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 What are ‘silent salons’ and why are these quiet appointments the latest trend in hair care?

A woman getting her hair done at a salon while looking at her phone.
You can opt for a “quiet appointment” at a growing number of hair salons but still distract yourself with texts and emails. Photo by Getty Images

The next big thing in professional haircare has nothing to do with coloring or cutting — it’s the option of booking a chat-free or quiet appointment.

From New York and Massachusetts to Helsinki, “silent” hair treatments are increasing in popularity as more salons offer services without the chit chat for which the industry has been known. 

But does the trend indicate a healthy recognition of the need for quiet time in a busy world or a continued retreat from human connection during a period of epidemic loneliness?

It depends on the individual and the situation, says Kristen Lee, a Northeastern teaching professor and expert in behavioral science.

Headshot of Kristen Lee.
Northeastern teaching professor Kristen Lee says booking a chat-free service can be a no-stress way of signaling a customer’s needs to recharge in silence. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“It’s a way of being very proactive in one’s communication, of stating one’s preferences and needs,” she says.

Being able to book a quiet appointment, or a “silent chair,” as at least one Boston salon offers, is a no-stress way of signaling a client’s needs to recharge and unplug in a tranquil setting, Lee says.

The option “really has the potential to speak to folks being overstimulated in their lives, who are having trouble finding those quiet pockets,” she says.

Selecting silence service in advance also eliminates client concerns that they are hurting the stylist’s feelings by resisting conversation, Lee says.

“By having that option up front, it can allow someone the space that they might need to really, truly recalibrate or rejuvenate in those moments.”

“Being proactive is a really good way to communicate. It allows expectations to be set and hopefully adhered to.”

Social anxiety on the rise

In a recent news report, a New York City hairdresser said she’d noticed an increase in social anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people seeming uncomfortable with small talk. 

“We know that social anxiety is the fastest-growing anxiety spectrum disorder,” says Lee, the author of several books including 2022’s “Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More and Offer Yourself to the World.” 

She says setting communication boundaries can be helpful for someone who has a lot of trepidation or angst about leaving the house and getting into social situations where they feel a lack of control.

For women and people of color, selecting silence can be a way of avoiding the expectation they do the emotional labor of listening to a stranger’s woes or answer questions about their lived, cultural perspectives, Lee says.

Her experience in behavioral science has trained her to maintain equanimity in the face of “trauma dumps” from strangers, but not everybody has the capacity to shield themselves mentally, she says.

But even Lee has her limits.

“I travel a lot to give talks. I recently got into a cab and for the first time said, ‘It feels really cool in here. I like the temperature. And I would like a quiet ride.’” 

“I was kind of tired. And I din’t want to be rude. So I just set that expectation. It seemed like everyone had a peaceful experience,” Lee says.

Can small talk count as exposure therapy?

From silent salons — and silent rideshare options — to automated restaurant and grocery store pickups, people are relying more than ever on virtual rather than in-person contact and communication.

“Our communication preferences and literacies are changing very dramatically,” Lee says.

“We know loneliness is cited as a major health (issue) today. People are feeling fragmented and disconnected,” she says.

People yearn for  more meaningful connection, not necessarily superficial conversation about the weather, Lee says.

Even so, small talk can play a role in getting people with social anxiety to come out of their shell enough to explore interests, opportunities and friendships.

It’s called exposure therapy and helps people by getting them comfortable with being uncomfortable, Lee says.

A counselor might even encourage a client who ventured out for a silent hair appointment to try a non-restrictive one next time and ask the stylist about their hobbies, favorite books. Or even what they think of quiet appointments.