Untangling Arizona’s Hairbraiding Law

February 1, 2004

February 2004

Untangling Arizona’s Hairbraiding Law

By Tim Keller

For the past three years, Arizona native Essence Farmer has earned an honest living as an African hairbraider in Maryland. Prior to moving to Maryland to attend community college, Essence braided hair semi-professionally from her parents’ Arizona home, so braiding was the perfect occupation to help her work her way through school.

Upon returning to Arizona, Essence decided she would open Rare Essence Braiding Studio in downtown Phoenix. Essence expected smooth sailing, but her dreams quickly ran aground on Arizona’s occupational licensing laws.

What she discovered is that in Arizona anybody who wants to so much as style hair (and charge for it) must take 1,600 hours of classroom instruction at a government-approved cosmetology school, at a cost of $10,000. But as is the case in so many states, Arizona’s cosmetology curriculum does not provide even one hour of instruction on African hairbraiding, meaning Arizona’s cosmetology training provides Essence with virtually no additional skills to enhance her hairbraiding practice.

These arbitrary requirements act as a barrier to her dreams of a better life through self-employment. Essence Farmer’s right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government regulation is protected by both the Arizona and U.S. constitutions.

The Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter filed Farmer v. Arizona Board of Cosmetology in conjunction with the release of a new study: Burdensome Barriers: How Excessive Regulations Impede Entrepreneurship in Arizona, authored by me and published by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s premier libertarian think tank. The study exposes the many invisible obstacles to free enterprise, such as Arizona’s cosmetology regime, that foreclose entry into occupations that would be ideal for entrepreneurs seeking to take their first step on the proverbial economic ladder.

Barriers that impede entrepreneurship infringe on one of our most precious, but often forgotten, civil rights: the right to engage in the occupation of one’s choice without arbitrary or irrational government interference.

Bureaucrats typically justify occupational licensing laws on health and safety grounds. But too often such concerns are merely a cover for protecting the vested interests of the regulated industry and hence are nothing more than government-imposed cartels. Because braiding is an all-natural technique that requires no chemicals, any purported health and safety benefits fall quickly by the wayside.

And how much training is really necessary to become a cosmetologist anyway? By comparison, Arizona only requires 585 hours of training to be a policeman. Is it really more dangerous to wield scissors than a gun?

Rather than protecting consumers from harm, Arizona’s cosmetology cartel protects special interests, such as cosmetology schools. Those 1,600 hours mean increased tuition and increased profits for schools.

No wonder the most vociferous objection to Essence’s legal challenge has been from beauty school operators; one even suggested that exempting natural hair care practitioners would result in an epidemic of “hair breakage.” The only thing in danger of being broken as a result of this new lawsuit is the cosmetology cartel’s stranglehold on the hairstyling industry.

Entrepreneurs like Essence Farmer demonstrate the tangible benefits of liberty. Working with her and others like her, and using the Burdensome Barriers study as a roadmap, IJ-AZ will eliminate obstacles to free enterprise and untangle the mess made by occupational licensing laws—beginning with Arizona’s cosmetology cartel.

Tim Keller is a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.

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