Consumer Guide to Barbering and Cosmetology Services

Printer Friendly Version


As part of the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology regulates the professions of barbering, cosmetology (including skin and nail care), and electrology in California.

Anyone who provides hairdressing and styling, haircutting, shaving, manicuring, removing unwanted hair, skin care, and the application of cosmetics for a fee must be licensed by the Board. To become licensed, individuals must complete an approved amount of coursework and practical training and pass a national written and hands-on exam.

In addition to licensing individuals in the profession, the Board also licenses the salons and barbershops where these services are provided, and regulates health and safety and coursework in approved barber, cosmetology, and electrology schools. The Board also handles consumer complaints about gross negligence and incompetence; unsanitary conditions in salons, barbershops, and schools of barbering, cosmetology, and electrology; the unlicensed practice of barbering, cosmetology, and electrology; the operation of unlicensed salons or barbershops; and misrepresentation or false advertising of services.

Health and Safety Guidelines

The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology’s Health and Safety Guidelines are based on laws and regulations detailed on the Board’s Health and Safety poster, which must be displayed in the reception area of all licensed salons, barbershops, and schools. To protect consumers, every licensee must follow these health and safety laws to protect consumers from health risks such as infections, parasites, fungus, and other problems.

How to check for Health and Safety Guidelines
On your next visit to a salon or barbershop for a haircut, manicure, waxing, electrolysis, or other service, look around to see if the salon or barbershop is following health and safety guidelines:

  • Is the overall appearance of the shop clean? Are the sinks dirty?
  • Are the trash cans overflowing?
  • Are the establishment license and Health and Safety Guidelines poster displayed in clear view in the reception area?
  • Is the establishment’s license current?
  • Are current operator licenses posted in plain view at individual work stations? (Photocopies are not acceptable.)
  • Are the operators performing only those services they are licensed for? For example, manicurists and estheticians cannot provide hair services. No Board licensee is allowed to perform certain procedures, such as laser hair removal, which is considered a medical procedure.
  • Are the operators properly disinfecting their instruments between clients? Did you see the operator disinfect the instruments after they were used on the client before you? Instruments must be cleaned with soap and water and then completely immersed in a disinfectant registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity. The disinfectant container must be covered, and the disinfectant must be used according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Does the basin of the foot spa look clean? Don’t be afraid to ask the operator if he or she has removed the jets and screen during cleaning.
  • Is the electrology equipment sterilized by a steam or dry heat sterilizer that is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA )? Are disposable needles/probes available? Ask the operator.
  • Are items that cannot be disinfected, such as emery boards, cotton pads, nail files, nail buffers, etc., immediately thrown away after use on clients? Are clean items stored separately from soiled ones at the operator’s work station? Are the storage containers labeled as clean or dirty? Are combs and brushes clean? Are manicuring instruments stored in a clean place and not hanging on the side of a cup or jar?
  • Make a note as to where the operator places tools that were just used on you.
  • Are clean towels stored in a closed, clean cabinet?
  • Are soiled towels put in a covered receptacle? Is a clean towel provided for each client?
  • Did the operator wash his or her hands before beginning services on you?
  • Are the operators using prohibited instruments such as Credo blades, cheese grater-type metal scrapers, and lancets? Use of these instruments is illegal except by medical personnel. Do not let an operator use them on you.

These questions are based on Title 16, Division 9, California Code of Regulations, which can be viewed on the Board’s Web site,

Types of Service, Scope of Practice

The various licensed barbering and cosmetology services are described below, along with special requirements and consumer precautions.

Barbering is the practice of shaving or trimming the beard or cutting the hair and giving facial and scalp massages with oils, creams, lotions, or other preparations, either by hand or with the use of mechanical appliances. Barbers are also trained in singeing, shampooing, arranging, dressing, curling, waving, chemical waving, hair relaxing, or dyeing the hair or applying hair tonics. Barbers also apply cosmetic preparations, antiseptics, powders, oils, clays, or lotions to the scalp, face, or neck. In addition, barbers are trained in styling of all textures of hair. In California, barbering services may be legally performed only by State-licensed barbers in State-licensed salons or barbershops.

State-licensed cosmetologists and barbers may perform some common services; however, some services such as shaving can only be performed by barbers. Barbershops are most easily identified by the traditional, striped barber pole. It is considered an unfair business practice for a shop or salon to display a barber pole if a barber is not working there.

