Institute for Justice · February 4, 2021

Oklahoma City, Okla.—Should Oklahoma entrepreneurs be forced to spend thousands of dollars and at least 600 hours on esthetician coursework that does not even teach their trade?

That question has led two Oklahoma eyebrow threading business owners, Shazia Ittiq and Seema Panjwani, to join forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge the constitutionality of the licensing requirement that the Oklahoma Board of Cosmetology imposes on eyebrow threaders. The Board requires all threaders to hold at least an esthetician license. And last week, the Board ordered Shazia to shut down her business immediately for employing threaders without an esthetician license. She is filing for a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the unconstitutional licensing requirement as litigation proceeds.

The lawsuit, filed late yesterday, challenges this licensing requirement as violating the Oklahoma Constitution’s due process clause and its inherent rights clause. Like Oklahoma, Texas previously mandated that eyebrow threaders hold at least an esthetics license. Then, following a lawsuit from eight eyebrow threaders who partnered with IJ, the Texas Supreme Court in 2015 reaffirmed its state constitution’s protections for Texans to work in the occupation of their choice without unreasonable government interference. The Oklahoma Constitution offers the same kind of protections to Oklahomans.

“Threaders don’t need a license to do their jobs across the border in Texas. And they shouldn’t need one in Oklahoma, either,” said IJ Attorney Marie Miller. “Threaders in Oklahoma have been providing high-quality, safe services to customers for years. They shouldn’t be put out of work because the Cosmetology Board demands they learn and prove competency in unrelated skills.”

Eyebrow threading is an ancient grooming technique common in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and has been passed down for generations. The threader makes a loop in a strand of cotton thread by twisting the strand around itself multiple times, then slides and traps unwanted hairs in the loop and lifts them from their follicles. The technique is often learned at a young age from family or friends, and it uses no chemicals, heat or sharp objects.

The experienced threaders in Oklahoma have become highly skilled in the technique, and requiring them to spend in some cases over $10,000 to obtain a license for services they will never provide, all to obtain permission to do the job they have already mastered, makes no sense. And because Oklahoma’s esthetician coursework does not teach threading and the esthetician exams do not test threading, licensed estheticians—who are permitted to thread commercially—do not necessarily know how to thread. As a result, threading salon owners like Shazia and Seema cannot employ enough licensed threaders to sustain a successful business. That, in turn, limits consumers’ access to eyebrow threading services.

“Threaders do not need to learn unrelated skills to become threaders. They have been doing it to each other for generations,” said Shazia Ittiq, owner of Brows & More, a threading salon in Oklahoma City. “Without this license requirement, I can serve more clients, and women can support their families without going off to school for a skill they know.”

The threading salon owners, with IJ, contend that applying the esthetics licensing requirements to threaders violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s due process clause because the regulations force threaders to complete onerous licensing requirements that bear no relation to their jobs, and they treat threaders the same as people who provide very different services. The state constitution’s inherent rights clause reinforces this right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government regulation, because it recognizes that Oklahomans have an inherent right to the “enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.”

“Forcing eyebrow threaders to undergo fifteen weeks of irrelevant training is not just wrong: it violates the Oklahoma Constitution,” said IJ Senior Attorney Wesley Hottot. “The Oklahoma licensing requirements don’t protect the public; they just put skilled threaders out of a job.”

In addition to its 2015 victory on behalf of eyebrow threaders in Texas, IJ has also sued Arizona and Louisiana over their licensing requirements for eyebrow threaders, leading those states to allow threaders to operate without a license.

The threaders have applied for a temporary restraining order, and a hearing is expected in the next two weeks.