Thinking about saving some money by paying your childhood friend to cut your hair? Well, think again, because it may end up costing you more than you bargained for. In California, for instance, anyone who preps, styles, cuts, or colors hair without a license will face fines up to $1,000. You might as well pay for the $100 hair cut from a salon (tip not included).
And it’s not just California. Every state requires cosmetology licenses, and various other states require licenses for skin care specialists, manicurists, make-up artists, and even shampooers. For example, in Tennessee, to become a licensed shampooer (yes – a shampooer), individuals must have 70 days of training, pay a $140 fee, and pass two different exams. In Idaho, make-up artists must complete 140 days of training— that’s more than 5 times the number of training days required to become an EMT.
Though these strict requirements suggest that legitimate safety concerns are driving regulators to protect the public from untrained and potentially dangerous operators, most individuals in every state manage to shampoo their own hair and apply their own makeup on a regular basis with little consequence. It’s not public outcry, but cronyism that’s driving these burdensome regulations through state legislatures.
Unfortunately, it is also cronyism that has inspired the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), a membership organization, to launch their “I Am A Professional. I Am Licensed.” awareness campaign. The campaign specifically works to combat States’ efforts to deregulate occupational licensing within the beauty industry. According to a study by the Institute for Justice, however, cosmetology is already the 4th most heavily regulated industry and has the 17th most arduous licensing requirements, compared to 102 other low-income occupations.
Special interest groups, such as PBA, use occupational licensing to shield professionals from competition. These groups hide behind the guise of public safety to justify their support of industry regulation, but their economic self-interest actually does more harm to the consumer. A study by the Reason Foundation concluded that occupational licensing requirements discourage specialization within the industry, foster artificially high prices, and reduce competition therefore removing the incentive for higher-quality work.
The PBA’s movement to keep cosmetology as one of the most regulated industries protects the beauty professionals from competition at the expense of women like Juana Gutierrez. Gutierrez is a 24-year-old mother who makes her living practicing eyebrow-threading, an ancient hair removal technique originating from India and the Middle East that is cheaper and quicker than services offered by an aesthetician. Although Gutierrez has been eyebrow-threading since she was 16, the Arizona Board of Cosmetology has sent her cease-and-desist orders unless she agrees to pay $10,000 to take 600 hours of unrelated beauty school course work.
It’s not just Gutierrez that is affected by arbitrary occupational licensing requirements; everyone loses when governments and industries work together to deter competition. Cronyism has succeeded in hampering innovation and driving up prices in the field of beauty, but cosmetology is not the only industry that is regulated. Licensing in hundreds of other occupations should be reevaluated as barriers to economic growth during a time when job creation is most needed. In the meantime, the PBA should change their slogan to “I Am A Professional. I Am Licensed. Am I A Crony?”