A common tool that you will see in most barbershops is electric clippers. Like all other tools or equipment used on a client, these must be disinfected prior to each use with an EPA-registered disinfectant that has demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity. The disinfectant container must be covered, and the disinfectant must be used according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Many clippers have a detachable blade. It is not uncommon to see a barber disinfect electric clippers by removing the blade, cleaning away any foreign matter, then spraying or wiping the blade with an approved disinfectant. Make sure your barber uses only clean, disinfected equipment on you during any service.

The practice of cosmetology is all or any combination of the following: arranging, dressing, curling, waving, permanent waving, cleansing, cutting, shampooing, relaxing, singeing, bleaching, tinting, coloring, straightening, dyeing, brushing, applying hair tonics, beautifying, or otherwise treating by any means the hair of any person. In California, cosmetology services may be legally performed only by State-licensed cosmetologists in State-licensed salons or barbershops. Licensed cosmetologists may also perform waxing, manicuring, and esthetics as described below.

Only licensed cosmetologists and estheticians may perform waxing. Manicurists cannot perform waxing. If you receive waxing services, always look at the wax and the container that is holding the wax—make sure that it is clean and kept in a sanitary manner. An example of unsanitary operation is if the operator is re-dipping the instrument (stick) into one big wax container and then applying that wax onto your skin. Anything that cannot be disinfected before it comes into direct contact with a person needs to be disposed of in a waste receptacle immediately after use. This includes the wax and the instrument used to apply the wax.

Manicures and pedicures
Manicuring is the practice of cutting, trimming, polishing, coloring, tinting, or cleansing the nails, or massaging, cleansing, treating, or beautifying the hands or feet of any person. In California, manicuring and pedicuring services may be legally performed only by State-licensed manicurists and cosmetologists in State-licensed salons or barbershops.

The Board’s laws and regulations prohibit licensed operators and students from working on a person with an infection or communicable disease and from massaging any person’s skin if it is inflamed or infected, or where an eruption is present. Thus, if a client has athlete’s foot, eczema, or other similar conditions, the manicurist must, by law, refuse the service in order to protect other customers.

Before receiving any nail care service, you should inform the licensee if you are diabetic, have a peripheral vascular disease (such as arteriosclerosis), or are taking any blood-thinning medication, including daily doses of aspirin. This will alert your manicurist to take special precautions.

Esthetics is the practice of performing facials, applying makeup, giving skin care, or beautifying the face, neck, arms, or upper part of the human body by use of cosmetic preparations, antiseptics, tonics, lotions, or creams. It also includes applying eyelashes or removing hair by tweezing, depilatories, or waxing. (It is illegal for estheticians to pierce the skin during any service or to administer any topical prescription medications for pain control. See page 27.) In California, esthetics services may be legally performed only by State-licensed cosmetologists and estheticians (known as cosmeticians prior to July 1992) in State-licensed salons or barbershops.

NOTE: People who only demonstrate, recommend, or sell cosmetics do not need to be licensed by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and may not receive (or expect) any compensation from clients for product application.

Electrolysis is the removal of unwanted facial and/or body hair by using a tiny needle or probe that conducts electric current. In California, electrology services may be legally performed only by State-licensed electrologists in State-licensed salons or barbershops. Cosmetologists and estheticians may not remove unwanted body/facial hair by electrolysis, but they may remove superfluous hair from clients by several other means. (This does not include laser hair removal devices or any other device labeled by the federal FDA as a "medical device.")

It is common for the skin to be slightly red and irritated for up to several hours after electrolysis. If you have more severe symptoms, such as large scabs or blistering, or if symptoms last for several weeks, check with your doctor. Be sure that the service you’re paying for is actually electrolysis and not simply electronic tweezing, which may not permanently remove the hair.

Electrologists are required to sterilize their reusable needles, probes, and tweezers with either a steam sterilizer or a dry heat sterilizer approved for that purpose by the FDA. Some electrologists use disposable needles and probes and throw them away after each client. Some cosmetologists and manicurists may also use steam sterilizers or dry heat sterilizers to disinfect their metal instruments. Ultraviolet light sterilizers are not adequate for disinfecting.

Consumers should also be aware that licensees cannot legally give injections or apply any topical prescription medications for pain control. If a licensee offers these services, you should decline them.

