West Virginia Moves to Remove Licensing from Cosmetology Practice

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Two proposed House Bills in West Virginia will allow basic barbers, shampoo assistants and hair braiders to practice without obtaining a license. However, some professionals believe the training that comes with licensing teaches vital health and safety measure that can put consumers at risk without.

About one in three professions in the United States require a license for occupation, according to the Institute for Justice, a national law firm. These include occupations in the medical professionals, construction workers and athletic trainers, just to name a few.

As of June 2013, the West Virginia Code Chapter 30 has required all those practicing barbering, beauty culture, manicuring and aesthetics in the state to obtain and display a license. The person must also graduate from an approved barbering or cosmetology school, pass exams, pay a licensing fee and pass a physical health examination administered by a physician. The Code also requires barbers to complete 1,200 hours of training and 1,800 hours for cosmetologists in order to obtain a license.

However, two proposed bills in the state, HB 2132 and HB 2131, both introduced in January, might change this standard for beauty industry professionals.

West Virginia House Bill 2132 will exempt what it refers to as basic barbers and shampoo assistants from licensure by the West Virginia Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists. However, these professions include much more responsibilities than just trimming beards and shampooing hair.

The bill defines basic barbers as people shaving, shaping and trimming the beard; cutting, shampooing, arranging, dressing, applying lotions or tonics on human hair, a wig or hair piece; applications, treatments or rubs of the scalp, face, or neck with oils, creams, lotions, cosmetics, antiseptics, powders, or other preparations in connection with the shaving, cutting or trimming of the hair or beard.

According to the proposed bill, the new requirements to become a basic barber include being at least 18 years of age, not be convicted of a felony, a high school diploma or equivalent, complete a course of instruction from a barbering school, a certificate of health from a licensed physician and complete a two year apprenticeship. If a person holds a barbering license in another state, they will automatically qualify to be a barber in West Virginia.

According to Susan Maccoy, a cosmetologist from Chicago Illinois, the removal of licensure from basic barbers causes major health and safety risks to consumers and practitioners alike.

“A basic barber can shave and they’re usually trained to shave with a straight razor,” Maccoy says. “Do you think you would want somebody shaving you that hasn’t been trained and wasn’t licensed? It’s kind of unthinkable to me.”

This bill will also revoke the needed permits for shampoo assistants, which are defined as individuals that shampoo and rinse hair, remove rollers or permanent rods, cleanse and other sink-related functions not requiring the skill of a basic barber, according to the bill.

“Dangers that can happen with a shampooing assistant are not knowing the rudiments of sanitation and disinfection, not knowing when to wear gloves and when to not, not knowing the procedures of shampooing, not being trained in it,” Maccoy says. “And not knowing what to be looking for in terms of things clients could be carrying in with them, like lice.”

Some health risks that come from lack of licensing include lice, various viruses, diseases transmitted through cuts on hands and bacteria that can live in shampoo sinks if not properly sanitized, just to name a few, according to Maccoy.

The Professional Beauty Association, an organization providing education, outreach and government advocacy in relation to the beauty industry, reports the many health benefits in relation to licensing for beauty professionals, along with training or education from a cosmetology school and passing the appropriate tests. Requiring licensing under these standards ensures the licensee can recognize threats to public health like scalp disease or lice.

A majority of Americans support licensing and are concerned about possible health risks and declining quality of services if it is revoked. According to a 2012 poll reported by the Pro Beauty Association, more people prefer to have their beauty professionals licensed.

90 percent of registered voters in the U.S. said they are in favor of beauty licensing for professionals like hair stylists, barbers, and nail technicians. The largest groups in favor include women, African Americans, senior citizens and low income individuals. The poll also reported 76 percent of voters expressed their concern for declining quality of beauty services if licensing were to be eliminated, as well as 82 percent saying the same for safety.

West Virginia House Bill 2131 will serve to exempt hairbraiders from oversight and regulation from the Board of Barbers and Cosmetology. In addition to these exceptions, hairbraiders will not be obligated to obtain any cosmetology education in order to practice in a salon or out of their home.

Like the previous bill, the definition of hair braiding encompasses much more than simply braiding the hair, and is the central issue at play. The bill specifically defines hair braiders as someone practicing braiding, plaiting, twisting, wrapping, threading, weaving, interweaving, extending or lock of natural human hair or manufactured materials around the human hair or mechanical device.

Braiding Freedom, a project of the Institute for Justice, challenges and files lawsuits against anticompetitive hair braiding regulations, according to their website, and argues hair braiding professionals should not be obligated to obtain a license.

“Hair braiding is a time-tested, safe practice that is deeply rooted in African cultural heritage and carries with it significant historical importance,” the Institute for Justice’s website says. “But across the country, state governments make it illegal for braiders to make money from their braiding skills unless they first spend thousands of dollars and attend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of government-mandated cosmetology training.”

However, according to Pro Beauty Association Director of Government Affairs and Industry Relations Myra Irizarry Reddy, huge health risks come along with lack of proper beauty education, particularly in the realms of safety and sanitation.

“In regards to hair braiding, we completely understand and respect that this has a cultural significance and background and agree,” Reddy says. “Where we disagree about a safety and sanitation risk is because, once again, you’re manipulating someone’s hair, you could be using solutions for products to bind the hair together during the braiding process. if you braid the process to togetherly repeatedly over time that person could lose their hair in that particular spot and it would not grow back.”

According to Braiding Freedom, West Virginia currently requires hair braiders to complete 1,000 hours of hairstyling training and a hairstyling license in order to carry out the practice. Some of this education does not involve hair braiding itself, but other facets of cosmetology.

“But there is no threat to public health or safety presented by braiding hair—and certainly not any threat that can justify hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of irrelevant cosmetology classes that can cost $20,000 or more,” the Braiding Freedom website says.

However, according to Reddy, hair braiding does pose a safety risk and needs to be regulated and licensed in order to ensure accountability on all levels.

“The same issues still apply, in that is it’s a physical, hands-on service that you are providing,” Reddy says. “If you don’t have a license and don’t regulate it and aren’t required to go through inspection and let’s say, for example, you’re doing this out of your house what is the sanitation level in your home with having people come in and out and you’re using the same tools and products?”

Reddy encourages the creation of a happy medium between those pursuing braiding as a professional career and a minimum health and safety education they must obtain in order to securely carry out their practice.

“Employers want employees that are educated, that are licensed, that can pass a Board exam that prove to them they are accountable, responsible, adults that are choosing to be in this career field,” Reddy says. “It is their opportunity because they’re educated and licensed to make more money to succeed and to grow within the career field so youre essentially taking that away, for what reason?”

In relation to HBs 2131 and 2132, Maccoy believes these bills are a step backwards from ensuring public safety and practitioner accountability.

“I would prefer to see laws that are regulating the beauty and the barbering and the manicuring and the aesthetician industry as a whole actually come from the state Board who are knowleable in what these people are doing in salons,” Maccoy says. “I think that the perspective of the lawmakers here does not embrace consumer safety, sanitation and health.”