News Story

State Law May Drive Job-Seeking Michigan Woman To Move Elsewhere

Lacking cosmetology license, she looks west for opportunity

Donna Williams

Donna Williams grew up in Michigan, but is thinking about moving to Las Vegas because the licensing laws in her home state make it difficult for her to pursue her passion to work as a makeup artist.

Williams would like to work in a spa or salon but cannot because she doesn’t have the proper licenses the state requires. A widow who lives on a fixed income, Williams says it isn’t worth spending the time and money to get a cosmetology or esthetician license when all she wants to do is makeup.

The resident of White Pigeon moved to Burbank, California, for three months in 2009. She went there to study makeup artistry at the Westmore Academy of Cosmetic Arts with Marvin Westmore, who has worked on movies such as Blade Runner and Doctor Dolittle.

During her time in California, Williams received 480 hours of training in makeup and other skills required for working on movie sets, at weddings and at other locations. She also received training on airbrush makeup from Westmore’s daughter, Kandace.

Since returning to Michigan, Williams has worked as a makeup artist on film and video projects. She also has worked with photographers, and, to a limited extent, brides. Williams is currently working as a union apprentice with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. But after Michigan ended its film subsidy program, she said, there have been fewer film opportunities in the state.

Given that fewer film projects are available, Williams said she would like to do makeup in a spa or salon. But she can’t do that because she doesn’t have the occupational licenses required by the state.

“I’ve already spent $25,000 on my education,” Williams said. “I’d actually considered moving to Las Vegas because there’s a lot of shows out there, that you don’t need a license for.”

Williams faces a conflict between her desire to be in Michigan and her interest in using her training in her chosen field of work.

“I was born and raised in Michigan; of course I want to stay and use my talents in my home state, but my home state makes that almost impossible,” Williams said.

An applicant seeking a cosmetology license in Michigan must be at least 17 years old with a ninth grade education and have at least 1,500 hours of study at a licensed cosmetology school, or serve as an apprentice for more than two years in a licensed cosmetology establishment. The license also requires hundreds of dollars in fees and an exam.

An esthetician license, meanwhile, requires 400 hours of training, payment of a $200 fee and an exam.

While Williams has been able to do some makeup work on film projects and has volunteered at her local community theater, she has been discouraged by her inability to find a consistent 9-to-5 job.

Paul Avelar is an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm. He told Michigan Capitol Confidential he wonders why someone working as a cosmetologist or an esthetician needs a license in some circumstances, like in a salon, but not in others, like working with an independent producer on a film set.

“If it’s safe to do this in some contexts. Why isn’t it safe in other contexts?” Avelar asked. “This is again just another example of when states require a license for something that probably doesn’t need a license.”

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require a cosmetology license, according to the Institute for Justice, though their particular effects on makeup artists varies from state to state.