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Op-Ed: I can create beauty salon jobs if Georgia will let me

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Beauty professionals need experience “behind the chair,” so I accepted with gratitude when an established salon owner offered me my first job while I was still in high school. The break helped launch my career.

Now I want to pay it forward. But Georgia stifles my ability to recruit and train the next generation of talent at my salon, Anjel Hair and Beauty Studios, in College Park, Ga.

Among other restrictions, the state heavily regulates makeup artists and blow-dry stylists. These beauty professionals do not cut hair, use harsh chemicals, or do anything remotely dangerous. Yet before they can collect their first paychecks at a Georgia salon, they must enroll in a state-approved beauty program or formal apprenticeship.

Makeup artists who choose the school option must log 1,000 hours of instruction for occupational licensure. Blow-dry stylists must log 1,325 hours. Most of this time is spent in a student salon working for free — leaving little opportunity to gain paid experience with willing employers like me.

Formal apprenticeships take longer — up to 3,000 hours of supervised training. Apprentices must also pay government fees, fill out government forms and follow government rules. Apprentices and students must also pass two board exams.

The overall burden is excessive.

Emergency medical technicians, who work in life-and-death situations, need only 150 hours of instruction in Georgia. City bus drivers, pest control applicators and pharmacy technicians need none.

The unequal treatment can leave beauty professionals in debt. A 2021 report from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that supports people’s right to earn an honest living, finds that Georgia cosmetologists pay an average of $17,569 for school, while borrowing an average of $7,852 in federal student loans. The payoff for such a steep investment is a median annual wage of $29,432, including tips.

I dodged much of the pain by signing up for a dual enrollment cosmetology program at age 16, allowing me to take high school and vocational school course simultaneously. This qualified me for a salon position before I had to worry about things like rent and child care.

Many aspiring beauty professionals do not have this option. Single parents, career switchers, immigrants and others must start where they are.

Georgia can help with Senate Bill 354, which passed the state Senate on Jan. 29 and awaits House approval. I took time off work and testified in support of this measure because I recognize its potential to improve conditions for aspiring beauty professionals, including African Americans from my own community.

SB 354 would allow people to perform simple blow-dry styling without an occupational license. The bill would also expand an exemption for makeup artists to include all settings. Currently, Georgia allows unlicensed makeup artists to work at department stores, film sets and certain other locations, but not at salons, at clients’ homes or special events.

The arbitrary rules border on the absurd: Helping a model look her best for a bridal magazine photo shoot is legal. But if the event turns into a real wedding, then a makeup artist using the same techniques with the same cosmetics could face punishment.

The bill would free all blow-dry stylists and makeup artists. It would not affect cosmetologists, manicurists, hair designers or barbers. People who cut or color hair, use harsh chemicals, paint nails or perform beard maintenance for pay would still need occupational licenses.

I do not see a downside. But on the same day I testified in Atlanta, I met the opposition. Beauty school operators and salon owners express concerns about imagined risks. Their dueling proposal, House Bill 349, does not include any broad exclusions for blow-dry styling or makeup application.

They consider such sweeping reforms a threat to public health and safety. Yet they present no data to back their claims. They talk instead about hypotheticals — describing scenarios I have never seen during my eight years “behind the chair.” Lipstick injuries and blow-drying accidents do not occur in the real world.

If they did, the risks would be extremely low. What is certain is the economic potential for aspiring beauty professionals. Regulators should support them, not hinder them. The change would make Georgia a more beautiful place.

Angela Mackey is a licensed cosmetologist and owner of Anjel Hair and Beauty Studios in College Park.

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