Choosing a Shop, Deciding on a Service

The simplest and best way to find a reputable salon or barbershop is to ask friends, family, or coworkers for a recommendation.

Whether you select an operator through word of mouth or by advertising, or just take a chance on a new salon or barbershop, take time to ask about the operator’s experience with all the services that interest you. Seek the operator’s professional opinion, but don’t let that be the final word. If you don’t feel comfortable with what the operator suggests, don’t feel pressured to get the service at that time. A second opinion can be just as important here as in other areas of your life.

You’d like a change but aren’t exactly sure what you’re looking for. Maybe you’d like a permanent wave for your straight hair or a chemical relaxer for your curly hair. You might be thinking about getting a completely different hair color. Or maybe you’re thinking of getting artificial fingernails or having a relaxing pedicure. If you’re not sure what you want, the best thing to do is be observant. Look through magazines and cut out photos of styles and colors you find pleasing. Be a people watcher. If you see a hairstyle or color you like on someone, notice the wearer’s face shape or eye and skin coloring. Is it close to your own? Take notes so that when you decide to take that big step, you’ll have an idea of what you want and can discuss your options with your operator.

Talk with your operator before the service begins so that you both have an understanding of the desired results. Be honest. If you already have color or other chemicals on your hair, tell the operator. If you have had problems in the past with artificial nails, tell the manicurist. Tell the operator if you are taking any medications, since this could affect the outcome of the service.

When Visiting the Shop or Salon

All licensees are required to display their licenses at their primary work stations. Ask to see the license if it is not visible. If the salon or barbershop won’t show you an establishment license, you don’t know whether the shop is complying with the Board’s health and safety guidelines. If the individual operator doesn’t show you a license, you can’t tell if he or she has had the required training to provide the service without harming you.

If you don’t see the licenses, even when you ask, leave and find another salon or barbershop. To verify an operator’s or establishment’s license, visit the Board’s Web site at or call the Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210. The Board can tell you if a license is current and when it was issued. A shop or individual who is operating without a license can also be reported online.

Before you accept barbering, cosmetology, or electrology services, be sure that the salon or barbershop and the individual operator are complying with the following:

The salon’s establishment license and the Board’s Health and Safety Guidelines poster must be displayed in the reception area.

The establishment must have clean, working equipment and a clean work area. Licensees must wash and disinfect all tools and instruments, including whirlpool foot spas, before they can be used on customers. An operator should never use the same tools on you that were just used on someone else without first disinfecting them. If an item cannot be disinfected (such as a nail buffer block or an emery board), it must be thrown away immediately after use. If a clean set of tools is not available for use on you, do not allow the operator to perform the service. Tools that are not disinfected properly can spread disease and bacteria from one person to another. For example, a manicurist who is not using properly disinfected tools can spread nail fungus to multiple clients.

In addition to disinfecting tools and instruments, operators are required to wash their hands between clients. Before beginning nail care services, operators should also ask their clients to wash their hands.

NOTE: You have the right to ask the operator to explain the disinfection procedures before a service begins. Many viruses, including HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, can be transmitted through the use of dirty instruments. Don’t risk your health. If the disinfection procedure doesn’t sound right to you, you should refuse the service.

When you pay for the service, insist on a receipt. If something goes wrong and you must file a complaint, the receipt will help you prove that you received the service and may help identify the operator who performed it. If you pay by check or credit card, keep your cancelled check or credit card receipt.

Before a Manicure or Pedicure

Some topics to consider:

Are artificial nails for you?
Whether you will be happy with artificial nails depends on several factors, including your lifestyle and the type and length of nails you choose. In addition, you may discover that you have an allergic reaction to the chemicals in artificial nail products. Different types of artificial nails may be applied to natural nails to enhance their length and make them stronger. The most common types are acrylic, fiberglass, and gel applications. Some people are hard on their nails and hands because of their jobs or lifestyles, and are not good candidates for artificial nails. Speak to your manicurist or cosmetologist. Discuss what your hands go through on a normal day and ask for suggestions. You may decide that a basic manicure is the best service for you.

Nail lifting and fungus
Sometimes, the artificial nail begins to lift around the edges, allowing moisture to get trapped under it. Left untreated, mold or fungus (causing a green or brown discoloration) may begin to grow. If this occurs, your manicurist or cosmetologist should remove the artificial nails immediately and refer you to your doctor. Do not have the nails reapplied until your natural nails are completely healthy. Without proper treatment, these conditions could result in a permanent deformity of the nail. It should not be painful to have artificial nails removed. If the process causes you any pain or discomfort, tell your operator.

