INDIANAPOLIS – A flap over facial hair has hit the Indiana Statehouse as cosmetologists fight a legal interpretation that has kept them from putting their clippers on beards and mustaches.
"The whole issue is nonsense," said Flo Woodward, a longtime instructor at Ravenscroft Beauty College in Fort Wayne with both a barber and cosmetologist license. "Whoever decided this had nothing better to do."
That someone is the State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, which in August turned the industry a bit on its head with a decision that reversed decades of practice.
The 3-1 vote said cosmetologists and cosmetology students may not trim or shave beards or mustaches, though barbers can.
The result is House Bill 1172, which reverses that vote by adding shaving or trimming beards and mustaches to the definition of cosmetology.
It passed the House 65-27, but some barbers believe it jeopardizes their businesses. The legislation now moves to the Senate.
Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said the bill could put barbers out of business, noting there are 46,000 licensed cosmetologists in Indiana but only 3,400 licensed barbers.
"The big cat is eating up the little cat," he said. "We just need to make sure it’s fair."
Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, said he voted against the bill in committee and on the floor – but not because he has a problem with cosmetologists touching beards and mustaches.
"My no vote is kind of a protest because our state licensure laws are ridiculous. We get these turf fights every year," he said. "It’s just silly."
Keith Niehaus, president of the Indiana Cosmetology and Barbering Association, said the issue goes back to last year when a small group of barbers complained that cosmetologists were using straight razors to shave men.
Straight razors are blades that fold into their handles and are often seen in tense movie scenes. But there are other ways to work on beards and mustaches, including creams, clippers and electric razors.
The State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners asked a staff attorney who noted the law doesn’t reference a straight razor at all. But he went further to say the definition of barbering includes trimming beards and mustaches. The cosmetology definition talks about cutting and trimming hair in general.
"He took two minutes to look at it and said cosmetologists can’t do anything to beards and mustaches," Niehaus said.
The board then voted 3-1 that cosmetologists can use razors to shave the head and neck, however they may not trim or shave beards or mustaches.
Niehaus said board inspectors began issuing violations to salons based on the new finding even though no one was told of the interpretation.
But Trent Fox, spokesman for the board, said no fines or violations have been issued. And he said a formal advisory opinion has been sought from Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office to clarify.
The board has taken no position on the bill itself but "was willing to provide input and supported efforts to alleviate the legal confusion surrounding the board advisory counsel’s comments as well as the lack of guidance which would have been provided by an advisory opinion," Fox said.
Woodward agrees cosmetologists shouldn’t be using a straight razor to work on beards and mustaches. She said they aren’t trained on that.
Instead, cosmetology students learn to use a razor to cut hair.
"I respect the barber field 100 percent. When they do the face shave with a straight razor it’s amazing," she said.
But she said it’s a big problem if cosmetologists can’t use electric clippers to trim a mustache or neaten up a beard.
"The whole thing just snowballed," Woodward said.