This study investigates two key questions: What types of complaints are made against braiders and how frequently? And is there a relationship between licensing burden and the number of licensed braiders in a state? To determine the issues that may arise for consumers getting their hair professionally braided, this report relies on complaints submitted to cosmetology licensing boards in nine states—Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas—and the District of Columbia. 1  The Institute for Justice requested complaint files going back to 2006, except in Nevada, where there was no specialty license until 2011. Data were collected through 2012. Each file included the date of the complaint, the reason or reasons for the complaint (issue), the complainant (consumer, board, licensee, other), who the complaint is against, and any actions taken by the board (fines, cease-and-desist letters, follow-up inspections, other).

The complaint files were categorized based on the types of issues in the complaint file: unlicensed braiding, unlicensed cosmetology, health and safety, and other. Unlicensed braiding or cosmetology occurs when a person engages in conduct that fits under the scope of a state’s definition of braiding or cosmetology but does not have a license to do so. Unlicensed braiding, in other words, is someone braiding hair without a braiding license. And unlicensed cosmetology is someone shampooing hair, cutting hair, braiding extensions into hair (in Florida’s case), or doing any other activity defined as cosmetology without a cosmetology license. Health and safety refers to complaints related to sanitation or practices that threaten the health of a customer’s scalp. Other is a catchall for any complaints not about licensing or health and safety, such as any about business practices.

To examine how frequently health and safety issues arose among braiders, this report compares complaint data to the populations of licensed or registered braiders collected from the licensing agencies in these states. The data show that between 2006 and 2012, the nine states that provided complaint files and D.C. had 9,731 licensed or registered braiders (see Table 1). In all, IJ found and reviewed 130 complaint files, of which 103 were for licensed hair braiders. To calculate the probability that a licensed or registered braider had a complaint file opened against them, IJ divided the total number of licensed or registered braiders with a complaint file by the total number of braiders each year. 2

The other 27 complaints were for unlicensed braiders. This report uses the term “unlicensed” to refer to braiders operating illegally in states that require a specialty license or registration. In other words, these are braiders who lack a required specialty license or proper registration and must therefore operate underground, or in what is called the informal economy. It is impossible to determine the frequency of complaints against unlicensed braiders because the number of such braiders is unknown. Additionally, it should be noted that these braiders are not “unlicensed” in the same sense as braiders working in the 18 states that do not require a license for braiding. In those states, braiders are free to operate legally and in the open, or the formal economy, where it is easier to find stable employment, open store fronts and access capital. And without fearing detection by authorities, braiders in the formal economy have greater opportunity and incentive to establish and maintain a professional reputation. Thus, although both groups are “unlicensed,” they likely differ such that it would be inappropriate to draw inferences from one group to the other.

To compare the number of braiders licensed under each regime, this report uses the lists of licensed or registered hair braiders from 12 states and D.C.—the nine states above plus Illinois, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. These 13 jurisdictions reported a total of 13,733 licensed or registered braiders between 2006 and 2012 (see Table 1). To compare across states, IJ used a generalized least squares (GLS) time-series analysis to control for the black population and year—factors that may influence the number of licensed or registered braiders in a state. This provided the number of braiders per 10,000 black immigrants or African-Americans in each state’s population. Further details about the analysis and the full regression results can be found in Appendix C.

Table 1: Licensed/Registered Braiders, 12 States and D.C., 2006-2012

StateYear Specialty
License Created
Hours RequiredBraiders
States with Complaint Data
District of Columbia199210077
New York1994300108
States without Complaint Data
South Carolina200563,684

*Mississippi requires registration, not a license.
**Texas stopped licensing hair braiders in 2015.