Executive Summary

African-style hair braiding is a traditional art and a time-tested way of caring for tightly coiled Afro-textured hair naturally, without scissors, heat or chemicals. Yet, in most states, people who wish to braid for a living must first obtain a government permission slip—an occupational license requiring up to 2,100 hours of training. This study investigates whether the natural craft of braiding poses risks that justify occupational licensing and whether braiding licenses create barriers that keep people out of work.

This report finds:

Braiding is safe—in states with strict licensing and in states without.

  • Complaints against braiders are extremely rare. Licensing boards in nine states and the District of Columbia turned up just 130 complaints in seven years—and the vast majority concerned whether braiders were properly licensed, not health or safety. Only six complaints raised questions of consumer harm, none of them verified by boards.
  • Complaints against braiders are so rare that a person is 2.5 times more likely to get audited by the IRS (8.6 in 1,000) than a licensed or registered braider is to receive a complaint of any kind (3.4 in 1,000). Receiving a complaint filed by a consumer is even rarer (0.035 in 1,000).
  • Most states that provided data saw no complaints concerning health or safety, despite training requirements that varied widely—from zero to 600 hours.

Stricter licensing means fewer braiders.

  • States that demanded more training hours had fewer licensed or registered braiders relative to their black populations than states with lighter requirements, according to data from 12 states and D.C. Most of these differences were statistically significant.
  • In 2012, Mississippi, which requires zero hours of training, had over 1,200 registered braiders. Neighboring Louisiana, which requires 500 hours, had only 32 licensed braiders—despite its larger black population.

These results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the costs of occupational licenses outweigh the benefits. For hair braiding, as for many other occupations, licensing appears to do little more than prevent some people from earning an honest living in the occupation of their choice. To expand opportunity and choice, policymakers should free braiders and other American workers and entrepreneurs from this tangle of needless red tape.