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General Assembly exempts natural hair braiders from hairdressing/cosmetology licenses



On the last day of session legislators voted to exempt natural hair braiders from the state’s requirement for hairdressers and cosmeticians to be licensed with the state.

The legislation, sponsored by Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) and Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence), is the result of a four-year effort to recognize natural hair braiding as a safe, natural, cultural practice, distinct from hairdressing and barbering, which requires licensing due to their use of chemicals and sharp instruments.

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“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women and men,” said Representative Williams. “Hair braiding skills and techniques are passed down from generation to generation and do not require formal training. Forcing natural hair braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice. This bill rights a wrong and allows entrepreneurs – including a lot of women from low-income neighborhoods – to make a living.

“Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braider’s creativity,” continued Williams. “The state does not require licenses to produce art, yet, that is in effect what is occurring now with natural hair braiders. Finally lifting this senseless requirement is a triumph for our community, not only freeing braiders from onerous regulations but also bringing about a bit of sorely needed cultural sensitivity.”

The bill (H5677A/S0260A) defines natural hair braiding as “a service of twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking, or braiding hair by hand or with mechanical devices.” The bill allows braiders to use natural or synthetic hair extensions, decorative beads and other hair accessories; to perform minor trimming of natural hair or hair extensions incidental to twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking or braiding hair; and to use topical agents such as conditioners, gels, moisturizers, oils, pomades, and shampoos in conjunction with hair braiding as well as clips, combs, crochet hooks, curlers, curling irons, hairpins, rollers, scissors, blunt-tipped needles, thread, and hair binders. They may also make wigs from natural hair, natural fibers, synthetic fibers and hair extensions.

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Under the bill, natural hair braiders may not apply dyes, reactive chemicals, or other preparations to alter the color of the hair or to straighten, curl, or alter the structure of the hair; or use chemical hair joining agents such as synthetic tape, keratin bonds or fusion bonds.

Proponents for the bill have argued that requiring natural hair braiders to meet the licensing requirements for hairdressers forces them to either pay thousands of dollars and undergo 1,200 hours of cosmetology training, or go into the “underground economy” to avoid being shut down.

“Passing this bill is vindication for braiders who have never claimed to be hairdressers and shouldn’t have been held to the same licensing standards,” said Senator Quezada. “It also lets braiders practice their art much more freely, finally opening the door for a cottage industry to thrive in Rhode Island. In that way, it’s an economic development and jobs bill, too.”

Enactment of the law would mean Rhode Island would join 27 other states that do not require licensing of natural hair braiders, according to the Institute for Justice, which has advocated for the deregulation of natural hair braiders across the nation.

The bill will now be sent to the governor.

[From a press release]