Thousands of hairstylists, makeup artists and manicurists are preparing for the largest regulatory overhaul since the 1980s.

After struggling to keep pace with the exploding beauty industry, the state board that oversees cosmetologists and aestheticians plans to double the number of inspectors visiting salons around Minnesota. It’s also proposing changes to more than 500 rules.

State regulators want to strengthen standards of cleanliness at salons after learning that three-quarters of cosmetology complaints in Minnesota allege improper infection control, often filed after a client develops bacterial and fungal infections from pedicures or other procedures.

“The rules are outdated, they’re antiquated, and they’re not consistent,” said Gina Stauss, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetologist Examiners.

The board will increase its inspectors to eight sometime this year in an effort to conduct inspections as close to once a year as it can. Right now, just 40 percent of the state’s 5,500 salons are inspected annually, according to Stauss, with inspectors traveling up to six hours to visit some outstate establishments.

“If you’re going to go out and inspect people, having clear, definitive and up-to-date rules is going to make you able to stitch the story together better,” she said.

Colorful stories

A 126-page report outlining the proposed changes includes colorful anecdotes about the travails of cosmetology inspectors.

“It is not uncommon,” the board found, “for inspectors arriving at a salon to observe salon practitioners removing prohibited items such as Credo blades and used porous implements, cleaning work areas, or even to see apparently unlicensed persons fleeing salon premises in the middle of a cosmetology service to a client.”

Regulators want to require more detailed inspection reports, along with mandating that salons make them publicly available in the reception area.

The board said it expects enforcement costs to go down when the proposed changes make the rules for salons and beauty schools more clear. They hope that will allow inspectors to spend less time educating licensees on infection control and other requirements.

Board officials have traveled around the state to talk about their plans with members of the industry. Sometime this summer, an administrative law judge is expected to decide whether the rules should be enacted.

Susan Brinkhaus, executive director of the Salon and Spa Professional Association, said most of the industry has backed the board’s proposals because “they know it’s been a very long time since there were any kind of changes. … The update is needed.”

She added that a lot of the current rules on infection control were “very vague as to what they were going to do to make sure the citizens of Minnesota are safe. … It says that they’re supposed to practice it, but it really isn’t laid out as well as it is with the [new proposal].”

The report noted that many licensees still cannot adequately explain infection control procedures, an area where regulators want to crack down. Proposed rules include requiring salons to have a sufficient supply of disinfected tools, disinfectant and single-use supplies; use a disinfected sharpener on eyeliner and eyebrow pencils to remove any product that could have come into contact with a client’s skin; and inform clients about the risk of allergic reactions. New salons would be banned from having carpet in their service areas.

No smoking, eating on job

Another rule bans stylists and clients from smoking, eating and drinking during a cosmetic procedure. And the board would prohibit licensees from dipping the end of a waxing stick in a wax pot and then dipping the other end inside, which can cause contamination.

Additionally, the board is demanding that beauty school instructors have almost double the work experience now required — following, among other things, complaints from inspectors about teachers passing on misinformation about infection control to their students.

Some beauty schools say they already struggle to find enough qualified instructors and would face even greater challenges if the board raised the requirements.

“It’s scary because we don’t have enough qualified instructors,” said Lara Kelley, owner of the Minnesota School of Beauty. She has three instructors; she once had five. She said her school has strict infection control policies, compared with a number of salons.

“Don’t get me wrong, a lot of salons are really on top of that, and a lot of salons are not,” said Kelley.

Common complaints

The board also grew concerned after hearing reports from salons specializing in waxing services that reported new graduates were not properly trained in the practice. Regulators are proposing to increase the training they’re required to have, given the increasing popularity of hair removal services and the potential for burns, tears and abrasions.

The rule changes address one of the most common consumer complaints received by the board: infections from pedicures. When people soak their feet in a water bath to soften calluses and cuticles, debris left in the filters and screens can render disinfectants less effective. Bacteria can remain when the wrong cleaners are used, or when disinfectants aren’t properly diluted, leaving the next client to soak their feet in a “bacterial soup,” regulators found. The board is more clearly calling for all pedicure tubs to be cleaned and disinfected, even when a customer is not using them.

Stauss noted that discussions with the industry about a major update to the regulations have been happening for years.

“It’s not a surprise to them,” she said.