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Should African Hair Braiders Need Permission to Work?

Saturday, 02 August 2014 14:05

Across the country, more people need the government’s permission in the form of a license before they can work.

Interior designers, eyebrow threaders and hair braiders are a few of the occupations that require spending thousands of dollars to get a license. A new national report released by the Institute for Justice looks specifically at natural, or African-style hair braiding laws and finds that 34 states have severely restrictive braiding laws.

Untangling Regulations: Natural Hair Braiders Fight Against Irrational Licensing documents hair braiding licensing requirements in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The report finds that braiding regulations vary dramatically:

  1. • Eleven states do not license natural hair braiders.
  2. • In the 39 states and the District of Columbia where braiders are required to obtain a license, the necessary hours range from six in South Carolina to 2,100 in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Natural or African-style hair braiding is a traditional beauty practice that traces its lineage back thousands of years. Today, thousands of people, mainly in African-American and immigrant communities, twist, braid, weave and lock hair to earn a living. Yet in many states, braiders are ensnared in a tangled mess of cosmetology laws.

In the 24 states with the most burdensome laws, hair braiders are forced to become licensed hairstylists or cosmetologists. Attending cosmetology school can cost upwards of $20,000 and the classes teach nothing about hair braiding. Instead, braiders must learn how to provide services like manicures and facials, that are irrelevant to their businesses.  

“Cosmetology training does not teach or test braiding, but it does require hundreds of hours of instruction that is completely unrelated to braiding at a cost of thousands of dollars,” said IJ Attorney Paul Avelar and co-author of the report, Untangling Regulations: Natural Hair Braiders Fight Against Irrational Licensing. "It’s absurd to require so many hours just to braid hair.”

Ten states and Washington, D.C., have created a specialty braiding license, but still require hundreds of hours of training at schools where few offer a braiding curriculum.  On average, these specialty licenses require 230 hours of instruction and can cost up to $10,000.

“Our research shows that occupational licensing laws, such as those governing hair braiding, create artificial barriers to entry for entrepreneurs,” said Nick Sibilla of the Institute for Justice, who co-authored the report. “These restrictions are particularly harmful, since many braiders are seeking to take their first step up the economic ladder.”

Only fifteen states earned a B or above for their braiding laws. These states either do not license braiders or allow braiders to practice with minimal red tape and without requiring inordinate time or exorbitant amounts of money. Oregon only requires braiders to read a PowerPoint presentation and take a written exam. Kansas and Mississippi do not license braiders but require a “self-test,” where braiders read a brochure on infection control and then test their knowledge.

The report is part of IJ’s new Braiding Freedom initiative, which seeks to put an end to braiders being subjected to outdated cosmetology laws. In June, IJ filed three lawsuits in Arkansas, Missouri and Washington challenging licensing laws, and launched a website and video aimed at educating Americans about the issue.

IJ is also representing a braiding teacher in Texas to challenge laws that stop her from earning a living teaching others to braid. Since its founding in 1991, IJ has successfully represented braiders in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia in challenges to laws like those outlined in the report.

You can learn more about the Braiding Initiative at

Photo: Getty Images


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