Living up to its reputation as the Live Free or Die state, a new bill in New Hampshire would—quite literally—get the government out of your hair. Approved by the House of Representatives in March and under consideration in the Senate, HB 1171 would eliminate license requirements for many popular beauty services, like blow dry bars, threading eyebrows, or applying makeup and eyelash extensions. A cosmetologist license would still be needed to chemically treat hair.
Currently, only licensed cosmetologists are allowed to charge for niche beauty services. In turn, that license requires at least 1,500 hours of instruction, which can be prohibitively expensive. According to research by the Institute for Justice, the average cosmetology school in New Hampshire charges nearly $20,000 in tuition, though only a fifth of cosmetology students are able to graduate on time.
“It is time to take common-sense and proven measures to reduce known barriers to entry. Reducing licensing barriers for aspiring beauty professionals does just that,” said Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Jessica Poitras, who testified in favor of the bill on Wednesday. “HB 1171 mostly benefits lower- to middle-income women who do not have the time, money, or additional resources to attend a traditional cosmetology program but do have the training to provide these in-demand services.”
One of those women is Sofie Green-Miller, the proud owner of Touch by Sofie Hair Braids Beauty Bar in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Her clients want Sofie to expand her braiding salon and offer even more services, like applying makeup or eyelash extensions. But if she dares to try to earn a living by performing those services, she could trigger a crackdown by the cosmetology board and risk heavy fines, even jail time.
Bizarrely, Sofie can offer those exact same services for free without any trouble from the state. And she has volunteered her services: During the pandemic, when Sofie’s former employer, a nursing home, had to shut down its in-house salon, she began doing the residents’ hair and makeup for free. Of course, applying makeup or eyelashes doesn’t become more dangerous simply because money changes hands.
As a busy small business owner and mother, getting a cosmetology license is a non-starter for Sofie. She tried a cosmetology course in New Hampshire, but quickly realized she already knew the skills being taught. In fact, the school even asked if she could teach the other students how to braid hair since braiding and other African hair styling weren’t on the curriculum. “It doesn’t make any sense to get a certification for something I can already do,” she said.
Born and raised in Jamaica, growing up there was “terrible,” Sofie recounted. At the age of 13, she was forced to drop out of school and begin working a series of odd jobs to support herself. She still suffers from PTSD and panic attacks from her time there. “Every day for me is a struggle,” she said. “Nobody believed in me. Nobody said it would be easy.”
Fortunately, with an H2B visa, Sofie was eventually able to emigrate to the States in 2011. She worked at first at a hotel in Maine before briefly living in New Hampshire and then Florida. But Sofie wanted to be her own boss and run her own braiding business.
At the time, Florida required a license to braid hair. New Hampshire, on the other hand, did not. So she moved back to the Granite State to set up shop. At first, she took on just a handful of clients, braiding and weaving their hair in her home.
But specializing in African hair styling in one of the whitest states in the nation tapped into a long underserved market and unmet demand. Word of mouth grew, prompting Sofie to open up her own salon. One of Sofie’s regulars has even compared getting her face and hair done as her weekly form of therapy.
“I don’t want to be rich. It’s not about money for me,” Sofie said. “It’s just the feeling” she gets from “making people feel good about themselves.”