It’s difficult to admit, but apparently, I’m not qualified to wash my hair — at least, not in Louisiana. The state requires shampoo assistants in hair salons to receive a special permit from the State Board of Cosmetology. To obtain a permit — which allows an assistant to legally shampoo, condition, and perm hair — an aspiring employee must undergo a week of training, the tuition for which is highly costly to a part-time, entry-level job in the cosmetology industry.
A few states over, in Tennessee, salons and would-be shampooers already beat back a similar licensing requirement. Tammy Pritchard, a Tennessee police officer, brought a constitutional challenge against Tennessee’s cosmetology board after she was blocked from working part-time at her friend’s salon without a permit.
Meanwhile, established salon owners had such a difficult time hiring qualified shampooers that Tennessee decided to eliminate the licensing requirement.
But the requirement still stands in Louisiana — and it’s imposing significant burdens on aspiring salon workers.
The state requires 40 hours of training at a Board-approved cosmetology school before an individual can become a shampoo assistant. The training doesn’t come cheap: The tuition and fees can cost anywhere from $400-1,000. Upon completing the course, licensed shampoo assistants will make an average of $440 per week — which means they’ll have shelled out 1-2 weeks of pay for the privilege of being allowed to work. And that leaves aside the opportunity costs of working a week in cosmetology school rather than making money.
Once they receive their permit, shampoo assistants may “cleanse synthetic or natural hair; apply and remove conditioner; apply and rinse perm solution and perm neutralizer; remove hair color, tint or other chemicals applied to natural hair by a cosmetologist; and remove foil or perm rods.”
Of course, all these activities can be done legally at home by anyone, even in Louisiana. Americans shampoo and condition their hair at home every day, and home perm kits and relaxers, hair color removers, and perm rods and foil are sold at most convenience stores. A quick Google search shows dozens of online tutorials for using these hair care products.
If Louisianans can buy and use these products at home, they should be able to use them in a salon without going through 40 hours of training and spending hundreds of dollars in tuition.
Louisiana’s regulatory burden on shampoo assistants is quite high relative to other states, and 18 states do not license shampooers at all. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s neighbors, Alabama and Arkansas, impose far lower burdens than Louisiana. Alabama merely requires a $75 fee instead of 40 hours of training for hundreds of dollars in tuition, and Arkansas’ requirements are even lower, imposing only a $10 fee.
What’s the rationale for Louisiana’s stricter requirement? Is the state plagued by a particularly large population of unqualified shampooers that need week-long training? No — Louisiana’s true motive is to subsidize cosmetology schools. Cosmetology schools in Louisiana charge hundreds of dollars, sometimes almost $1,000, in tuition and application fees for the shampoo assistant course. The shampooing permit requirement gives these schools guaranteed business.
They require shampoo assistants to pay a large chunk of their income to a cosmetology school to teach them to perform tasks that they likely already know how to do, which amounts to paying the schools for the privilege of working.
The special permit requirement also hinders competition. The expense and opportunity costs associated with obtaining the permit create hurdles that new shampooers will struggle to overcome, all to engage in a profession that can be easily self-taught. This protects established salons from the competition, enabling them to charge artificially high prices, thus harming consumers.
Fortunately, aspiring shampoo assistants have tools they can use to fight for their right to earn an honest living. Public interest legal organizations such as Pacific Legal Foundation stand ready to help aspiring shampoo assistants and other individuals in low- to moderate-income professions fight back against overly burdensome regulations like the shampoo assistant special permit. All Louisianans deserve the opportunity to earn a living.
If Louisiana persists with its burdensome permit scheme, it may face a constitutional lawsuit.
Jack Brown is an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans’ individual liberty and constitutional rights.