News Story

Giving A Friend A Manicure Or Haircut Is Illegal in Michigan

And getting the license takes more training than homebuilders or EMTs

You’re breaking the law if you cut the hair of another person in Michigan without the government’s permission, even if it’s for a friend or family member, and even if there’s no charge. An aunt cutting her nephew’s hair? Illegal. A girlfriend giving her boyfriend a trim? Not allowed. And teenage girls giving each other manicures? They’re all committing misdemeanor crimes under Michigan law.

That’s according to the state statutes imposing licensure requirements on barbers and cosmetologists. The law states, “An individual shall not perform any form of cosmetology services, with or without compensation, on any individual other than a member of his or her immediate family without a license under this article.”

Barbers were one of the first professions on which the state of Michigan imposed licensing restrictions. The requirements are stringent: Getting a barber’s license here requires an individual to take 1,800 hours of classroom and practical training – and that’s down from the 2,000 hours required a few years ago. These are among the nation’s most restrictive occupational licensure mandates in terms of the number of training hours required. It is nearly eight times the number required to get a New York license, to cite one example.

And that’s after the would-be practitioner has paid in the neighborhood of $12,000 to $20,000 in tuition to a barber school, according to Damon Dorsey, president of the American Barber Association.

Dorsey told Michigan Capitol Confidential the amount of time and debt associated with becoming a licensed barber has led to more unlicensed people providing the service illegally in their homes. The facts back this up. In 2018, there were 83 complaints filed with the state against barbers, and most of them were complaints about someone operating without a license.

“The ABA has gotten countless complaints from students on the cost of barbering school and time it takes to get a barber’s license,” Dorsey said. “As it is, many people forgo getting a barber’s license and just cut hair in their kitchen and basement, as they refuse to be strapped down by debt and spend two years of their lives qualifying for a barber’s license.”

Dorsey said that it takes the average person one-and-a-half to three years to become a barber; and he called the classroom requirements out-of-date.

“Most barbers will agree that it should not take [1,800] hours of practice to become a barber,” he said. “Forty to 80 hours should be sufficient, especially if continuing education is available. Also, technology makes it possible for students to take classes online, which should make it much easier to speed up the process.”

To put those numbers in context, the training hours to be a barber are several times more than the number required to become a licensed homebuilder, auto mechanic or emergency medical technician.

In 2013, Alabama became the last state to require a license for barbers. A 2018 study by Edward Timmons found that this increased profits for licensees, caused fewer shops to open and drove prices higher for consumers. “This comparison produces evidence consistent with the economic theory that occupational licensing restricts competition and harms consumers by limiting choice and increasing prices,” said the report.

Several bills have been recently introduced to cut back on the barbering mandates. Senate Bill 691, introduced by Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, and Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, would allow apprenticeship hours to cover the training requirements. State Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, introduced House Bill 5438, which would eliminate the state requirement that individuals get a license before being able to become a barber.

“Quite simply, state government has a thousand better things to do than tell barbers how to cut hair,” Johnson said in a press release. “This license is an unnecessary regulation and does nothing to protect public safety.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.