Commentary: Georgia Hairbraiders Entangled in Regulatory Excess

By Valerie Bayham

It takes a minimum of 12 hours of training to carry a firearm as a private security guard in Georgia. Basic training is only 120 hours for firefighters or 404 hours for police officers. 

It would take expert hairbraider Fatou Magassouba 1,500 hours of training to legally braid hair.

For many African-Americans and African immigrants, hairbraiding represents an important celebration of natural beauty, culture and freedom. This age-old art involves the intricate twisting, weaving, extending or locking of naturally textured hair. Braiding is a form of natural hair care, an alternative to the damaging chemicals that many African-Americans use to straighten their hair.

Braiding is also a great start-up entrepreneurial option for those with limited resources. It requires almost no financial capital to open a braiding business and, rather than requiring a great deal of formal education, the necessary skills are passed from one generation to the next.  It is, quite simply, Magassouba’s chance at the American Dream.

Like most braiders, she learned how to braid as a young girl – in the Ivory Coast, practicing on her four sisters. She moved to the United States 10 years ago, eventually making her home in Bethlehem, Georgia. Friends and family kept asking her to braid their hair and she wondered whether she could make a living from her talent. 

But Magassouba’s dream quickly became entangled in Georgia’s regulatory mess of cosmetology laws. Licensure requirements in many states give mainstream cosmetologists a near monopoly on all forms of hairstyling. To legally braid hair in this state, even expert braiders must complete a 1,500-credit-hour course to the tune of roughly $5,000 to $15,000, or complete a 3,000-hour apprenticeship. Worse, the training is often completely unrelated to African-style hairbraiding.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane concurred – nearly eight years ago. In March 1998, Lane issued an opinion in Khamit Kinks, Inc. v. Georgia State Board of Cosmetology, finding that the licensing requirements for braiders were irrational and unrelated to health and safety: “the extensive (and probably expensive) requirements for licensure for ‘braiding’ are overly broad and bear no relationship to the activities performed by natural hair stylists and are not rationally related to any health or safety objectives.” 

The state’s response was to rewrite the law to make it even clearer that braiders were supposed to go through this expensive and unnecessary 1,500-hour course.

Such over-regulation of hairbraiders is but one symptom of a larger disregard for economic liberty, the bulwark of the American Dream. Occupational licensing has stretched from highly specialized professions such as law and medicine to professions for which the justification of entry barriers is virtually nonexistent, such as .interior decorators, casket retailers and even florists.

A closer examination reveals that legislatures are often motivated not by the “public good” but rather by private interests that seek to protect themselves from competition. Hairbraiders like Magassouba believe that the practice of cosmetology has nothing to do with the techniques they practice. She’s right. The regulations merely protect established cosmetologists from competition and allow cosmetology schools a healthy profit off of the backs of braiders.

Thankfully, legislatures across the country are untangling this mess. Already, 10 states specifically exempt braiders from cosmetology licensing regimes:  Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina and Washington. Once braiders complete the requirements for a normal business license or post a commonsense sanitation brochure in their salon, they are free to braid. The result is that customers are satisfied and city governments collect taxes from businesses that would otherwise have been forced into the underground economy.

Despite the success of exemption, several states have instead developed specialty licenses under the cosmetology regime. These licenses require fewer hours of training than a full cosmetology license, but still impose steep educational requirements that are well out of proportion to the craft, in most cases adding up to hundreds of hours. The specialty licenses simply don’t work, leaving ineffective regulations that continue to needlessly restrict entrance to the profession.

Braiders shouldn’t have to undergo hundreds of hours of training to practice something they already do everyday at home. This is hairbraiding, not brain surgery.  Formal training is unnecessary to protect the public, particularly when sanitation concerns are just basic common sense – wash your hands, sterilize combs, and don’t work on hair with lice – concepts that every mother already knows.  In fact, the sanitation guidelines are so simple that Kansas and Mississippi could fit all of the necessary information onto a single page. If the issue is public health, the state can easily meet its goals simply by requiring compliance with sanitation guidelines via inspections, without requiring specialty licenses.

Ten states successfully exempt braiders from such training excess without any ill effects. Georgia should follow their example and let hairbraiders get to work

Read “A Dream Deferred,” a national study by the Institute for Justice on the tangle of laws governing the practice, or copy and paste this link into your Internet browser window:


Valerie Bayham, a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., wrote this commentary for The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

 © Georgia Public Policy Foundation (February 10, 2006). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.

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