J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 15, 2021

Massachusetts became the latest state to eliminate licensing for natural hair braiders, thanks to a bonding bill signed late Thursday by Gov. Charlie Baker. With a rich heritage spanning millennia, natural hair braiding is a beauty practice common in many African American and African immigrant communities. Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not cut hair or use any harsh chemicals or dyes in their work.

Yet Massachusetts was one of just seven states nationwide (and the only state in New England) that forced natural hair braiders to become licensed cosmetologists or hairstylists before they could work legally. In Massachusetts, a hairdresser license takes at least 1,000 hours of classes–an enormous burden, especially since many hairdressing schools don’t teach African-style braiding techniques. But now with the governor’s signature, braiding hair is finally exempt from the Bay State’s hairdressing regulations.

“The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair. This is a great win for entrepreneurship, economic liberty, and just plain common sense,” said IJ Legislative Counsel Jessica Gandy, who lobbied on behalf of the braiders.  “Thanks to the advocacy of Sens. Nick Collins, Eric Lesser, and Ryan Fattman braiders across Massachusetts are no longer tangled in unnecessary red tape.”

Since its founding, the Institute for Justice has filed over a dozen lawsuits on behalf of natural hair braiders and is currently challenging a specialty braiding licensing in Louisiana. The Institute for Justice has also published a study, Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape, which found that braiders received very few complaints and that strict licensing laws stifle economic opportunity. A separate IJ study found that Massachusetts had the “10th most burdensome licensing laws” in the country, with the average license requiring 513 days of coursework and experience.

“I am thankful to the Institute for Justice and our legislators for recognizing the importance of this issue. We are now able to hire more braiders and continue to support our families and our communities,” said Coumba Diagana, who owns a braiding shop in Boston and organized in favor of the bill.