Tennessee is cracking down on unlicensed natural hair stylists

Although many women take no issue getting their ombre box braids done in their homegirl’s basement, the state of Tennessee is laying down the law on unlicensed hair braiders and natural hair stylists. The Institute for Justice found that The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners has fined more than 30 natural hair shops and dozens of braiders almost $100K since 2009. Forbes recently reported the Board will issue a $1,000 “civil penalty” for every instance of “performing natural hair care services for clients without a license” it encounters regardless of if services are performed in a private home or a shop open to the public.

Tennessee is one of the 27 states that don’t allow natural hair stylists and braiders to work without a license, according to the piece. A license in the state requires at least 300 hours of coursework, and to make the process even more difficult there are only 3 schools in the entire state that offer the courses needed for natural hair licensing charging anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 for tuition. New York, Michigan and South Carolina are other states that have similar regulations on the book.

Fatou Diouf is one of the hair care professionals currently feeling the heat of the heavy fines. Although she is licensed herself she is currently on a payment plan of about $830 month for a $16,000 fine she received due to having several unlicensed hair braiders employed at her salon. She described the experience as “very stressful” as she struggles to send money to her family in Senegal, support her two children and maintain the other expenses of her business such as rent. As a result, Diouf has become an active spokesperson for policy reform so that stylists can receive more support than penalty to provide safe services, stay educated on their trade and still be able to make a profit. Diouf has testified in favor of eliminating the law that requires licensing completely, telling Forbes that without the law, more people in the state would be employed, and it was almost a hindrance for herself as well:

“I never did any other job but hair braiding my whole life.”

“I cannot recall a time when I did not know how.”

She may have a point. 2600 hair braiders are registered in the bordering Mississippi, a state that only requires braiders to register with The Department of Health and pay a $25 fee. Diouf shares many braiders have left her shop and crossed state lines where they can work freely, and as a result she “struggled to hire hair braiders”.

I’m torn. Natural hair care and braiding are both services that can have serious consequences on someone’s health and appearance if not performed correctly and with care. While anyone can watch a YouTube tutorial, grab some jumbo hair and edge control and make you look like a stunt double for Beyoncé in her “Lemonade” video, I’m sure most people would prefer a professional that adheres to best practices and educates themselves on haircare. It’s all fun and games until your scalp is hit with a nasty fungus or an epidemic of alopecia plagues the neighborhood because Chante gripped your whole soul trying to get every hair follicle into one braid. Just like with dining out or getting a root canal, paying customers want to feel like they are getting the best service, and in the event they can’t someone can be contacted and held responsible. And although there have only been two health and safety complaints against natural hairstylists since 2010, those who support the law as it is argue repealing the requirement to have a license, places the public safety at risk. Still, government officials including Gov.Bill Haslam and Rep. David Hawk are sponsoring two bills that would repeal the current requirement.

There has to be a balance where services like these are monitored and professional are expected to meet a certain standard of expertise and education, without making talented entrepreneurs feel like they need a whole degree and an investment of thousands of dollars to do so. Diouf says she definitely doesn’t need months of education for a skill that comes so naturally to her and says that sitting in a classroom was a “waste of time.” She believes 300 hours is excessive and a barrier to those who want to work in the field:

“We don’t need 300 hours to know how to wash a clip or a comb.”

“They’re not going to learn something they already knew.”

“Why would we pay thousands of dollars just to take a test?”