Arizona recently deregulated licensing for blow-dry bars ushering in yet another round of discussion on licensing. Those who benefit from licensing, like schools and jobs related to licensing including government officials, on one side, and all those questioning the need for licensing on the other. If I asked about our future, I would place my bet on eventual deregulation of our license or at least simplification of the process. Don’t get me wrong, I totally support the benefits my cosmetology instructor’s license has afforded me for the last forty-five years. And yet, the only real defense of our profession is our own ability, as cosmetologists, to uphold professionalism at all times, to offer great service and to stay up to date with continued education. That’s our real guarantee, not a license.

Case in point: in my native Mexico, there is absolutely no licensing and you will easily spot beautiful, trendy haircuts, color, highlights, evening and wedding styles. If you attend a formal event, you will be blown away (I was) by the trendy hair worn by men and women. How can this be?

Easy—you have to be good. Hairdressers, nailtechs, estheticians, makeup artists, masseurs must have a good reputation to make any money.  Unknowns must become know and only those with the passion to attain a certain skill level survive. If you think about it, it’s a much higher bar than attending school and passing the exam. You need that fire in your belly to overcome obstacles and find training, apprentice, practice, practice, practice and treasure every client. You need to keep on learning, you can’t be behind the times.

Are You Good or Just Licensed?
Are You Good or Just Licensed?

When I visited Mexico recently, I went for a detoxification body treatment at The Spa in San Miguel de Allende ($49 for a 90-minute treatment). The spa donates part of its profits to needy senior citizen meals— they have served 200,000, so far.  I was completely covered with green mud, wrapped in a natural type gauze— yes, just like a mummy, exfoliated, rinsed, and then massaged with eucalyptus oil and covered with warm blankets.

I walked out wanting to live life with a vengeance and decided to cut my hair. I spotted a salon. It was a humble no-appointment place past a doorway. I sat and waited for my turn, and when my turn came, I got Osvaldo a 15-year old who had been apprenticing for only 8 months. I asked him if he would cut off my sides and back and only leave the top. If he was nervous or insecure, I couldn’t tell. He looked me straight in the eye, whipped out his clippers and away we went. This boy had that fire in the belly I am talking to you about. He loosened up when I asked if I could take a photo of the process and began sharing that he lives in a ranch community nearby and takes a bus to come to work. He first swept hair until the owner allowed him to just observe and learn by watching. He is self-taught. He worked like a pro; I was blown away by Osvaldo’s demeanor. I asked if there was somewhere, I could send him tools, videos, etc. Unfortunately, there is no mail delivery where he lives, and he is not online. I will figure something out for him. The cost of my haircut? $50 pesos or $2.50 US. He got a huge tip.

It’s clear the law is not what makes you successful—your license is just your ticket to the game. How you play determines your success. Don’t allow your passion to fall by the wayside. Don’t shield mediocre work because of a license—push yourself to keep learning and remain professional regardless of licensing.  

And, you know what? If one day we lose our licensing, your income and career satisfaction will never be affected.

Carlos Valenzuela is a hairdresser, educator, ex-salon & school owner, author, of “thrive salon professional survival workbook.”  His focus is guiding salon professionals to a more fulfilling career & lifestyle. For info visit

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