Electric nail drills
Electric nail drills are often used to file artificial nails. A licensed manicurist or cosmetologist may sometimes use a drill on natural nails, but only if the drill is designed for use on natural nails and the operator follows the manufacturer’s directions. The drill bits on these devices must be disinfected before use. If your operator uses a drill bit (or any other tool) that has not been properly disinfected, you run the risk of contracting an infection. Sandpaper-type drill bit coverings (sand bands), if used, must be thrown away after use on each client.

Pedicure safety
Pedicuring falls under the practice of manicuring (nail care) and includes cutting, trimming, polishing, coloring, tinting, or cleansing the toenails. It also includes massaging, cleansing, treating, or beautifying the feet. A licensed manicurist cannot perform any type of waxing. Waxing can only be performed by a cosmetologist or esthetician.

In October 2000, health officials received complaints about a large outbreak of skin boils from consumers who had received pedicures. It was determined that the boils were caused by contaminated whirlpool foot spas that were not being properly cleaned and disinfected after each client. Skin boils usually start out looking like a spider bite that gradually grows in size and eventually produces pus. These infections are caused by mycobacterium fortuitum and other related mycobacteria. We come into contact with this type of bacteria every day, because it is normally found in water and soil.

Infections such as mycobacterium fortuitum are relatively rare. If a salon’s whirlpool foot spas are cleaned and disinfected properly and in accordance with the regulations adopted by the Board, the risk of these infections is very small. These types of infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Whirlpool foot spas must be cleaned and disinfected after each use, at the end of each day, and every week. In addition, a log must be kept that records the date and time of each cleaning and disinfecting, and whether the cleaning was daily or weekly. Customers and Board representatives must be able to view the log upon request. Some clients have contracted bacterial infections from dirty foot spas and have been been left with permanent scars on their legs as a result of these infections.

If you do notice a skin infection, go to your doctor immediately and tell the doctor that you have had your legs in a whirlpool foot spa. The doctor can take a small biopsy of a boil to test for mycobacterial culture. The mycobacterium fortuitum leaves permanent scars and can be very painful.

You should never receive a pedicure within 24 hours of shaving your legs, or if you have any open sores or cuts on your feet or legs. This will help prevent the spread of any bacteria.

Before Chemical Hair Services

Consider a pretest on your hair
Chemical services such as permanent waving, straightening, and hair lightening or coloring all cause permanent changes to the hair. When done correctly, these services can make us look terrific. When done incorrectly, these same services can make us look and feel terrible. In California, chemical hair care services may be legally performed only by State-licensed cosmetologists and barbers in State-licensed salons or barbershops.

If you are going to have chemical services done, and your hair is in questionable condition, ask the operator to do a pretest before providing the service. For a permanent wave, a preliminary test curl may be done. This pretest will help determine how the hair will react to a permanent wave. This test is usually done on tinted, bleached, or overporous hair, or on hair that shows signs of damage. A test curl also indicates actual processing time and curl results based on rod size and the product used.

For color services, the operator may perform a strand test. This pretest is given before the treatment to determine development time, color result, and the ability of the hair to withstand the effects of chemicals. If hair is color-treated, or if you are visiting a new operator, ask for a strand test to ensure the quality of service and the desired result. If the product is an aniline derivative (which includes all permanent hair coloring), the FDA requires a predisposition test (also known as a "patch test"). A predisposition test involves applying a small amount of the product to your skin to determine if you may be sensitive to the chemicals. Nearly all manufacturers of chemical products recommend that a predisposition test be performed 24 hours before the desired chemical service to determine whether or not the client could be allergic to the product. There may be a charge for a consultation or pretest, so be sure to ask in advance.

For all chemical services, a towel and/or other sanitary neck strip must be used to keep the full-length protective covering (i.e., shampoo cape, drape, smock, etc.) from coming in direct contact with a client’s skin. The towel will also protect the client from solution that may drip during the service. (The operator may also spread petroleum jelly on the skin to help protect it.) The towel must be changed frequently. If it is too wet, it cannot absorb more liquid. If it has absorbed chemical drips, prolonged exposure can burn your skin. The chemical solution must be removed from the skin immediately on contact. If you feel chemicals dripping onto your skin or any burning sensation, inform the operator immediately.

