Minnesota hairstylists, makeup artists take stand against stupid, confusing laws

Ellyn Shun works on a client

Ellyn Shun works on a client Ri & He Photography

Everything changed for Ellyn Shun after meeting a makeup artist at her sister's wedding.

For the big day, her sister had hired Onsite Muse, a mobile hair and makeup company based in northeast Minneapolis. “I said to the gal hired to do my sister’s hair, ‘I want to do what you do,’” Shun says, recalling that fateful day seven years ago.

The woman helped Shun get an interview with the company, and gave her tips on getting started. “I quit my healthcare job with the intention that I was going to work full-time with my own business and with Onsite Muse,” she says.

And that’s exactly what happened. Things were going well, until the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology sent out a flyer last last December stating that event/wedding freelance makeup and hair stylists need three things to work: a cosmetology or esthetician license, a salon manager’s license, and a special event permit.

Stylists who didn’t have those three things were non-compliant. Following cease and desist orders, the board began issuing hefty fines.

None of the requirements were new, but until this point they had rarely been enforced. The sudden crackdown has left many freelance hair and makeup artists without a way to earn income.

Example: If you don't have a license and this is just a photo shoot, then this is all legal. If this is a pic from a wedding and the makeup artist doesn't have a license? Then they could face heavy fines.

Example: If you don't have a license and this is just a photo shoot, then this is all legal. If this is a pic from a wedding and the makeup artist doesn't have a license? Then they could face heavy fines. Melanie Rivers

For Shun, the changes in enforcement meant her bookings with Onsite Muse dropped considerably. In the summer of 2018, she had 15 bookings. This past summer she had six. “It was a significant decrease,” she says. “My boss wanted to keep me on the team, but didn’t want me on the big weddings.” Meanwhile, Shun took down her website and stopped advertising her services, instead relying on word of mouth alone.

“It’s been hard,” she says. “All I want to do is work. I’m not hurting anybody. With my healthcare background, I am very hygiene-aware.”

Shun is a plaintiff in a lawsuit pushing back against the cosmetology board, and she is also working as part of a coalition to change the state laws around freelance hair and makeup artists.

“Right now, [the way the board interprets the rules and regulations] limits so many people from pursuing their businesses or their passions,” says Shun. “Times are changing, and the state needs to be inclusive.”

The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology has declined previous requests for comment by other reporters on this issue.

Cristina Ziemer, another plaintiff and member of the Minnesota Special Event Hair and Makeup Freedom Coalition, has owned her own business for four years, and has been in the industry for 11.

Before starting her business, Ziemer worked in retail cosmetics. She changed careers after having kids. “[Working as a makeup artist] provided me the ability to take care of my kids during the week, and support my family during the weekends,” she says. “It gives me freedom to be a mom and still work and provide for my family.”

Last year, Ziemer lobbied to get the rules changed, also working with Minnesota Sen. Karin Housley, who authored a bill introduced last February that would exempt event freelance hair stylists and makeup artists from certain regulations.

Interestingly, freelancers who are hired to work on a photoshoot or a movie set have fewer restrictions, and those jobs have different rules than what event/wedding freelancers have to abide by. “It’s confusing to me they can regulate one part of the industry one way and another part of the industry in a completely different way,” Ziemer says. “They are not consistent with their regulations.”

The required hours a person needs in order to obtain an event and wedding stylist license are in the thousands. In order to get a cosmetology license, Ziemer says, it takes 1,550 hours of schooling. On top of that, you need 2,700 hours in a licensed salon, which would take the average person about two years.

These hours would include a lot of training for things event hair stylists and makeup artists don’t do, such as cutting and coloring. “I’m using a curling iron and applying makeup,” Ziemer says. “I’m not providing any chemical services. In order to fulfill the board requirements, I would have to shut down my business, go back to school, and spend two years in a salon in order to go back to doing what I’m already doing.”

Melanie Rivers already has a cosmetology license, but she says that the salon manager’s license and the required hours it would take to get one make the prospect of her being compliant impossible.

Rivers currently works in a men’s salon a couple of days a week. That’s not enough to get the 2,700 hours she needs to accrue in the three-year time limit given to obtain the manager’s license.

After working in the restaurant industry as a server and bartender for 10 years, Rivers decided to go back to beauty school. After getting laid off from a job at an education company, she used her unemployment insurance to build up a freelance career. “I really liked the freedom to create my own schedule,” she says. “I like being in a different place every day and meeting different people. I like being part of someone’s special day. You are a part of an event that’s really important.”

As for what her future career holds, that’s up in the air.

Melanie Rivers works on a client

Melanie Rivers works on a client

“There’s no way I could work enough hours to be compliant,” she says.