Promoting Beauty, Not Barriers 

Christina Walsh
Christina Walsh  ·  May 19, 2023

IJ’s very first lawsuit was on behalf of African hair braiders in Washington, D.C., who challenged laws that required them to become fully licensed cosmetologists simply to offer limited traditional braiding services, which don’t involve chemicals, cutting, or heat. Since then, IJ has worked with braiders in dozens of states across the country to exempt braiding from full-service cosmetology licensure and expanded our work with beauty artists to take on unreasonable regulations of other safe practices, like eyebrow threading and makeup application. 

One thing we have learned through decades of research, advocacy, and litigation is that licensing requirements do not just harm those who offer niche services, such as African braiders. They harm many types of beauty professionals—especially those on the first rung of the economic ladder—who deserve much better than the current system of cosmetology licensing.  

It is a system in which costs, debt, a lack of accountability, and free labor are baked in by the main profiteers: cosmetology schools. In response to lobbying by cosmetology schools, states require up to 2,100 hours in full-service programs, regardless of the services an aspiring beauty professional wants to provide, their existing skill sets, or alternative ways to learn. On average, school costs more than $16,000, and students borrow over $7,300. 

That cost of entry is too steep for far too many, forcing those who can’t afford to comply into debt, into the shadows, or out of the industry entirely. Beauty professionals typically only learn how bad the system is by going through it, and then they have every incentive to protect their licenses.  

That’s why we launched “Beauty, Not Barriers,” a multifaceted initiative dedicated to engaging the cosmetology industry about alternatives to costly, overbroad, and unfair licensing requirements. By exempting niche services from full-service requirements and shifting regulations to mirror the restaurant industry—where the facility is licensed instead of the individual—states can unleash enormous opportunities for future beauty professionals, those seeking to expand services, and salons trying to hire.   

Our website,, has an in-depth survey, through which we are soliciting feedback from aspiring and current professionals about their experiences and needs. We have canvassed nationwide—at salons, makeup counters, beauty supply stores, and events. We are working with key organizations and educators who care about these issues. And we are having a lot of important conversations.  

We have talked to frustrated graduates who were forced to spend scarce money to be taught skills they already knew, or learn outdated techniques, or stand around on a school’s salon floor for hundreds of hours, waiting for customers. We’ve heard frustration about providing free labor to schools that pocket the customers’ payments. And we’ve talked to talented beauty artists who can’t afford school and so must provide limited, safe services in the shadows.

Thankfully, some beauty pioneers are recognizing that they can help future generations. We are finding them and helping to elevate their voices while also educating the next generation that not only do they deserve better—they should demand it.   

We remain committed to unclenching the hold that traditional cosmetology schools have on this industry and freeing future generations of artists to design their own careers—because beauty professionals are worthy of that freedom, and they deserve better than barriers.

Christina Walsh is IJ’s senior director of activism and coalitions.  

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