Stylists who braid and weave hair styles that are highly popular among African-American women in Charlotte and across the state now have to answer to a new set of state licensing regulations.
As of July 1, natural hair stylists who braid, weave and lock hair, but don't cut or use chemicals, must begin the process of getting licensed to work in a hair salon, according to a state law that passed last year. They have until June 30, 2011, to be licensed or face penalties.
Hair braiding and weaving is especially popular in the African-American community. Some styles, for instance, require that braids be tended to every few months by a natural hair stylist who is skilled in creating tiny microbraids. And depending on the quality, sew-in weaves can cost anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars, said Monica Williams, a licensed aesthetician who is well-known in the local beauty community.
"(Natural hair) is considered an art form with African-American women," Williams said. "These traditions have been passed on from grandmother to granddaughter, mother to daughter. It's something we've done in our culture for years."
Before the new law, anyone with the skill and know-how could braid and weave hair. Now, natural hair styling becomes a regulated industry.
Natural hair stylists in South Carolina must also be licensed by the S.C. Board of Cosmetology.
Many natural hair stylists said the license law is a good thing. They say it will provide more accountability for clients, many of whom have suffered botched weave jobs or too-tight braids that resulted in scalp disease and alopecia, or hair loss.
Some hair salons, like Lockstar in Charlotte, self-instituted mandatory licensing months ago to ensure safe hair practices.
The state law requires all natural hair stylists to pass a test to be eligible for the license.
Current stylists can choose to study on their own or go through 300 hours of training for the test. Starting next July, new natural hair stylists entering the business must go through the 300 hours of training.
The test, which has practical and written components and is administered by the state Cosmetic Art Board, examines competency in sanitation of hair supplies, health issues like identifying scalp disease and proper disposal of items, and proper technique for hair braiding and weaving.
"This was an unregulated area of service to the public and it had become a concern to the health and well-being of citizens," said Democratic state Rep. Earline Parmon from Winston-Salem, who sponsored the state law.
After the one-year "grace period" ends next summer, state inspectors who visit salons will write civil penalties for failure to comply.
But many natural hair stylists are from African countries and may not know English well. Some stylists argue it could be difficult for those stylists to pass.
Jackie Green, a stylist at Tisun Beauty Salon inside the giant Tisun Beauty Supply store at 5420 N. Tryon St., found out about the new law several months ago.
"I think it's good - it weeds out the people who are just trying to capitalize on hair braiding, and it rewards the ones who care about proper hair care," said Green. She herself is a past victim of a sew-in-weave-gone-awry that resulted in some temporary hair loss.
Because Green doesn't cut or color, she is not yet licensed, though she plans on studying and taking the test soon.
Robbin Matthews, 28, was getting a sew-in weave from a stylist on a recent afternoon. She had received a bad infusion, a method of hair extension, from another stylist in Charlotte. The result: Some of her hair came out from her scalp, and her actual hair had to be cut to get all the infusion clips out.
"A lot of people don't know how to do natural hair," said Matthews, who works as a student adviser.
There's a good chance some mom-and-pop natural hair salons will go out of business because of the law, said Lashawnda Becoats, style editor of the news website qcitymetro.com. But she still thinks the law is reasonable.
"You could be a cake person making money by baking cakes from your kitchen, but you shouldn't be doing that either (if you aren't) licensed," Becoats said.
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