impact of COVID-19.

When hairdressers and beauty salons across Scotland reopened their doors for the first time on Wednesday 15th July, the nation rushed to book in for their long-awaited post-lockdown haircut. In Phase 3 of Scotland’s route map out of lockdown, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave the go-ahead for hairdressers, barbers, and beauticians to reopen with enhanced hygiene measures. Along with the reopening of other retail services such as tailors and indoor hospitality establishments, Sturgeon described Phase 3, as “biggest step yet in exiting lockdown”. But after four months of no business how has the beauty industry in the nation’s capital been affected by COVID-19? And what does the future hold for the beauty industry going forward?

Enhanced Hygiene Measure

One of the most immediate priorities facing Hairdressers and Barbers ahead of reopening, included implementing safety measures to protect the welfare of both staff and customers. Providing close contact services during a time of government-enforced social distancing, presented the beauty and grooming industry with a unique set of challenges. The reality of returning to business with a ‘new normal’ required immense planning and strategy.

Speaking with Colin McAndrew, Managing Director of Medusa Hairdressing and recent British Hairdressing Business Awards 2020 nominee, the immediate joys of reopening salon doors were met with rigorous government guidelines. He explains, “We have obviously had to implement a lot of procedures that have to do with social distancing mainly in the salons”. “We’ve put barriers in the backwashes so that there is less potential contamination with the water sprays etc and have split the staff wherever possible into two teams so that they work different shift patterns”, he continues.

For barbers, The Players Lounge, newly enforced hygiene measures included limiting the number of clients entering the premises at one time and removing the previously designated waiting area. Founder of The Players Lounge, Suzie Gillespie, explained how the Rose Street barbers “installed Perspex screens in the salon at reception, between the backwash units, and at stylist stations to add an extra barrier to protect staff and clients.

 “Our team wear PPE, with new aprons, KN95 mask and visor or safety goggles and our clients must all wear masks” she continues. Suzie also states that The Players Lounge “have had a buy sterile boxes for peoples jackets and bags, and we have created a hygiene station on entering the salon where we take staff and client temperatures and have hand sanitiser and masks available”. Adding, “We can no longer offer magazines or style books”, Suzie has decided to “no longer offer our clients refreshments”. 

Unforeseen Changes

For Medusa, whose six salons can be found across Edinburgh, unexpected changes include “unfortunately having to use a lot more disposable items like gowns”. Colin states that “we always used disposable towels, but we recycled them before, whereas we’re not able to recycle them now and have to get them picked up in the general waste flow”. He continues “Our green ethos has sort of evaporated unfortunately during this time.

“And simple things, such as how we are not able to carry out any education to our trainees, so that has had a real negative effect on us, but we are working on looking into that as we move forward”, Colin explains. Working extended hours to fit in the backlog of the client bookings has also impacted the way Medusa and its salons have had to adjust to post COVID-19 operations.

Both establishments postponed non-essential treatments during the immediate reopening period. To reduce the amount of contact time spent with each client, Medusa opened without any beauty treatments and The Players Lounge has temporarily delayed services such as hot shaves. Customer interaction has additionally been affected by post-COVID regulations. To ensure the safety of its clients and staff, owner Suzie Gillespie says that “We can no longer greet our clients with hugs and handshakes which is sad”. 

Financial Impact

A noticeable consequence of COVID-19 for The Players Lounge has been its financial strain. “Firstly, the cost of the Perspex for the salon has been high and the cost of the PPE for staff and clients is very high”, says Suzie. “We are also only able to do limited services which has cut our income and because we are a city-centre location, we have many clients who work from home and do not want to use public transport etc to get into the city centre so have understandably chosen to have their hair cut locally in their neighbourhood” she adds. With events such as the Fringe Festival being cancelled, Suzie also mentions that the “lack of tourists has had a financial impact”.

Colin McAndrew of Medusa also confirmed financial losses during this period. He states, “we went from six salons putting money into the company every single week to literally zero”. The Managing Director continues, “It was as if somebody just switched the tap off one day”. However, deeming the Job Retention Scheme “a God-send”, Colin claims “the government support as it was financially was all fantastic and really well received and we are really thankful for it”.  He adds, “but it didn’t go far enough, especially in Scotland.”

The Future

Looking ahead, Medusa Hairdressing expects luxury services such as dye treatments and nails to subside. “Beauty and hair will be pretty recession-proof because everybody needs it done”, states the Managing Director. Expecting clients to begin choosing between necessary and habitual beauty treatments, Medusa remains optimistic. The Director explains, “there might be a softening of maintenance lead services, but I do think the luxury treatments like a massage will filter through, I think we are all desperate to pamper ourselves and look after ourselves a bit”. He identifies salon loyalty as the predominant business strategy going forward.

The Players Lounge is equally confident about the future. Owner Suzie Gillespie explains, “We are lucky in that we have been established for over thirteen years so have a big base of loyal clients”. Consequently, “the future of male grooming will always be good because ultimately most people feel better when they look their best”. “The men of Edinburgh do like to look good and this is something that will not change”, she adds.

Perhaps one of the most promising consequences of COVID-19 for the beauty industry has been the new-found appreciation for our city’s hairdressers and stylists. As Colin McAndrew explains, “Hairdressing has a reputation of putting itself down by … but during lockdown, it was really in the nation’s mindset just how important appearance is”. Feeling self-conscious about re-growing roots during Zoom meetings was a reality experienced by many. As a result of this, Colin admits, “There is a confidence change among hairdressers where we understand that we are actually really valued and likewise there is respect from salon clients”.

The future of the beauty industry in Edinburgh looks bright. With the lockdown lift in Scotland making life seem more normal by the day, we can expect too that people’s need to treat themselves will become paramount. Reimplementing self-care rituals will be a must going forward. Treating ourselves to a massage, a new set of acrylics, or a fresh haircut will, in time, help ease any post-COVID-19 tension and with it, support our city’s irreplaceable stylists and salons.