Cristina Ziemer does a good job staying out of trouble. She got detention once for being late to her fourth-period class in high school, and she admits to a speeding ticket. Beyond that, her record is clean.
Yet Ziemer, who provides on-site bridal hair and makeup services in Stillwater, Minnesota, lives in fear of prosecution. The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology already has come for some of her friends, hitting them with fines as high as $3,000 for operating without an occupational license. Ziemer and more than 1,000 others who earn their livings without government permission could be next.
“I feel like a black-market hair and makeup artist,” Ziemer says. “And I shouldn’t have to feel this way because I’m a reputable artist.”
A lawsuit filed against the cosmetology board in November seeks relief, but a quicker remedy would come from the adoption of a bipartisan bill introduced in the Minnesota Senate by Sen. Karin Housley, R- St. Mary’s Point, in 2019 and a bipartisan companion bill in the Minnesota House filed Feb. 4 by Rep. Shelley Christensen, DFL-Stillwater.
Both measures, supported by the nonprofit Institute for Justice, would exempt hair and makeup artists from licensing requirements. Currently, regulators insist the work must be done by state-licensed cosmetologists and salon managers, credentials that require almost a year of training and passing four exams.
When regulators began their crackdown in 2018, Ziemer went underground like a weapons or drug dealer. She stopped optimizing her website to keep it off Google. She stopped paying for Facebook and Instagram promotions. She stopped answering inquiries from TheKnot.com, an important hub for wedding vendors.
“I was afraid that any public recognition for anything would be a way for the board to find me,” says Ziemer, a mother of two young children who depends on her income to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, life in the shadows took a toll.
“You can’t try to fly under the radar and continue to grow yourself as a business,” Ziemer says. “You can’t do both.”
So she decided to fight back. She helped form the Minnesota Special Event Hair and Makeup Freedom Coalition, signed onto the lawsuit, and got involved at the state Capitol.
“Someone needs to speak out and be vocal,” Ziemer says. “And if it’s not me, then who is going to do it?”
Her situation highlights two main flaws with Minnesota’s current rules. First is the irrelevance of a full cosmetology education for artists who do not handle potentially dangerous chemicals or cut or color hair. People like Ziemer leave the bleaching, dying, and extreme makeovers for salons.
The second problem is an arbitrary focus on “special events,” a vague term that includes some activities but not others. Under cosmetology-board rules, if a client hires a makeup artist for a photoshoot or theater production, for example, no license is necessary. But if a client hires the same artist for a wedding, then the makeup police can swoop in.
In other words, the cover model on Minnesota Bride does not need a licensed makeup artist and neither do the actors in a television wedding scene. Everything is legal until a real officiant shows up. Then anyone who got paid to handle lipstick or a hairbrush retroactively becomes an outlaw.
“It’s the same makeup. It’s the same look. It’s the same outfit,” Ziemer says. “But Minnesota does not apply the same standards.”
Ziemer’s career shows the absurdity. She spent years applying makeup at retail cosmetics counters, where no license is necessary. But now that she does the same work with the same materials as a freelancer, she runs the risk of getting shut down. The inconsistency undermines regulators’ stated concerns about health and safety.
The real issue is money. Weddings are a lucrative business, and salon owners with political pull want the revenue. Cosmetology schools, which make thousands of dollars off each student, also benefit from the economic protectionism.
“It’s the little guy pitted against the big guy,” Ziemer says. “You get in trouble for being successful when you encroach on their turf.”
In an industry all about beauty, that’s an ugly look for Minnesota that should be changed.
Meagan Forbes is a Minneapolis-based attorney at the Institute for Justice (ij.org), and Daryl James is a writer in Arlington, Virginia.