Minnesota cosmetology licensing is overly burdensome

The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology — which licenses occupations that deal with individuals working on nails, hair and skin – is probably one of many licensing bodies that individuals are familiar with. In recent years, a lot of scrutiny has followed some of the practices of cosmetology licensing in Minnesota.

In 2005, for instance, the Institute for Justice led a case against the board to allow African hair braiding without a license. Prior to the repeal of the licensing law in 2019, African hair braiders were required to undergo 1,550 hours of training, none of which had anything to do with hair braiding. A law was passed in 2019 requiring the board to amend its requirements regarding hair braiding.

And even more recently, in 2019 the board sent a cease and desist letter to free-lance makeup and hairstyling artists practicing at “special events” — like weddings — without a salon manager license.

To put in perspective, a salon manager license takes 4,250 hours of school training and passing two exams. And for anyone already licensed as a cosmetologist, getting a salon manager licensed requires 1,700 hours of salon work, none of which particularly prepares a practitioner for working at weddings or other special events. Fortunately, the legislature moved quickly in passing a bill that would exempt freelance artists from licensing.

The tyranny of licensing is, unfortunately, not over in cosmetology, as can be seen by a statement put out by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, based on their new report.

We found that certain aspects of Minnesota’s complex cosmetology licensing structure and requirements do not contribute to public health or safety, but do make licensing more expensive and burdensome for licensees. We recommend a number of changes to the licensing structure and requirements.

Indeed, cosmetology licensing is rife with inconsistencies and overly complex rules for the seemingly un-complex jobs. For example;

  1. To earn a salon manager license, one needs at most 4,250 hours of formal training — or 1,700 hours of salon work training if one has a cosmetology license — regardless of the fact that a salon manager license does not require specialized skill, or training and has little to do with safety and public health.
  2. Instructors in the cosmetology industry have to obtain a separate license for each practice which they teach even though there are no special training requirements for each practice.
  3. To manage a cosmetology school, one must have a cosmetology license. Practitioners with a specialty license — nail technicians for example have – have to hire someone with a cosmetology license to manage their school.
  4. Cosmetology has four licensing levels — operator, salon manager, instructor and school manager — all with gradually increasing levels of requirements despite most requiring the same type of training and skill.
  5. Practitioners interested in hair styling only are required to undergo training for a full cosmetology license, which means they spend time and money undergoing training in nail and skin care, areas in which they are not interested.
  6. Under state law, a special event services permit faces more stringent requirements than the homebound services permit even though the scope for the former is narrower than the latter.

Cosmetology is objectively a low-risk profession, unlike other professions like health care that do warrant some level of oversight. The fact that so much regulation exists with cosmetology is in itself a conundrum that highly points to the realities of licensing; it is all about thwarting the competition.

As other states are moving to remove barriers that restrict mostly low-income individuals from entering lucrative occupations, it is time Minnesota does the same.