By Christina Sandefur and Jenna Bentley
From microbreweries to self-driving cars, ride-sharing to home-sharing, Arizona is becoming a beacon for business and innovation, fostering an environment to welcome entrepreneurs who offer goods and services in cutting-edge ways. Now the state is seeing a new addition to its innovation industry: blow dry bars, where customers can get their hair shampooed, conditioned, and styled quickly. Across the country, blow dry bars have become tremendously popular in recent years, both for customers and for stylists looking to earn a living.
But in Arizona, blow drying someone’s hair without a cosmetology or barbering license is a crime punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Earning a license isn’t cheap or easy—it costs on average between $15,611 to $18,000 in training costs and fees and requires at least 1,000 hours of training in cutting, dying, and permanently changing the structure of the hair—procedures that blow dry bar stylists don’t even perform.
Requiring blow dry bar stylists to get cosmetology licenses does not protect the public health and safety—after all, people shampoo, blow dry, and style hair in their homes all the time, without any special training. Instead, the law keeps stylists from earning an honest living and customers from getting simple blow dry and styling services without visiting a full salon (and paying full salon prices). Without legislative reform, entrepreneurs subjected to these unfair and overly restrictive regulations are forced to seek refuge from the courts.
For example, after a grueling 16-month legal battle, the Arizona Board of Cosmetology in 2014 agreed to cease its attempts to needlessly regulate entrepreneurs like Lauren Boice, a cancer survivor and former hospice nurse’s assistant. Boice founded Angels on Earth Home Beauty to connect homebound elderly and ill clients with licensed cosmetologists who can perform haircuts, manicures or massages right in the clients’ own homes. In a classic story of government run amok, the Board began threatening to shut down Lauren’s business unless she complied with regulations designed for beauty salons, not home visits. The Board even demanded she open a physical salon location even though her homebound clients would never step foot inside. Lauren spent years battling the board in and out of court just to arrive at the commonsense conclusion that a cosmetology board doesn’t have the power to regulate a phone dispatch business.
Unfortunately, Lauren’s experience is not unique, but part of a growing trend toward prohibiting people from working or starting a business without first asking permission from government—even if they aren’t posing any health or safety threat to the public. Over 60 years ago, only one in 20 American workers was required to get permission from the government to do their jobs. But today, over 25 percent of American workers are subject to occupational licensing. While fewer than 30 occupations are licensed in all 50 states (most of which are in the medical, dental, and mental health professions), over half of all state-licensed occupations are licensed in only one state—occupations including graphic designers, audio engineers, braille instructors, and travel agents. In other words, many of these licenses are not serving a legitimate public safety need and have not been adapted to suit the modern economy. Too often when approaching a new business, government asks, “how do we regulate?” without first considering “should we regulate?”
It doesn’t make sense to apply Arizona’s costly and time-consuming cosmetology licensing requirements to people who just want to wash and dry hair. And it prevents students working toward their cosmetology licenses from earning money to help pay for their schooling. Arizona’s stifling regulations leave blow dry stylists without work and customers with fewer options at higher prices.
Fortunately, Arizona lawmakers have an opportunity to undo this regulatory mismatch and boost the state’s economy. HB 2011, a commonsense reform that the legislature will consider during the upcoming legislative session, removes the requirement that workers who only dry and style hair must obtain an expensive and unnecessary cosmetology license. Entrepreneurs who pose no health or safety risk to the public should be free to focus on serving their clients rather than navigating a needless labyrinth of red tape.
Christina Sandefur is executive vice president and Jenna Bentley is external affairs director at the Goldwater Institute.