If Everyone Could Trim a Beard …

A headline in our local paper screams: “Barbers, Cosmetologists in Turf War Over Shaving.” The question is where sideburns end and beards begin.

In Texas, only barbers are licensed to trim beards, and they are unhappy that cosmetologists are cutting into their market.

This fight illustrates the effects of occupational licensing — legal restrictions on workers’ ability to enter certain markets.

Barbers have benefited over the years from the exclusion of cosmetologists in what was essentially a restriction on supply. Along with the high entry costs (nearly a year of required training), this has raised the equilibrium wage of barbers — and the equilibrium price of a haircut. Licensing of medical doctors, where the consumer lacks information on quality, might be sensible. But barbers and cosmetologists?

As one party to this controversy noted, “Most of the rules are so archaic and pathetic. They’re prehistoric.” True — and it’s the consumer who suffers.


I take it then you have never been shaved by a straight razor. Beleive me, knowing the barber studied cutting hair for a year rather than how to apply make-up, apricot scrubs and seaweed wraps, is comforting when there is knife at your throat! Then of course there is the sterility issue. If you have fewer appliances to maintain it's easier not to screw that up.

It's not a bad thing that there is a barrier to entry to barber shops.


He clearly does not know the definition of prehistoric.


For the record, I am a Chicago trained economist. Despite this, a little training ("barrier to entry") in the hair cutting profession is not necessarily a bad thing. My dad had a scar on his face for 60 years following a bad shave he had in Europe after the war. The barber's razor transferred some micro-organism to his skin and his face was infected following the shave.


If only barbers alone are allowed to trim beards, they reserve this right and therefore get more customers. The demand for barbers is not that high, given how most men simply shave at home in their own bathrooms. If cosmetologists are allowed to enter the shaving beards business, then the demand for barbers would be even lower. Barbers would definitely make less money, and some barber shops might even go out of business.

To protect the business of barber shops and prevent them from disappearing (all barbers would just adapt into being cosmetologists to earn more money, or face bankruptcy), cosmetologists should simply stay out of the business of shaving beards, and stick to haircuts.


In India, there's no entry or exit barriers. no mandatory training, no need for premises even, sometimes these guys will just have a chair on a side walk. the average haircut will cost you in the range of 0.5 to 1 USD and even less outside the cities. this is of course valid only for men, the women's side of the industry follows more western norms.


Why should the consumer lack information on anything in this day and age?

Eric M. Jones

I think barbers, hairdressers, etc. should not require a license.

Now fortune tellers and economists should require special training and a license.


Do fewer men die in Texas of botched shavings?


Is this the best someone can do when arguing for deregulation ? In the real world who really cares if something is a couple bucks more or less. If you can't take the time to take a course or two to upgrade your profession then maybe you shouldn't be in business at all. Just think, we can all be lawyers and doctors just by getting a business card that says so.


"If cosmetologists are allowed to enter the shaving beards business, then the demand for barbers would be even lower."

The demand for _shaving_ by barbers might be lower, but as you said:

"...most men simply shave at home in their own bathrooms."

The demand for barbers is little affected by whether or not they do shaves. I'd wager that 95%+ of the average barber's business is haircuts.

I say this as a bearded man who finds that most old-school barbers won't trim a beard, which is a service I'd happily pay for. My regular shop's motto is "nothing south of the ears". (-:


My GF trained to be an esthetician and most of her actual course material was identifying medical conditions, cleanliness, customer care . . . the actual doing nails/waxing/make up was mostly hands on stuff.

I was really surprised at the depth of the course for what I was under the impression was a course on how to paint nails. There is a lot more to it than you would think.


Barbers used to be surgeons during the Civil War and prior to that. Can you imagine if they were able to preserve that exclusive right?


Barbers and cosmetologists both provide services that risk passage of infectious disease. Requiring a license is a public health issue; it allows the municipality to determine a basic level of required training (often represented by ability to pass a standardized exam) to mitigate potential risk to the client. In a world of blood-borne, incurable diseases, one nick with an improperly-sterilized implement could ultimately be fatal. Isn't it a bit more comforting to have some assurance, as a customer, that the person wielding the razor has had extensive training in proper sterilization techniques, and is legally required to practice them?

The licenses don't exist to provide income protections for a certain group, but to guarantee that certain higher-risk services are only performed by people who've received training designed to reduce those risks. Most of the time, these licenses allow someone to carry multiple licenses (once appropriately trained) so they can provide a broader range of service, if they choose to.



Nice try, but Cosmetologists have licensing rules in Texas (and other States). In Texas, it is 1500 hours of training (so around a year) and then add-on licenses for other abilities (facials, waxing, etc). In specific:

(b) To be eligible for an operator license, an applicant must:

(1) be at least 17 years of age;

(2) have obtained a high school diploma or the equivalent of a high school diploma or have passed a valid examination administered by a certified testing agency that measures the person's ability to benefit from training; and

(3) have completed:

(A)1,500 hours of instruction in a licensed beauty culture school; or

(B) 1,000 hours of instruction in beauty culture courses and 500 hours of related high school courses prescribed by the commission in a vocational cosmetology program in a public school.


My opinion is as follows. Barbers are in the PAST. They have, however, managed to stay alive with frequent recurrent clients.

Why are they in the past? This is a primitive way to shave and honestly, a waste of time. As the world grew from huts to skyscrapers, people had to adapt to their new swift way of living. Technology gave them the ability to shave at the comfort of their own homes wasting maybe 30 seconds of their time instead of going to a barber shop and contributing massive opportunity costs just to get a shave.

Because this method is so primitive and cosmetology is more recent, cosmetology has an advantage. People prefer this because now a days, people's time is more precious than before and due to the fact that the average citizen's life is busier and busier every day, minimal things like shaving or brushing your teeth must not require a high opportunity cost and must be efficient.


First of I just want to point out that the purpose of a business is to maximize their profit. In the point-of-view of the cosmetologists it's in their best interest to start specializing in shaving even though one party is worse off. These cosmetologists will result more efficient since they'll be better off and provide a wider service. This will eventually give incentives to barbers to expand their service and start providing haircuts to consumers. This is best case scenario since these two different kinds of specialization will merge and become one specialization. Therefore competition will begin! As everyone knows competition is in the best interest of the economy. This will lead to better services, lower prices, and more efficiency. This will be in the best interests of the customers since they select the cosmetologist that provides the better service for the cheapest price. This is obviously my opinion that I believe will result the most efficient for both barbers and cosmetologists.

P.S.---Just remember that people respond to incentives. Whatever the cosmetologists will do, barbers will try to do something about it.



This seems to be a absurd yet thoughtful dispute. It makes sense that the barbers are upset about this because it took them more time to be able to cut beards, due to the fact that you have to study for a year. In the time that the barber spent trying to get his "beard-cutting-license" he could have been cutting hair, or maybe even opening a new shop. In the other hand the cosmetologists see that the barbers have some sort of scarcity power, whether because there is no one else to shave peoples beard, or because people wont shave them selves, and they decided to try to gain some of this power. In the end both the barbers and and the cosmetologist are simply trying to get the better end of the deal. The opportunity cost of the barber was possibly not making as much money because he was studying, and the cosmetologist also just wants some of the scarcity power that the barber has. Well, in the end it doesn't really affect me because most of the time i don't even shave, and when i do, i do it my self.


paul intampabay

just because it is a law or ordinance does not mean anyone pays attention to it. There is clearly not a one to one correspondence between prohibition and behaviors. Use traffic laws or marijuana laws as examples. Neither is curtailed. That is the weakness of economic arguments that rely on such perfect conditions. Markets are not perfect and they are rarely "free". Competition is curtailed in every way.


It's not the consumer who suffers. Beard trims are a luxury. It's the barbers who are the ones we should be concerned about.

Opening the floor to cosmetologists will bring down prices, but consumers won't get much out of it. Anyone can trim their own beard if they want to. Some people choose to have a barber do it. If you can afford a $12 trim, you can afford a $15 trim. And if the price is too high, you just don't have to go. But barbershops are not high-margin businesses, and the extra competition might drive them right out of business.

A lot is lost in the pursuit of efficiency. Sometimes inefficient and archaic is better.

Larry Sheldon

Too bad barbers can't do surgery any more..

A lot of our health care issues woud disappear.