Oregon Moves Forward on Untangling Unnecessary Hair Braiding Regulations

A bill introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives would exempt African hairbraiders from the arduous and costly requirement of attaining a cosmetology license to conduct business in the Beaver State.

Oregon is one of seven states that require hairbraiders to obtain a cosmetology license before they can practice this traditional art form. These natural hair care specialists are subject to “up to 1,700 hours in beauty schoolwhere tuition can run anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.” That’s thousands of dollars wasted, as the beauty school curriculum focuses heavily on cutting, styling and chemically-treating hair, none of which apply to braiders.

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A recent study conducted by the Institute for Justice found that while it takes emergency medical technicians 35 days to qualify for a license in Oregon, it takes cosmetologists, including hairbraiders, a whopping 338 days.

This overregulation has driven at least one dedicated braider and Oregon resident, Amber Starks, to conduct her business on the other side of the state border in Vancouver, Wash.

She explained the motivation behind starting her own natural hair care business this past year: “What I wanted to do was provide a sense of empowerment. I wanted to create choice and access.” But Oregon state law would not even allow her to “volunteer her services [free of charge] to black foster children without breaking the law.”

After requesting copies of the Oregon state cosmetology exam and required beauty school curriculum, Starks found that most of the material she would be responsible for mastering would be utterly pointless for her purposes. For example, though her technique is completely chemical-free, “of 100 questions on the 2009 test, a third dealt with chemicals.”

She expressed frustration at the state’s inefficiency in “requiring people who want to do the most basic natural care for African-American women to learn all sorts of things that will never be relevant,” further adding, “it’s like the entire system is designed to marginalize my community.”

HB 3409, which was given a public hearing on March 26, would immediately separate natural hair care specialists from being lumped in with barbers and hair designers. While braiders would still have to attain a license, the Health Licensing Agency would design a streamlined process specifically tailored to their profession. Most importantly, this process would exempt natural hair care applicants from the burden of completing mandatory coursework at beauty schools, the cost of which has likely deterred some would-be-braiders from ever pursuing a license in the first place.

Amber Starks and others like her who now find themselves having to travel to more business-friendly states in order to open shop are looking to Oregon legislators to seize the opportunity to untangle the state’s harrowing web of hair braiding regulations.

— Robert Fountain
Robert Fountain is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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