Although some chemicals may have strong odors, they should not cause you discomfort, and salons and barbershops should have adequate ventilation to keep the odors from lingering. If the chemical odor causes you any discomfort, immediately inform the operator.

Because the chemical application causes a change to your hair, it is imperative that the hair be allowed to adjust before it is shampooed. Follow your cosmetologist’s or barber’s advice on how many days (or hours) to wait before you shampoo or use any hot implements on your hair. If you don’t follow their advice, you could severely damage your hair.

Services Outside a Salon or Barbershop

California law requires all barbering, cosmetology (including skin care and nail care), and electrolysis services done for a fee to be performed by a State-licensed operator in a State-licensed salon or barbershop, or by a student in an approved school. State law bans, for example:

  • Haircuts at a work site.
  • Facials, skin care, or other services at bridal parties or spa parties.
  • Cosmetology services at a hotel.

Anyone providing barbering or cosmetology services in an unlicensed location may be subject to a $1,000 fine. Continued violations may warrant a misdemeanor citation.

In-home services
The law allows exceptions for people whose physical or mental incapacitation prevents them from visiting their licensed salon or barbershop. If you need in-home services, call your operator at the shop. Explain that you are ill or incapacitated and ask if your operator or any other licensee at the salon would be available to provide in-home services. The time and date of your in-home service will then be logged into the shop’s official appointment book. Licensees providing in-home services must follow all of the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology’s health and safety laws and regulations.

Patients in convalescent Homes or skilled nursing facilities
If you are arranging barbering or cosmetology services for someone in a convalescent home or skilled nursing facility, be sure to make the appointment with a licensed individual from a licensed establishment. Do not accept service from anyone who does not follow State health and safety guidelines. It is particularly important to tell the operator what medications the client is currently taking and to inform the operator of the client’s disabilities or special needs. If the client has difficulty communicating or is limited in other ways, you may wish to stay nearby during the service. NEVER ask the licensee to treat medical conditions such as ingrown toenails or corns. These must be treated by medical personnel only.

Warnings for Consumers

Know the risks of chemical exfoliation
Chemical exfoliation (also known as "skin peel") is a process by which layers of facial skin are removed with commercially available products. Various acids are applied to the face for a few minutes a day over several days. The skin reddens as if sunburned, then darkens and peels away, revealing a layer of sensitive new skin. Recovery time varies from days to weeks or even longer, depending upon the depth of the peel. Chemical exfoliation is done to smooth wrinkles, reduce scars and blotchy areas, and improve the overall appearance of normal skin. In California, chemical exfoliation services may be legally performed only by State-licensed cosmetologists and estheticians in State-licensed salons and barbershops, or by physicians in medical offices.

NOTE: The chemicals used by physicians are usually stronger and penetrate deeper layers of the skin than those used in salons. In California, licensed cosmetologists and estheticians provide superficial skin exfoliation for beautification. Superficial peels treat the uppermost layers of the skin, known as the epidermis. It is illegal for a cosmetologist or esthetician to administer a medium depth peel or a medical grade peel.

Chemical exfoliation is not the same as "deep cleaning" facials, also known as masks or facial packs. Deep cleaning facials simply clean the pores and slough off dead surface cells, leaving the skin feeling softer. Board of Barbering and Cosmetology licensees can only use commercially available (prepackaged) products designed for removing only the uppermost (dead) layers of the skin. Any service requiring greater skin penetration must be done by a licensed medical practitioner. Cosmetologists and estheticians are prohibited by law from mixing or combining skin removal products, unless specifically required by the manufacturer’s directions on the commercially available (prepackaged) product.

When performed properly by a well-trained practitioner, chemical exfoliation is usually safe; however, a significant potential for harm does exist. The chemicals used for the exfoliation procedure usually consist of one or more active ingredients, such as resorcinol, phenol, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. These acids destroy skin tissue. Even a fairly mild acid left in contact with the skin for a prolonged period may cause considerable damage.

