IJ Untangles Regulations for Natural Hair Braiders

Natural hair braiding is a beauty practice popular among many African, African-American and immigrant communities in the United States. Braiding is a very safe practice as braiders do not use any dangerous chemicals, dyes or coloring agents and do not cut hair. Yet in many states, braiders have to endure hundreds of hours of unnecessary coursework and pay thousands of dollars before they can legally work. The Institute for Justice is dedicated to untangling these entrepreneurs from burdensome regulations.

  • Today, braiders are not licensed in 31 states.
  • IJ brought its very first case on behalf of Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah and his wife Pamela Ferrell, two braiding entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C.
  • Since that case, IJ has litigated 14 cases for natural hair braiders. Among these cases, IJ has secured three victories in federal court and helped usher in reforms in seven states and in the District of Columbia.
  • IJ has published a report, Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape, which found that onerous licensing has nothing to do with protecting public health and safety, but just keeps braiders out of work.

Braiding laws vary dramatically across the country. In five states (Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming), natural hair braiders are forced to become licensed as either cosmetologists or hairstylists. Yet few of these states actually teach natural hair braiding styles. Instead, braiders have to learn cosmetology practices they have no intent on using in their career, like giving manicures or bleaching hair. Complying with these regulations is an ordeal, with licenses requiring up to 2,000 hours of training and costing upwards of $20,000 in tuition fees at cosmetology schools.

In 14 states and Washington, D.C., braiders are regulated by separate, specialty licenses, with nine of those states requiring anywhere from 200 to 500 hours of coursework before a braider can work legally.

Although hair braiding predates our own U.S. Constitution, it nevertheless rests squarely within the Constitution’s fundamental protections of individuals’ right to earn an honest living. By filing lawsuits on behalf of natural hair braiders, and by working with grassroots activists and lawmakers, we can set and build on important precedents in the fight to secure economic liberty.

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