Traditionally, African hair braiding has been passed down from mother to daughter. The intricate styles so often seen in African-American hair are beautiful and practical: they protect curly hair, retain moisture, and encourage healthy growth. Braiding one head of hair may take hours, and being a specialized skill, it’s also a career opportunity for those talented enough to pursue it. The problem is that many professional hair braiders in Ohio are working illegally, due to burdensome licensing laws and required training that is often irrelevant and not readily available.
An Ohio cosmetology license requires 1500 hours of study and
supervised practice, at a cost of several thousand dollars. Compared to the 20 hours of required training to work as an armed security guard or 130 hours for an emergency medical technician.
Megan Davis, natural hair expert and owner of Toledo’s Kitchen Salon (and wife of City Paper production manager, Imani Lateef) said, “Cosmetology as a curriculum does not encompass the skill and art of hair braiding… [nor] does it include even the most basic methods and techniques of hair care for the African-American. During the course, the main haircare learned is for Caucasian or European hair textures. Less than three hours [is] spent learning how to create a cornrow base to sew in a weft of hair— which is a major service requested by African-Americans. Hair braiding is never introduced in the classroom.”
Black haircare rarely taught
“Black haircare as a whole is completely omitted from the cosmetology industry,” Davis continued. “Hair braiding has become regulated because African-Americans were providing these services in their homes and both cosmetologists and others who may live in communities where hair braiding takes place thought that no one should practice any beauty service without a license.”
Cosmetology training includes shaving the face, cutting hair, application of heated tools to the hair, and chemical treatments, all potentially dangerous activities. African-American hair braiders do not wash, cut, or apply chemical treatments to hair.
Braiding Freedom, a project of the Institute for Justice, highlights the issue of irrational licensing for hair braiders: “At a minimum, the government may only restrict braiders’ rights to run their businesses when there is some ‘rational basis’ for that restriction. To demonstrate that rational basis, the government must show a reasonable connection between the restrictions in question and public health and safety. 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.”
“Recently, Ohio adopted a new rule, that hair braiders must obtain 450 hours of instruction in order to own and operate a hair braiding salon,” Davis noted. “None of the main cosmetology schools offer this course. There are two known schools that offer this in Ohio at a rate of approximately $3,000, without financial aid or other assistance. While to work in a tanning salon or tattoo parlor, there are no courses or licensing requirements.”
Time for Ohio to take another look
“All areas of Black hair care, including natural hair care and braiding, should be included in cosmetology courses since it is a requirement in the State of Ohio, or Ohio should revisit the current laws in regard to hair braiding and natural hair care,” Davis stated. In Michigan, there is no licensing requirement to practice any form of natural hairstyling or braiding, or to own/operate a natural hair salon. “Hair braiding generalizes a broader field of practice in cosmetology and beauty for the African-American consumer,” Davis explained. “It should be a separate course, included in the current curriculum or left unregulated along with tattoo artists and body piercers.”