Those scaled-back pandemic beauty habits are better for your skin, hair and nails, experts say

Allyson Chiu

THE WASHINGTON POST – When the novel coronavirus pandemic left Americans cut off from their beloved hair and nail salons, barbershops, waxers and aestheticians, many took one look at their increasingly unkempt appearances and sprang into action.

Quarantine-cuts’ and at-home dye jobs were attempted en masse to varying degrees of success. Manicure kits and press-on nails became hot-ticket items. With the bottom half of faces often obscured by masks, bold eye makeup looks started trending among beauty influencers.

But some have approached pandemic-era grooming and self-care with a “less is more” mind-set – embracing life sans makeup, dyes and polishes. And experts say their skin, hair and nails may be better off.

Dermatologists are reporting fewer cosmetics-related acne flare-ups. Hair and scalp specialists say their clients who have stopped chemical treatments are seeing healthier, shinier locks. And those who once couldn’t imagine their fingers and toes without a coat of polish are now realising naked nails aren’t so bad.

Ivy Lee, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, calls it “the power of the pause”.

“When the pandemic hit and we had forced shutdowns of hair salons, nail salons and medispas that used to be sort of routine for a lot of men and women, it caused us all to reflect on these aspects of our lives, these habits . . . and think, is this really necessary?” Lee said. “What am I doing this for? Am I doing this for perception of beauty? Am I doing this for self-care and relaxation?”

This forced pause, Lee said, has largely been an enlightening period.

“This is when we let our hair colour grow out, our natural hair styles kind of come back,” she said. “Same with our nails. . . . The artificial nails from the salon come off and the nail polish wears off.

“We kind of get to see ourselves bare again,” she added.

And for many, that comes with noticeable health benefits.

“People who haven’t broken out with acne for a while are now paying more attention,” said Dermatologist and Assistant Attending Physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre and New York Presbyterian Hospital Anthony Rossi. With the new phenomenon of “maskne”, Rossi noted that many are favouring “cleaner, easier beauty regimens”.

The simpler the routine, the better, said Assistant Professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine Jules Lipoff.

“In general, there’s no medical hygienic benefit to really almost any of this,” said Lipoff, referring to cosmetics and a majority of popular skin-care products. “For society, we like to smell a certain way or look a certain way, and whenever you’re adding additional chemicals, ingredients, there’s more and more risk of getting contact dermatitis or allergies or even just irritant reactions.”

Instead, Lee recommends focussing on three core concepts of skin care – gentle cleansing, hydration and sun protection.

A number of drugstore brands, such as CeraVe and Neutrogena, are affordable and effective, Lee said, adding that she uses those products herself.

“Even for my affluent patients, sometimes they’re just astonished by how easily they can achieve really great results and be their best selves with very little time and with very little out of pocket,” she said. “Sometimes I actually have to reassure folks, I’m like, ‘No, I know it looks like it’s only five dollars, but it works. I promise you’. “

Low-maintenance hair routines have been trending lately, too, in part fuelling the natural hair movement and inspiring hashtags such as “#QuarantineCurls.” With limited access to professional stylists and lingering concerns about going back to salons amid the pandemic, more people have opted to abandon dyes and other chemical treatments – and many have been pleased with the results”, said Tracie Radford, a hair and scalp specialist in Riverside, Calif.

Radford said her clients, who are mostly Black, are “seeing that their natural texture is stronger and healthier than it was when using the chemicals”. Before the pandemic, many of Radford’s clients were often treating their hair with relaxers and permanent waves, and colouring to cover greying.

“They notice that there’s more shine and luster to the hair,” she said. “They also notice that without having any chemicals in their hair, they’re able to do a bit more with it because of the texture.”

Avoiding potentially damaging treatments is an especially good idea for people experiencing hair loss or scalp conditions, said Martine Langsam, a hair and scalp expert in Northern California.

During the pandemic, dermatologists and hair experts have reported an uptick in cases of telogen effluvium, a temporary hair loss triggered by stress, shock or a traumatic event.

But Langsam and Radford said even without dyes or treatments, hair still requires regular care and upkeep.

For those growing out dyed hair, Langsam said going grey doesn’t mean you have to look “drab”. One solution, she said, is “a fashionable, cute, fun haircut”.

“When people do start wanting to do the grow-out, it’s important for them to find a hairstyle or something else that’ll make them feel good at the same time,” she said.

Radford said people who have stopped using chemical treatments should be concerned about protecting their hair during the transition period.

“The hair that grows out is strong, it’s stronger than the hair that has been processed,” she said.

“What you want to make sure doesn’t happen is that where that line of demarcation is, where the strong and the weak hair meet, that it doesn’t break away. So it’s important that you protect that area.”

Beyond trimming your hair every six to eight weeks, Radford encourages conditioning treatments and scalp detoxes (a method of deep cleansing) at least once every three months. She also recommends wearing your hair in a protective style, which can be as simple as a ponytail, that minimises chances for breakage.

Similarly, the pandemic has led to some improvements in nail health, said Shari Lipner, a nail expert and associate professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell medical college in New York.

While regular polish isn’t dangerous, Lipner said the removal process of popular gel nails can be abrasive, thinning the nails and causing them to split or break more easily. Lipner added that without professional manicures and pedicures, people are also less likely to cut their cuticles.

“I’ve always advocated for leaving the cuticles alone,” she said. “The cuticles are there to protect your nails and your skin from invading microorganisms.”

Whether you are at home or in a salon, Lipner recommends keeping your nails trimmed short. “The longer nails are, the more likely they are to bang against things and get splits and breaks,” she said. “Long nails can also harbour microorganisms. We don’t know about transmission of covid through longer nails, but theoretically there are microorganisms that can live under long nails.”