The District of Columbia should abolish the Board of Cosmetology, a local bar study group said yesterday, because its regulations drive up consumer prices for hair styling, facials and manicures without providing significant consumer protections.
"We're not throwing consumers to the wolves; we're trying to make shop operators accountable," said Barry J. Cutler, one of four lawyers in District Bar Division 2 -- Antitrust, Trade Regulation and Consumer Affairs -- which prepared the 25-page report on the cosmetology industry. The report is the first by the District bar on the city's regulatory activities.
The practice of cosmetology generally includes the cutting, styling and coloring of hair, manicuring, and the massaging and use of lotions or other work on the scalp, face, neck, arms or upper body.
Anita Johnson, a lawyer who worked with Cutler on the report, said the problems found in the District's cosmetology industry also exist in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. She said that if the District deregulated cosmetology, "we would be a pacesetter in the nation."
Eurqueline Ashton, chairman of the six-member District Board of Cosmetology, could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the board said she wanted time to read the report before responding to its recommendations.
In its year-long review of cosmetology in the District, the bar study group found:
* No cosmetologists have been disciplined, even though the board has received 10 complaints in the past five years from consumers alleging bad treatment. In one case, a consumer said she had been beaten on the head with a hot curling iron by a cosmetologist after complaining about the hair style she received. The consumer documented her complaint with medical records of X-rays and head stitches done in a hospital emergency room, but the Board of Cosmetology decided that "no adverse action was warranted" against the operator.
* About 20 percent of the District's estimated 6,720 cosmetologists are unlicensed, but there has been no serious effort by the board to enforce licensing requirements.
* Applicants for cosmetology licenses, in keeping with a 1938 District law, are subjected to heavy training and examination requirements that are unrelated to consumer safety and health.
Examinations judge applicants' ability to do outdated styles including finger waves, the Marcel-style gelatinized hairstyle popular during the 1930s, and pin curls, commonly seen in the 1940s and '50s, rather than contemporary styles such as blow-dry cuts. And exams fail to emphasize more hazardous procedures such as bleaching, coloring and permanent waves.
In conclusion, the report recommended substantial deregulation of the practice of cosmetology, with a reduction of licensing and testing to the minimum level needed to assure consumer safety.
The report specifically suggested that individual cosmetologists no longer be required to undergo formal training and licensing, that beauty salons be required to have a licensed owner or manager who is responsible for the sanitation and safety of the business, and that salons deposit a security bond to ensure the availability of compensation for injured customers. The report also recommended that salons be subject to periodic sanitation inspections and that complaint handling and enforcement be shifted away from the Board of Cosmetology.
Lawyers who worked with Johnson and Cutler on the report were Carol Cowgill and Ellen Broadman.