by Jenna Bentley

Recently, the Virginia legislature made history by being the first state to pass a full exemption from state occupational license for those who only want to wash and blow-dry hair. Also known as “blow dry bars,” these businesses offer customers a fast and affordable hair wash and dry experience.

This industry has taken off over the past few years and now these businesses can be found across America. Unlike traditional hair salons, blow dry bar employees can only wash, dry, and style the hair using tools like hairdryers and curling irons. They are not allowed to cut, dye, perm, or offer the services of a traditional salon. Blow dry bars have become a booming business with abundant job opportunities. However, due to the high cost of cosmetology schools, which require students to learn more skills than are needed to work at a blow dry bar, these businesses find themselves in a shortage of employees.

When students go through the time and expense to obtain a cosmology license, they traditionally want to do more than just blow dry hair. They want to practice at the top of their license at a full-service salon. Virginia’s legislature heard this problem and acted accordingly. Delegate Mark Mean (D) led a bipartisan coalition to pass House Bill 790, which “exempts persons working in a barbershop or cosmetology salon whose duties are confined to blow drying, cleansing, and styling hair from being required to obtain an occupational license.” The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by the Governor.

This is a big deal not just for blow dry bars, but for consumers. By freeing people from needing a burdensome and expensive license to blow dry hair, Virginia will open its doors to a previously unhirable employee pool. For example, cosmetology students can gain hours of experience working in the field to help them pay for school. Non-students can see what it is like to work in the industry prior to investing money into cosmetology school. Businesses can hire more people and possibly lower prices to consumers. Full-service salons can employ people to just to do blow outs, thus freeing up their licensed cosmetologists for other services such as cuts and colorings.

Virginia is not alone in its occupational license reform for blow dry bar employees. However, they have learned from other states’ mistakes. In 2016, Maryland passed a limited license for blow dry bar employees requiring a 350-hour license. Unfortunately, none of the cosmetology schools there are offering the 350-hour program. This could be because the schools would make far less in tuition for a 350-hour limited license. These limited license programs also mean that students wouldn’t be eligible for traditional Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) benefits and would likely have to pay out of pocket or take Federal Family Education Loans or Direct Loans.

Virginia has taken a huge step by leading the way with this small reform, allowing people to blow dry hair and make an honest living without being unduly burdened by an unnecessary occupational license. Arizona has some of the most burdensome occupational licenses for the cosmetology industry, and in a state where more hours of training are required to use a curling iron than to become an EMT or police officer, we should look to states like Virginia and copy their successes.

Jenna Bentley is the External Affairs Director at the Goldwater Institute.