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How the pandemic affected women at that frontline of the beauty industry

Frontline workers need us more than ever. 

A major concern for the last year has been whether it’s safe to receive beauty services during a pandemic. DIY beauty care gained popularity while in-house salons emptied by the day. While most of us were looking at our cuticles and dead ends, our beauty workers were facing fear that their business, their families, and their own health was at risk.

SEE ALSO: I started a successful small business in the middle of a global pandemic. Here’s how I did it.

The market size of hair, skin, and nail salons in the U.S. dropped 18.76 billion U.S. dollars from 2019 to 2021 due to the closure of businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Looking back at the pandemic shutdowns and honoring Women’s History Month, Very Good Light asked powerful leaders on the frontline of beauty about their experience, and discussed the hardships in the beauty business both before and during COVID.

Chryzhelle Cinco is a Filipino 24-year old esthetician from the Bay Area in California. She recently opened the doors to her business, Chryzhelle’s Aesthetics, at the beginning of March in a city called Pleasanton.

“My whole life [my mom] has pushed this idea that I should become a doctor or something in the medical field, which I was so against because it was such a stereotypical thing for a Filipino or an Asian to do,” Chryzhelle says, to Very Good Light.

Not only did she face racial conflict, but gender bias as well. “I come from such a matriarchal family, so it is definitely empowering to be a female business owner in such a male dominated society,” she tells us.

Adrianna Norton is a hair colorist from New York City, who began working at a salon at age 15, but also had to take the traditional route to college before starting full-time in the beauty industry.

“The deal with my parents was [to] go to college and if I still had an interest, I can pursue hair after my degree,” she says. 

Upon graduating, she immediately went to beauty school and worked as an assistant at a salon. Upon moving to New York City, she began working at Cutler salon and has now been there for seven years. 

But whether these women were established in a long-term career or not, the pandemic caused uncertainty that no one could have expected or planned for. 

During the lockdown, Chryzhelle’s license to become an esthetician was pushed back from March 2020 to June 2020. She tells Very Good Light that even though COVID was a massive roadblock in her journey to becoming an esthetician, she can now look back and value that time when she was forced to slow down. 

“I think this pandemic actually taught me to become more of a self learner. I was essentially forced to open up the textbook and read, just to be able to learn more about skin care, because getting a job as an esthetician in California was just not an option for a while,” Chryzhelle said.

She went straight to work, creating her business, from choosing brand colors, charts for Instagram, to her credit card processing account. Eventually, what she had became the backbone of a business. 

“I slowly began giving facials to some friends and families, and I thought ‘Okay, I can do this,’” she says.

Chryzhelle explains that one of the biggest challenges was finding a place to open up her business because a lot of the places that she looked into required a one year contract. Which meant that she would still have to pay rent even if the county forced estheticians to close up again. The uncertainty of the shut downs was definitely an area of concern for her, she says.

“Building a business from the bottom-up is such hard work, but it is so rewarding because all the blood, sweat, and tears that I put into this business, is to create my dream and not somebody else’s.” 

Chryzhelle says the best part about being a business owner is the joy of working so hard to build something from scratch, and then just watching it progress to something bigger and bigger. But she explained that comparison in her career can feel overwhelming. 

“You see all of the other successful estheticians and all of a sudden, envy and self doubt takes over because you start to think, ‘I have such a long way to go. How am I going to get there? Can I even do this?’ So I just like to take it one day at a time, and celebrate little successes.” Chryzhelle tells us. 

Adrianna was in her second trimester of pregnancy when her salon, Cutler of NYC, shut down on March 18, 2020. 

 

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“When we closed we all thought it would be just a week. Needless to say we were home until the foreseeable future,” she tells Very Good Light. “Through the months of March-July we were all on the edge of our seat. I was wondering if I would be returning at all considering I was having the baby in June.”

Adrianna did not return until October. The salon reopened under New York State guidelines at limited capacity in July. 

“It was hard not working and receiving a paycheck while waiting for my first child…It was scary to think of our unstable financial situation. It also was sad thinking I wasn’t able to see clients, co workers, friends during my pregnancy. A lot of people never saw me pregnant!”

A common feeling at the time, Adrianna says it was all very uncertain.

“I was curious about the salon and my future…Were people going to flee NYC? Will salon life ever be the same? Will I ever be comfortable?” she said.

Now more than a year later since the first shutdowns, most beauty businesses are slowly regaining footing back on the ground. Both Adrianna and Chryzhelle are back to work, under safety precautions and regulated studios. 

Chryzhelle says that in the near future, she plans on building her social media platform and clientele, and expanding her treatments and services by partnering up with other companies that fit her brand. She says she would love to share her knowledge by publishing educational articles. 

“I am also going back to school for nursing in order to become a medical esthetician and achieve my long term goal—which is to open up my own medical spa both in the United States and in the Philippines!” Chryzhelle said.

Adrianna is a new mom to her daughter Sienna James Norton. She’s back at Cutler salon in the city, under lower capacity and a limited hourly schedule.

“I think that to many people, hair seems easy…” she says. “But it is truly amazing to be a part of an industry that will never go away.”