How New York made it expensive to become a hairstylist

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Hair care in New York was once a simple affair.

If you wanted to work as a barber or hairstylist, all you needed was desire and some time as an apprentice. For decades there were no state requirements. You didn’t need a license or schooling. There were no exams or fees.

That changed in 1946 when state lawmakers approved a requirement that prospective hair cutters get licensed. One needed a “course of study in a school of barbering,” they said, along with a note from a doctor declaring the applicant was free of “infectious or communicable disease” and had “good moral character.”

Approval opened the door to just about any kind of service you’d find in a barber shop, including trims and shaves, shampooing, facial and scalp massages, and color treatments — for men only.

A section of that law involved cosmetology work on women.

Since then, high-minded concerns about protecting public safety have been overtaken by a system that continues to add new and expensive hurdles, which bring in revenue for the state but make it harder to get a job.

The latest barrier — that any “shampoo assistant” undergo 500 hours of instruction and obtain a state license — follows a trend of rising regulation that started in the 1990s.

Shampoo assistant Evelyn Moquette shampoos customer Ammar Varbee at Astor Place Hairstylists.Helayne Seidman

The 1946 statutes were repealed in 1992 and replaced with a new law that broke up the traditional barbering responsibilities into categories, with each skill eventually requiring its own separate license.

In 1994, the state rolled out an esthetics license, which needed 600 hours of training, a natural hair styling license, which involved 300 hours of instruction and a nail specialty license, with 250 hours of classroom work.

The most demanding requirement was the 1,200 hours of training for a cosmetology license (later lowered to 1,000 in 1999). That year, the state also rolled out new regulations for a waxing license, requiring 75 hours of study.

All at enormous expense.

The average tuition for the required course of study at cosmetology schools in New York comes in at $13,354 and takes about 10 months to complete, according to an industry review.

“Schools can set up rules that create a captive customer base,” said Lisa Knepper of the Institute for Justice and critic of the new licensing requirement.

“There’s really only a handful of other states that have a shampoo assistant license, and the trend is toward getting rid of them.”