Industry Legislation

Licensing Under Fire

Do sunset reviews mean the end of cosmetology licensing? Not necessarily, but they do require the government to evaluate the relevance of licensing and education of cosmetologists. This year, 12 states are scrutinizing the cosmetology industry.

After years of nail technicians fighting for and earning separate licensing, meaningful education, and professional respect, suddenly legislators bent on streamlining government are suddenly asking, “Why do you need 350 hours of education to file nails?” and, “If  women can buy press-on nails in the drugstore, why require a license to apply them?” For many salon professionals, questioning the viability of cosmetology licensing seems to be a step back to square one. Despite the fact that technicians and salon owners have themselves fought for less government bureaucracy and fewer burdens on small businesses, the flurry of sunset reviews--- a state’s periodic review of industry regulations ---is a blow to the strides they’ve made as an industry.

While sunset laws demand that the professional regulatory boards be reviewed at regular intervals, they do not necessarily require deregulation or licensing changes. However, in today’s “smaller government” political climate, licensing boards and regulations long on the books are being closely scrutinized.

“Each state has a periodic review of numerous professional licensing boards,” explains Sue Hammons, owner of Sue Hammons & Associates in Petal, Miss., and national legislative chairperson for the NCA. “Usually the boards are up for review every four to seven years. Twelve states went through sunset reviews this year and only California did away with its State Board of Cosmetology, although they did keep licensing intact.”

A Matter of Perspective 

“It’s a good idea for any professional to continue to improve herself in the practice of her profession, but it’s another matter to require by law that she does,” argues Ed Towey, spokesperson for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee, Fla., who favors reducing regulation in some fields. “It’s not our job to build a better professional; it’s our job to protect the public from harm. Once we establish a minimum standard in which to keep the public safe, we do not need to go above that standard.”

Cosmetology training requirements have always been considered too high by the California legislature (1,600 hours for cosmetologists, 400 for nail technicians, plus exams and inspections); that is in part why the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology was eliminated this year. As of July 1, 1997, the Department of Consumer Affairs is responsible for overseeing the cosmetology industry in California. Pamela Ramsey, executive officer of the California State Board of Cosmetology in Sacramento, Calif., says the message to the industry is that it needs to be more responsible for its monitoring itself. “It’s my personal impression that the government wants salon owners---not the government---to be more responsible for school curriculum.”

Some states base their decision to change an industry’s regulation by weighing the resources they have against the potential dangers to the public that a particular industry has. That is, is there really enough danger to the public to warrant the expense of the board and of licensing? And can laws be enforced? Towey says his department looked at its state situation: budget cutting, fewer state workers available to regulate an increasing licensee population, and increasing complaints against practitioners. They soon found that some professions had greater potential for public harm than others. “They cost a lot more to run than the benefits they were returning (i.e. public safety), and the only reason they were being regulated was that in the past, the practitioners had persuaded the legislature that they should be.”

Saving the Profession

While some claim professionals are practicing protectionism, there is a difference between protectionism and protecting your profession. And the only motive of many cosmetologists who lobby to save the state boards and school hour requirements is that they are convinced the industry will erode without them. Catherine Hinds, director of the Institute of Esthetics in Woburn, Mass., was instrumental in fighting to keep the Massachusetts State Board when it went up for review this year. “Esthetics is moving into the medical area, “she notes. “Estheticians are now working with medical professionals and the last thing we need is to abolish the State Board or worse, to do away with licensing when there is an opportunity to merge with the medical community.” With nail services, for example, sanitation and safety are an issue; technicians use skin-cutting implements such as nippers, and blood transference can occur.

Some believe that if practitioners are no longer regulated, the entire industry will become fragmented and undefined. “If you aren’t licensed, how can you buy professional products?” Ask Hammons. “Will manufacturers still sell to you? If they do, will their liability insurance cover you if you’re using their product? How will you be able to get your own professional liability insurance? If deregulation occurs, some people will maintain their professional standards, but others will not.”

Nail technicians in New York were outraged when they heard that a bill submitted to the Assembly early this year proposed decreasing the current 250 hours required to become a nail technician to 28 hours. These hours would cover sanitation and sterilization only. “We have new products, procedures, and technology that have changed our job description,” writes ArtLene T. Russo, a nail technician and nail products distributor in Buffalo, N.Y., in a letter urging fellow nail technicians to write the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform. “If deregulation is implemented and only 28 hours are required for a nail specialty license, those few who are not diligent enough to seek the needed additional instruction will cripple our efforts to remain professionals.”

What State Is Next?

Each January, nail technicians can call their state board to find out if it is under sunset review that year. If you find out your state board is under review, here’s what will happen. The legislature may appoint a task force to review current regulation and to come up with a plan for reduction or modification. The task force appointees are usually a mix of government officials and cosmetology professionals. Or, someone in the legislature may introduce a bill calling for deregulation of certain of a certain industry without working through the task force. One thing nail technicians can do is to find out if a bill has a backer in both the senate and the assembly or house. Then it would have a greater potential to be taken seriously. In New York, if the bill is not introduced in both houses, or if it is not acted upon, responsibility for making recommendations goes back to the task force.

You must be ready to write letters to the legislature or the task force explaining why educational and licensing requirements are critical for public health and professional integrity. Encouraging your clients to lobby, says Hinds, is even better. “What worked best for us was to talk to our clients,” Hinds explains. “First you need someone to contact the legislature, get the facts, and then send a letter out to beauty professionals with a list of congressmen. Then, get them to tell their clients.”

States under Review


Proposal: To eliminate the State Board of Cosmetology

Results: The board has one year to prove licensing should be kept. Licensing for barbers has been dissolved.

Contact: The Alabama Board of Cosmetology, 1000-A Interstate Park Dr. Montgomery, AL 36130, (334) 272-1110.


Proposals: To do away with the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, and transfer licensing of cosmetologists to the Department of Consumer Affairs. To deregulate instructors and establishments, eliminate school curriculum approval, eliminate school curriculum approval, eliminate educational requirements, and establish an exam that covers health and safety issues only.

Results:  The Department of Consumer Affairs will take over cosmetology licensing in July 1997. At that point the department may review the rest of the recommendations stated above, and propose them to the legislature in January of 1997.

 Contact: California Board of Barbering & Cosmetology, 400 P St,#4080. Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-7061


Proposals: To review the current regulatory structure of cosmetology.

 Results: Nothing to date. The Florida legislature has adjourned and there is no indication of whether or not an examination of the profession wil be proposed again.

 Contact: Florida Board of Cosmetology, 1940 N. Monroe St, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0790, (904) 488-5702


Proposals: To eliminate the State Board of Cosmetology and licensing The Executive Office of Consumer Affairs, which once oversaw the board, would be merged into the Administration and finance division. The governor is seeking to shrink the size of the Cabinet.

 Results: To date, the board is intact, and officials have been requested to review the current regulation and to work with Administration and Finance to see what is necessary and what can be eliminated. “We’ll get legal counsel to help us explain why certain rules should be retained, “says Helen Peveri, executive secretary for the Massachusetts Board of Cosmetology in Boston, Mass. “If we can’t justify something, you bet it will go.”

Contact: The Massachusetts Board of Cosmetology, 100 Cambridge St, Room1512, Boston , MA 02202(617) 727-3067


Proposals: State legislature reviewed the results of |99| legislation, which reviewed the jurisdiction of cosmetology schools, students and instructors. The Maryland State Department of Education Commission oversees private school matters.

 Results: The 1995-96 sunset review continued the division of jurisdiction between the State Board of Cosmetology and the educational departments until June 30, 2001.

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