Proponents argue that licensure for hair braiders is necessary to protect the public from unclean or unsafe practice. 1
This study, however, gives at least five reasons to approach such claims with skepticism. First, complaints against licensed or registered braiders are very rare. Second, most complaints against licensed braiders are lodged by cosmetology boards and licensees, not consumers. Third, for both licensed and unlicensed braiders, most complaints have to do with licensing issues, not health and safety. Fourth, there is no link between licensing burdens and complaints, suggesting that there is no advantage to licenses that require hundreds of hours of education and training. Fifth, there is, however, a disadvantage to states with higher barriers to entry—fewer braiders entering the market.
1. Complaints against licensed/registered braiders are extremely rare
This study finds that complaints against licensed or registered hair braiders like Fatou and Melony are exceedingly rare. Among the more than 9,700 licensed or registered braiders in the nine specialty braiding license or registration states and D.C., only one-third of one percent had a complaint filed against them between 2006 and 2012. This probability is low, so low in fact that it is more likely for a person to be born a twin (1.1%), to get audited by the IRS (0.86%) or to date a millionaire (0.46%) than it is for a licensed or registered braider to receive a complaint (see What Is the Likelihood of a Braider Receiving a Complaint?). 2
And during that same seven-year period, only 27 complaints were filed against the untold numbers of unlicensed braiders practicing in those states. Moreover, three states—Louisiana, Nevada and Tennessee—and D.C did not open a single braider complaint file.
Could it be that there are so few complaints because specialty licenses weed out poor-quality practitioners? If that were the case, one would expect to see more complaints from a state like Mississippi with very low barriers to entry for braiders. Instead, Mississippi reported only one complaint against a registered braider—and no complaints against unregistered ones—and that complaint was not about health or safety. The braider in question was cited during a routine inspection for shampooing hair without a cosmetology license.
2. Most complaints against licensed/registered braiders do not come from consumers
When complaints are filed against licensed braiders, this study finds that the vast majority are from cosmetology boards and their licensees. The chance of a licensed or registered braider receiving a consumer complaint is a miniscule 0.0035%. To put that into perspective, a person playing Yahtzee is 20 times more likely (0.077%) to get Yahtzee—the same number on all five dice—on the first roll than a licensed or registered braider is to receive a consumer complaint. 3
3. Most complaints against licensed/registered and unlicensed braiders are not about health or safety
Most complaints against braiders in both categories are not motivated by health and safety concerns. Rather, 88% of complaints filed were solely about licensure status or unlicensed practice. And the number of complaints alleging health or safety problems is very small—just four filed against all 9,700 licensed or registered braiders and nine filed against untold unlicensed braiders in nine states and D.C. over seven years. During the study period, six states and D.C. saw no health and safety complaints filed against braiders regardless of license or registration status.
Of the 130 complaints, six—or only 4.6%—concerned allegations of consumer harm. 4
All of the consumer harm complaints were for unlicensed braiders in New York and Ohio. Two of these were uncorroborated news stories of scalp burns from hot water; the third cited handheld dryer use, which is not forbidden for licensed braiders in New York. The remaining three complaints with health and safety issues, one from New York and two from Ohio, concerned alopecia, the technical term for balding or systemic hair loss. However, it is unclear whether any of the consumers complaining of hair loss ever received a formal diagnosis confirming braiding as the cause of the problem.
Identifying the cause of alopecia is frequently a difficult task because it will affect 85% of men and 50% of women by the age of 50 5
and has many possible causes, including genetics, postnatal hormonal changes, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases and malnutrition. 6
Alopecia can also stem from stress: Any treatment or styling of the hair that applies pulling force or friction to the hair follicles carries a small risk of causing a type of hair loss known as traction alopecia. The most common culprits are hairstyles or headgear that involve pulling the hair, attaching weight to it or rubbing against and irritating the scalp—particularly when worn for long periods of time as braided styles often are. 7
Other examples of hairstyles or headgear that have been linked with traction alopecia include pony tails, man buns, headbands, extensions, weaves, tight clips, hairpieces and headgear worn for sports. Scholarly research has found that traction alopecia is more common among women who relax, or chemically straighten, their hair since the process of doing so renders the follicles more sensitive. 8
4. There is no public safety advantage to higher barriers to entry
Not only are complaints against braiders extremely rare, but they are so few that it is impossible to make a statistical determination of whether stricter licensing leads to fewer complaints. However, the raw data suggest that such a result would be unlikely.
Figure 5 compares the number of complaints involving health and safety issues to the training hours required for a braiding license. As Figure 5 shows, there is no clear relationship between health and safety complaints and training hours. Most states saw no health and safety complaints against braiders, whether licensed, registered or unlicensed, despite widely varying training requirements. Just three states had health and safety complaints, and their training requirements likewise vary: Florida requires only 16 hours of instruction, while New York and Ohio are among the more burdensome states, demanding 300 and 450 hours, respectively.
Note: Texas stopped licensing hair braiders in 2015.
These two high-burden states produced most of the safety-related complaints, and all six of the complaints alleging consumer harm, all involving unlicensed braiders. It is possible that New York’s and Ohio’s onerous requirements push more braiders underground, where fear of detection by authorities suppresses incentives to build and maintain a strong reputation and to invest in professional development. 9
In fact, those two states have relatively few licensed braiders: New York licensed just 108 braiders from 2006 to 2012, while Ohio licensed a mere 60. 10
And New York and Ohio saw more complaints for unlicensed braiding filed against unlicensed braiders (five and 10, respectively) during the study period than most states. It is also possible that the six complaints occurred where they did purely by chance and that different licensing regimes have no effect on health or safety. The available data only suggest that more burdensome licenses, such as New York’s and Ohio’s, offer no public safety advantage over lower barriers to entry.
5. There is a disadvantage to higher barriers to entry—fewer braiders
Higher barriers to entry for braiders bring few benefits to the public, but they do carry costs. States with more onerous licenses tend to have fewer braiders than states with less onerous ones, as Figure 6 shows. Figure 6 compares the number of licensed or registered braiders in 2012 per 10,000 black immigrants and African-Americans to training hours required for a license. The states requiring 100 hours or fewer of training for their specialty licenses or registration had more braiders than the states requiring 300 hours or more—and most of these differences were statistically significant. These results suggest that more burdensome licensing regimes may be shutting braiders out—or driving them underground—without improving health and safety outcomes.
The tiny overall number of complaints with health and safety issues suggests that braiding is not a hazardous practice. Coupled with the observation that states with stricter licensing regimes do not offer a public safety advantage over more lenient ones, the presence of so few consumer harm complaints casts doubt on the necessity of licensing braiders at all, let alone onerously. At the same time, the overwhelming prevalence of complaints about licensure status suggests that licensing braiders is less about protecting the public than it is about fencing out the competition. The analysis comparing states to number of braiders indicates that more burdensome licensing regimes are successful in doing just that.
These results suggest that more burdensome licensing regimes may be shutting braiders out—or driving them underground—without improving health and safety outcomes.