Beyond the Salon: Empowering Cosmetologists to Go Mobile

Quality of Life
April 4, 2024

Felicity Ropp

Policy Analyst

The South Carolina General Assembly has the chance this year to right a wrong and take tremendous strides ramping up free market entrepreneurship in the area of hair care and cosmetology. Will they seize the opportunity? 

You may recall that, in 2021, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed into law, a bill that allows barbers to offer their services in mobile and on-site (or “portable”) operations. Palmetto Promise championed this bill from the beginning; it is common-sense deregulation that allows the free market to work by removing unnecessary and burdensome regulations. As a result, South Carolinians are more easily able to enter the barbering trade and operate their own businesses without the overhead cost of setting up a brick-and-mortar shop. South Carolinians seeking barbering services can receive them in a mobile units or with a portable barber operation coming straight to their home, workplace, or other venue.  

This is great news for the men who can benefit from barbering services and for barbers (an occupation that is 77% men!) who can take their services on the road.  

But unfortunately, women’s equivalent haircare professionals—cosmetologists—do not enjoy this freedom.  

Under state law, practices included within the scope of cosmetology are “arranging, styling, thermal curling, chemical waving, pressing, shampooing, cutting, shaping, chemical bleaching, chemical coloring, chemical relaxing, or similar work” upon anyone’s hair, applying “make-up, antiseptics, lotions, creams, chemical preparations,” “waxing, tweezing, cleansing, stimulating, manipulating, beautifying, or similar work on the scalp, legs, feet, face, neck, arms, hands,” or giving manicures or pedicures. Anyone offering these services today is confined to a brick-and-mortar, licensed salon.  

S.857, which just passed the Senate this week, aims to change this and bring cosmetology regulations in line with those for barbering.  

This just makes sense.  

Cosmetologists—who are over 90% women—deserve the same freedoms that barbers already have in South Carolina. 

Female hair professionals are no less capable of operating a mobile salon or maintaining the licensing requirements thereof than their male, barbering counterparts.  

Cosmetologists should be able to offer services in mobile, pop-up units or portable operations that travel to clients’ homes or locations like wedding venues (the House version of the bill, H.4580, refers to the latter as “off-site” services). I recently had a friend get married who had to go to a hair salon early on the morning of her wedding day to have her hair styled; how much easier would it be for South Carolina wedding parties if it was legal to have their hair, makeup, and nails professionally done, right there at the venue? Groomsmen can have a professional barber appear on location to cut their hair and shave their faces—why would we limit those mobile services to those with straight razors and not those with makeup brushes and hair styling? 

Some are worried that allowing mobile services would introduce competition with brick-and-mortar hair salons. They miss the entire point of this legislation. Competition in the marketplace is a good thing. It increases the quality of services available and decreases price. Should mobile cosmetology be allowed, clients will decide where to have their hair cut based on the convenience, the customer service, the price, and their loyalty to a particular cosmetologist. This is the epitome of free market at work. 

Now that the Senate has acted, the House should not delay taking up and passing S.857. It is good for consumers, good for cosmetologists, and good for all freedom-lovers in this state. 



For those of you really interested in the specifics of mobile barbering vs. cosmetology regulation, here is an in-the-weeds postscript:  

You may notice that SC Code of Regulations regarding mobile cosmetologists says that  “services in a mobile shop can only be provided by a licensed registered barber or master hair care specialist” (SC Code Regs 17-21g). Master haircare specialists are licensed under the SC Board of Barbering Examiners, rather than under the State Board of Cosmetology, and even though there is an existing route for a cosmetologist to become a master haircare specialist (SC Code Regs 17–51), within a mobile or portable barbering operation, these master haircare specialists can still ONLY offer “barbering services” (SC Code Regs 17–21g). Barbering services refers to “shaving or trimming a beard, cutting the hair, or hairstyling,” “giving facial or scalp massages,” “singeing, shampooing, or dyeing the hair,” “applying cosmetic preparations…to the scalp, neck, or face,” among other things (§40-7-20). Additionally, SC Law prohibits any licensed cosmetologist, esthetician, or manicurist from practicing out of a barbershop (§40-7-285). Thus, under current law and regulation, there is no way for a cosmetologist to offer services out of a mobile barbershop, and the services allowed to be offered are primarily those catered to men, not the hairstyling, nail technician, or esthetician services that can be offered by a licensed cosmetologist. We must pass S.857 into law and allow cosmetologists the freedom to offer their services mobilely.