FILE - Cosmetology

Salon and beauty school owners had seats at the table May 3, when the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology met to discuss the expansion of its power through House Bill 327. The legislation would take care of everyone in the room.

The people who would suffer were absent. Potential targets include new high school graduates, career switchers, immigrants and workers displaced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essentially, anyone who might someday seek a skin care career would face new barriers.

Consumers who pay for facials and similar services also would feel the pain from higher prices and fewer choices, but industry insiders would be immune. The bill, which cleared the House with a 99-0 vote and moved to the Senate on May 3, includes a grandfather clause for skin care specialists who receive their esthetician licenses before April 30, 2022.

Outsiders who try to enter the field later would need 250 hours of extra schooling and an “advanced” license before they could perform services such as electrical hair removal and chemical peels. Louisiana estheticians currently do these things safely with a basic license, which requires 750 training hours.

The regulatory scheme already exceeds the standard in most states, which issue esthetician licenses after 600 training hours. But the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology follows a simple rule when it comes to oversight: more is better. The mindset has led to two lawsuits from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that defends people’s right to earn an honest living.

A 2019 case, filed on behalf of Louisiana hair braiders, is in the discovery and deposition phase. An earlier case, filed on behalf of Louisiana eyebrow threaders, forced the cosmetology board to carve out a special permit for the service.

Instead of sitting for 750 hours in classes that don’t actually teach threading – a technique that uses cotton strands rather than heat, chemicals or sharp objects to remove hair and sculpt brows – practitioners today simply must register with the state and pass a 15-question test on sanitation.

Nobody has reported health or safety issues after the change, confirming that the previous regulations were overkill. But rather than learn from the experience, the cosmetology board has shifted its focus to estheticians.

The new “advanced” license would mean more application fees for the board, more revenue from federal grants and tuition for beauty schools, and less competition for established salons. Unfortunately, the gains would come at the expense of aspiring estheticians, who tend to be women from lower-income households.

Workers who cannot pay to play would wind up on the sidelines. An analysis from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy shows how excessive occupational licensing already has squeezed braiders out of the market.

Mississippi, which requires zero training hours for the service, had more than 2,600 registered braiders in 2019. Louisiana, which requires 500 training hours to do the same thing, had only 19 braiders. The numbers suggest that thousands of Louisiana braiders are working for free, while others are hiding in the shadow economy like criminals.

The cosmetology board prefers not to talk about the displaced and marginalized workers. Instead, regulators steer conversations toward health and safety. They insist that aggressive oversight is necessary to prevent harm. Yet the compromises built into HB 327 undercut the narrative.

If new estheticians cannot perform “advanced” services safely without 1,000 training hours, then why would the rules be different for established estheticians? The unequal system points toward appeasement – a political strategy to reduce opposition at the state Capitol – not safety concerns.

Adding to the regulatory burden also would ignore nationwide trends. Only eight jurisdictions require “advanced” or “master” esthetician licenses. Everywhere else gets along fine without the extra oversight, including states such as Florida and Massachusetts that require fewer than 600 training hours.

Louisiana lawmakers should look closely at the evidence and kill HB 327 before the measure kills jobs. As elected officials, they represent everyone  – not only people who have time to attend public board meetings and lobby for sweetheart deals.

The beauty industry can be ugly once the boardroom doors close, but policymakers should not make things worse by passing a rigged law that protects some at the expense of others.

Daryl James is a writer at the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm with an open case against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology.