Fargo makeup artist Raven Dybedahl looks over her shoulders when she works, but only on the North Dakota side of the state line. When she crosses into Minnesota for bridal parties and other events, everything she does is legal.
“I feel like I’m on the black market,” she says. “I’m trying to hide in the shadows to do a job that I love—a job that helps other people.”
The problem is not a lack of qualifications. Dybedahl graduated from makeup school in Minneapolis and later completed beauty school in Fargo to become a licensed esthetician. Clients recognize her skill and frequently recommend her to friends. “I have so many good reviews,” Dybedahl says. “Nobody has ever complained.”
Unfortunately, North Dakota regulators demand more. To work outside a salon or cosmetics counter, makeup artists need an advanced license that requires at least 1,600 hours of training and supervised experience. Freelance hairstylists need even more—at least 2,800 hours.
The total investment can take years and cost more than $15,000. “I know a lot of people who don’t do any freelancing in North Dakota because it’s not worth it to try,” Dybedahl says.
Other freelancers grab their makeup kits and go underground. Or they simply meet their clients in Minnesota. Following a campaign led by the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit law firm, lawmakers in the North Star State eliminated most licensing requirements for hair and makeup artists in 2019.
Freelancers in Minnesota now need only four hours of sanitation instruction before working on location. Compared to North Dakota, that is an entrepreneurial paradise.
At least three North Dakota state lawmakers agree. State Rep. Emily O’Brien and Sen. Scott Meyer from Grand Forks, along with Rep. Mike Nathe from Bismarck, have responded with House Bill 1426. The measure, drafted with support from Americans for Prosperity-North Dakota, would bring Minnesota-style deregulation to North Dakota. Instead of treating freelance beauty workers like criminals, the state would get out of their way and let them grow their businesses.
Department stores, salons and beauty schools might not appreciate the added competition. “They like to monopolize on the industry,” Dybedahl says. “They take away people’s right to do freelance work because they want the money for it.”
State regulators should not participate in such a scheme. Propping up storefront businesses by forcing their rivals into the shadow economy does not serve any public interest. This is especially true for services that do not involve cutting, dying or harsh chemicals—the justification for regulating cosmetology in the first place. North Dakota lawmakers recognized as much in 2017 when they eliminated licensing for braiders and eyebrow threaders.
The next step is to decriminalize makeup artists and hairstylists, so people like Dybedahl can earn an honest living without fear. “It’s like if you’re driving with your seatbelt on and following the speed limit, and you see a cop,” she says. “You suddenly feel like you’re doing something wrong even though you’re not.”
North Dakota entrepreneurs deserve better. So do their customers.
Jessica Gandy is an attorney and Daryl James is a writer at the nonprofit Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.