Because of the potential for skin damage, especially if exfoliation is done improperly, it is essential for you to be absolutely sure that your skin care practitioner is well trained and licensed. Before you schedule this procedure, follow these tips:

  • Ask for names of satisfied customers who have received this procedure. Call them (or have them call you) and ask if they were satisfied with the service and if there were any complications.
  • Ask what changes will occur in your skin during each phase of the procedure and how it will feel. Ask to see actual photographs (not just advertising brochures) of the licensee’s clients during the various phases of the exfoliation service.
  • Thoroughly discuss all aspects of the procedure with your practitioner, especially safety issues, hazards, skin types, and any conditions that may increase risks.
  • If you have any doubts about the procedure or about your skin care practitioner’s abilities, do not have the service performed.
  • Advise the operator of all medications you are taking, particularly Accutane®, Retin A®, or any other acne medications.
  • Ask to see the product to be used, and find out if it is a commercially prepared product. Ask if the licensee will be mixing any chemicals before they are applied to the skin. If in doubt, ask to see a copy of the product manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Call your doctor immediately after the procedure if you experience any symptoms that are more severe than those explained to you by the licensee. If you have to seek medical attention, take photos of the affected area as evidence in case it turns out you have been harmed.

Know how electronic muscle stimulators are used
Electronic muscle stimulator (EMS) devices supply electrical energy to the body surface through plates, pads, or other attachments and cause contraction of the muscles. In California, cosmetologists, estheticians, and barbers may use electrical equipment to give facials or to help creams or lotions penetrate into the skin, but they must be set so that they promote muscle stimulation, not muscle contraction. Only licensed medical practitioners may use EMS devices to stimulate and contract the muscles to relax a muscle spasm, prevent tissue atrophy, increase local blood circulation, or for other purposes. Use of these devices by cosmetologists, estheticians, or other nonmedical individuals for body toning, muscle firming or tightening, passive exercise, reducing or eliminating cellulite, reducing girth, and for similar purposes is considered unsafe and fraudulent by the Federal government.

EMS devices have a great potential for harm if used improperly. The devices can aggravate existing medical conditions such as cancer, heart and circulatory diseases, and epilepsy and may produce adverse reactions requiring immediate medical assistance. If a cosmetologist or esthetician uses electrical devices while performing a service on you, make sure he or she uses all safety precautions necessary for your protection. Do not allow a Board licensee to apply any electric equipment to your skin if you have a cardiac condition or metal implants unless you have the consent of your physician.

NOTE TO LICENSEES: To find out if a device is intended to contract the muscles, ask the manufacturer or representative and check the manufacturer’s brochure. Beware of devices that advertise "passive exercise," "slimming," "cellulite removal," etc. These are services, by their very nature and title, that would require muscle contraction to produce the advertised result. Ask the representative to demonstrate the device for you. A muscle contraction can be seen with the naked eye—the muscle “jumps” when the current causes it to visibly shorten and thicken.

Banned Services, Instruments, and Techniques

Illegal Instruments
It is illegal for barbers, cosmetologists, and electrologists licensed in California to use certain instruments, such as "Credo" blades (tools fitted with razor blades), "cheese grater" type instruments, or scalpel-type blades to remove dead skin or shave calluses during pedicures. Licensees are also prohibited from using needle-like instruments, such as lancets, to extract skin blemishes or to perform similar procedures. It is illegal for these instruments to even be in a salon or barbershop. Such acts, and any other services that affect the structure or function of living tissue of the face or body, are considered invasive procedures and should be performed only by licensed medical professionals or by the clients themselves outside the licensed salon or barbershop.

Hazardous chemicals
Some manicurists and cosmetologists who perform artificial nail services may use a product known as liquid methyl methacrylate monomer (LMMM/MMA). The FDA discourages the use of this chemical in fingernail products. Although LMMM/MMA is difficult to detect because it looks the same as regular nail acrylic products, consumers should be aware of the following warning signs: A very strong and strange odor different from regular acrylic nail products, very hard nails that may be difficult to file, and artificial nails that will not easily soak off in solvents. You could have a severe allergic reaction to products containing this chemical, and there is the potential for dangerous nail infections resulting from breaks in the natural nail.

When LMMM/MMA is used, the acrylic nail adheres so strongly to your natural nail that it may cause the natural nail to be removed from the nail bed under extreme pressure. The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology recommends that you do not allow this chemical to be used on you.

Unsanitary fish pedicures
Fish pedicures consist of consumers placing their feet in a foot bath or tub that contains small, live fish. The fish eat dead skin cells off the consumer’s feet. The Board has determined that fish pedicures are not permitted because using live fish does not allow foot basins or tubs to be adequately cleaned and disinfected as required by law.

