J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · February 3, 2017

Under legislation signed today by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, hair braiders will no longer have to finish 2,100 hours of irrelevant training to get a license to work—the strictest requirement in the nation. Thanks to the reform bill, HB 1048, natural or African-style hair braiding is now exempt from the state’s cosmetology laws.

“Today’s signature is a win for entrepreneurship, economic liberty and just plain common sense,” noted Paul Avelar, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), who leads IJ’s Braiding Freedom Initiative. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair.”

South Dakota is the first state this year to deregulate braiding and now joins 20 other states with similar exemptions. More states may soon follow: Bills to untangle braiding from cosmetology or hairstylist licenses are currently pending in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Exemption bills are also expected to be introduced in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

With a rich heritage spanning millennia, natural hair braiding is a popular beauty practice in many African-American communities. Unlike cosmetologists, braiders do not cut hair or use any harsh chemicals or dyes. Yet in 15 states, braiders must first obtain a cosmetology license, which forces them to waste thousands of dollars on tuition to learn skills that are completely irrelevant to their occupation.

“This victory for braiders in South Dakota is another blow against occupational licensing, America’s biggest labor-economics issue,” said IJ Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “More state legislators are realizing there is no difference between freeing braiders and freeing other occupations, since a provider’s reputation offers the best protection for consumers.”

Since its founding, IJ has protected the rights of braiders in the District of Columbia, California, Ohio, Arizona, Mississippi, Minnesota, Utah, Texas, Washington, Arkansas and Iowa. IJ is currently challenging the licensing of hair braiders in Missouri. Last year, the Institute published a report, 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.