Suit seeks to keep regulators out of eyebrow threaders' hair

"So how much state-recognized training does someone need to pluck eyebrows for a living?

None, according to attorney Tim Keller. And that is why he filed suit Wednesday on behalf of practitioners of what is known has threading, where someone uses cotton thread to remove unwanted hairs, to block the State Board of Cosmetology from trying to shut them down.

The board is fighting back. Donna Aune, the board’s executive director, said her agency is simply doing what the Legislature mandated.

"We have jurisdiction over eyebrow arching, tinting of eyebrows and eyelashes and removing unwanted hair by means other than electrology,’’ she said. And looping thread around hairs to yank them out, Aune said, fits that description.

Beyond that, she said, the board is required to protect consumers, doing routine inspections on licensed establishments to check out their sanitation and disinfection procedures.

Hanging in the balance is whether people who do nothing but threading are required to be licensed and regulated by the board. Keller said some state oversight might be appropriate.

"Our clients would not object to reasonable regulations that were actually related to advancing some sort of public health or safety issue,’’ he said. "For example, if there was a regulation that an individual has to use a new piece of thread for each client, which they already do, that would obviously advance some sort of health issue.’’

But the real problem is that to be licensed as a cosmetologist in Arizona, a practitioner needs to complete 1,600 hours of training at a state-approved private school. Keller said that is not only expensive but absolutely useless, saying no school actually trains anyone how to do the procedure.

Aune said schools do teach threading, at least as part of classroom theory on hair removal.

Keller is not arguing that the state law itself requiring the board to regulate removal of unwanted hair is unconstitutional. Instead, he is arguing that when legislators adopted the statute, this could not have possibly been what they had in mind.

"They are not performing conventional Western cosmetology practices,’’ he said.

"They’re not doing facials, they’re not using BOTOX, they’re not doing chemical peels, they’re not using hot wax, they’re not using chemical depilatories,’’ Keller continued. "They are using a piece of thread that’s wound around their hands to remove hair.’’

Keller acknowledged that, practically speaking, there is no difference between manually pulling hairs with thread versus using metal tweezers. But he said he’s not suing on behalf of anyone who performs the latter procedure simply because, unlike the threaders, no one is in the business of solely tweezing eyebrow hair.

Aune denied that her board is overstepping its legal authority. She said if Keller and his clients do not want the practice regulated, they should take their case to the Legislature and ask that the statute be amended.

There is precedence for that.

Nearly a decade ago the same board became embroiled in a controversy of whether people who braid hair for a living have to be licensed cosmetologists. In that case, Essence Farmer said she is entitled to have people pay her for braiding, locking, twisting, weaving and putting corn rows in their hair without getting a license.

In that case, too, Keller filed suit.

But the issue was settled in 2004 when lawmakers approved and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill creating a specific exemption for braiders.

More recently, the Goldwater Institute took up the cause of salon operators who set up tubs where a particular species of fish feed on the dead skin on the feet of customers. There, too, the cosmetology board argued that was the unlicensed practice of pedicure.

That case is still making its way through the legal system."

This article was published first on eastvalleytribune.com.