Laser hair removal by non-medical staff
Laser hair removal is widely advertised and popular with consumers. However, it is illegal for any Board licensee to perform this service. The FDA classifies lasers used for this purpose as medical devices, which means they can only be used by appropriate, licensed medical professionals. Specifically, physicians (or registered nurses or physicians assistants working directly with a physician), are the only people legally allowed to use a laser for hair removal. This prohibition applies to the use of ALL lasers (cold laser, nonthermal laser, hair enhancement laser, etc.) regardless of the known health risks. For information about the role of licensed medical professionals in cosmetic procedures, visit the Web site of the Medical Board of California,

Skin tag or mole removal
Only licensed physicians remove skin tags or moles. Licensed barbers, cosmetologists, manicurists, estheticians, and electrologists are prohibited from removing skin tags and moles.

Services Not Regulated by the Board

The services listed below are not regulated by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, even if they are performed by a Board licensee in a licensed salon or barbershop. The Board does not set sanitation, training, or minimum competency standards for these services, and licensees cannot lead consumers to believe they have been licensed by the Board to provide them. Before you have any of these services done, find out what type of training the individual has received, and ask for references.

CAUTION: With unregulated services, you may not always get the results you want.

Permanent cosmetics, body piercing, tattooing
The Board does not regulate permanent cosmetics, body piercing, or tattooing; however, State law establishes sterilization guidelines and requires county health departments to inspect establishments offering these services every year. This law requires practitioners to be registered with their local county health departments.

Tanning beds and tanning salons
The Board does not regulate tanning booths or tanning salons, even if they are located inside Board-licensed establishments. All tanning salons and tanning booths must comply with State law, which includes a ban on minors (under 18 years old) using a tanning bed. Facilities that offer tanning services must post a sign that warns consumers of the risks associated with the use of tanning beds.

Aromatherapy and massage therapy
Individuals who provide aromatherapy or massage therapy are not regulated by the Board, but must comply with applicable local regulations.

Threading, hair braiding, wig styling
The Board does not require a license to perform these services.

Hair extensions
A license is not required for hair extensions that are applied or attached without using tools or instruments. The person performing the service must hold a cosmetology license if the client’s hair is washed, colored, cut, or styled in the process of applying or attaching hair extensions.

Resolving a Problem or Filing a Complaint

If you are unhappy with the services you received, first discuss your concerns with the operator, manager, or owner of the salon or barbershop. Many complaints can be quickly resolved this way, and you may be given a refund or corrective services at no cost. However, you should be aware that many individuals in the beauty industry are independent contractors who rent booth space from the salon or barbershop owner. Because these operators are not employees, the shop owner may not have control over the quality of the services rendered or have the authority to demand that an operator refund a customer’s money.

NOTE: The Board cannot recommend a business or product or resolve instances of "buyer’s remorse."

Barbering and cosmetology services should not be painful. You should report any side effects or unpleasant experiences associated with a service to your operator and to the Board immediately. If you are injured by any licensee of the Board, discuss what happened with the operator and salon or barbershop owner. Take photographs of the injury and have another professional look at it to provide independent confirmation. Seek medical attention, if necessary, and always file a complaint with the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

If you feel that a barber, cosmetologist, manicurist, or other licensee has violated State health and safety guidelines, call the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210 and request a complaint form. Complaint forms are also available online on the Board’s Web site at Board representatives will review your complaint and determine the appropriate course of action. You may also file a complaint to report unlicensed activity, false advertising or fraud.

The bottom line
The Board urges consumers to follow the "See Something, Say Something" motto. If you see something not quite right, say something to your barber or beauty professional. If you’re not satisfied, say something to the salon owner. And finally, say something to the Board. Let’s all work together for a safe, healthy salon experience. To file a complaint, call (800) 952-5210 to ask for a complaint form, or visit the Web site at

Publishing information

This publication may be copied if:

  1. The meaning of text is not changed or misrepresented.
  2. Credit is given to the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.
  3. All copies are distributed free of charge.

In other situations, written permission is required.

To order an additional copy of this publication at no charge, send a written request to the Board at the address below. Orders are subject to availability.

Board of Barbering and Cosmetology
2420 Del Paso Road, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834