Do Shampoo “Technicians” Really Need To Be Licensed?

I never knew how unqualified I was to bathe myself. The states of New Hampshire, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas all have laws requiring professional shampooers to be licensed. Shampooing, evidently, requires rigorous training. According to the Institute for Justice:

The most stringent state, Tennessee, requires 70 days of training, a $140 fee, two exams and a minimum age of 16. On the other end of the spectrum, Alabama merely requires shampooers to pay a $40 fee and be at least 16.

Maybe I am missing something — I shampoo myself every day (close enough), and have never once felt that it would take special skills to perform the act on the follicles of another. The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology describes a “shampoo technician” as “a person who brushes, combs, shampoos, rinses and conditions upon the hair and scalp.” For the job of a technician, none of that seems to be very technical.

Why do these states require a license to shampoo? Are they worried about the catastrophic consequences of a little shampoo in the eyes? Or the endless danger of a plastic comb in untrained hands? Nope. They don’t come out and say it, but the reason these licenses are required is crony capitalism.

The established shampoo techs don’t want competition. They require training that is very expensive. $140 is half a week’s pay for someone earning minimum wage in Tennessee, not to mention the outrageous opportunity costs of sitting through over two months of training. These expenses make it much harder for new shampoo techs to enter the market. Furthermore, according to the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology, one of the required exams is practical. I wonder who gets to decide how many people pass and fail it.

I’m no expert in cosmetology, but it seems to me that shampooing is unskilled labor. That means that there isn’t a range of quality in shampoo jobs, so the only way to compete in the market is to cut prices. Licensing allows shampooers to keep their prices artificially high, damaging consumers’ wallets. It also means that the job is attractive to recent immigrants, since it requires no language or communication skills. But immigrants often can’t afford to spend 70 days in training, just to have to fork over half a week’s pay at the end of it.

Here are some other occupations with totally unjustifiable licensing requirements, including florist, sign language interpreter, and interior designer, check out the Institute for Justice’s comprehensive study, “License to Work.”