Archive | November, 2014

Ethical Behavior in a We-Kill-Hair World

3 Nov

Many people face ethical issues every day without consideration of it being “ethical” or “unethical.”  An example would be when you drive in your car:  Do you never speed?  Do you speed a little or speed a lot?  One person would never, ever consider breaking the speeding law, while another thinks nothing of speeding “a little” – but would consider speeding “a lot” as wrong.  This collection of ethical situations stems from many years of watching, listening, and reading what others do or say about ethical behavior in the hair removal industry. 

Ethics is a system of beliefs which allow us to determine the right and wrong actions in our everyday lives. The word “ethics” comes from a Greek word meaning “custom” or “habit.”  The habits we practice influence our own perception of ethics, and we view other’s behavior by comparing them to ourselves. For many, the level of “wrongness” is the determining factor in their feeling bad or good about their own behavior while sometimes judging others harshly for similar ethical actions.

Spend a little time on Facebook and you will be asked to take a survey to discover your hippie name, your animal spirit guide, which ancient philosopher best represents you or which character are you in the Hunger Games movies?  The survey for this article provided none of the fun results but provided an interesting story on the perceived ethical behavior and self-reported ethics of 100 hair removal professionals.  The breakdown of respondents is as follows:  44% practice only electroepilation (electrolysis, thermolysis, blend with needle/probe); 44% perform waxing; 4% perform IPL hair removal; 3% perform laser hair removal; 1% performed threading; and 4% practice equal amounts of electroepilation and one other method of hair removal.   


Hair removal services are a booming business in most cities. An article in Entrepreneur Press names ELECTROLOGIST in the list of “employees you’re likely to need for the day-to-day functioning of your new business.”  Salons, spas, and hair removal clinics offer various methods of hair removal.  These small businesses rely on advertising to bring in the clients and as a result they hire employees and pay taxes.  When consumers interact with a hair removal business, their first question might be about the cost, but they should want to know if this individual is providing excellent work and if they are being honest about their credentials and the results of their offered services.  Consumers might not care to learn if their service provider is a gossip or if they are cheating on their taxes.   

Four questions were at the core of this survey on ethics in the hair removal industry.  1.  How important is it to practice good techniques and skills?  2. Are respondents promoting themselves, their skills and businesses in an ethical manner?  3.  Is gossip and disparaging speech a problem within the profession?  4. Are respondents honest when claiming income and paying taxes?

For this survey, respondents were first asked if choices they make should be considered a measurement of professional ethics.  Over 90% of respondents considered the choices they make in performing services (94.95%); advertising and promoting services (93.94%); and dealing with or speaking of colleagues or competition (96.00%) as a measurement of their professional ethics. 13.27% said that choices made in reporting income and expenses should NOT be considered a measurement of professional ethics and 7.14% were not sure about this subject.  (Note that 79.59% of respondents considered choices made in reporting income and expenses were a measurement of professional ethics.)

When asked their opinion about the action of other hair removal professionals, 79% of respondents stated practicing poor techniques and skills reflected negatively for the whole profession. The survey allowed respondents to comment on behaviors they witness, and practicing poor techniques and skills was frequently mentioned as a problem.  Word-of-mouth reviews can make or break a business, and often, the negative word-of-mouth for a service offered in one business can cross-over to other similar businesses.  Twenty percent of respondents answered that practicing poor techniques and skills reflects negatively for the individual, and one percent were not sure.  Two-thirds (66.33%) of respondents answered that other’s misrepresentation of themselves reflected negatively for the whole profession and over half (55.56%) answered it reflects negatively for the individual when speaking negatively about colleagues or competition. When it came to under-reporting income, 49% answered that it reflected negatively for the individual and 19% answered, “I’m not sure.”

When asked which types of unethical behavior they believe exists in the hair removal industry, a long list was provided for respondents to select from.  The most commonly chosen answer was “Using unacceptable infection prevention practices such as double dipping and lack of sterilization/decontamination.” Other selections included a list of other poor skill practices; types of misrepresentation of education and training; speaking negatively about others; and stealing product, equipment or business from others. Respondents were not asked how often these actions occurred. One respondent wrote, “I know of all the above I’ve checked, but I don’t think it’s an industry standard.”  Another answered, “I think some of these things are done out of ignorance rather than maliciousness.” 

The survey asked, “Which of the following best represents you?”  Respondents were asked if they were more, just as, or less ethical than others. Sixty-two answered they were more ethical than others and four of those respondents answered NO to the first question of the survey: “Do you consider the choices [you] make in reporting income and expenses as a measurement of professional ethics?”  According to the most common way people cheat on their taxes is by deliberately under-reporting income.  Oscar Vela, Ph.D. concluded in his 2008 dissertation on “Tax Compliance and Social Values” that taxpayers stay honest in reporting income largely since that honesty keeps them from losing income, and professions which place the greatest significance on integrity are the least likely to cheat on their taxes. 

The writers of Freakonomics featured theft of wood from the Petrified Forest in several of their podcasts. It seems four times as many visitors stole wood from the forest when there were signs stating “Many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest” than when the sign said “Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”  Amazingly, less wood was stolen when there were no signs.  Robert B. Caldini concluded in his article “Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment” that public service communicators should avoid sending messages that a targeted activity is socially unacceptable but widespread because it causes people to believe that “a lot of people do it, so I can too.”

This article is not written to change the behavior of hair removal professionals, but to propose the definition of an ethical member of the hair removal profession would be one who has character traits that foster the principles of integrity, fairness, compassion, honesty and kindness.  It is a privilege and obligation as a member of this industry to obtain the best education we can and to continue learning – even when licensing and training does not always exist where we live.  It is a privilege for us to speak honestly and fairly about ourselves and others – even though it may be a tough habit to change.  It is an obligation for us to follow the laws of our local, state, and federal government – especially since we are not populated with law breakers.

How do we define our own ethical boundaries?  How do we perceive levels of ethical behavior in other people?  Anyone who has watched Les Miserables can see the “crime” in sending the starving Jean Valjean to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. After prison, he can only live by stealing, but once shown the compassion from a good man becomes a good man himself.  In Breaking Bad, Walter White decides to make and sell meth in order to secure his family’s financial future after a cancer diagnosis.  While both of these men are considered criminals, we sympathize with Jean Valjean, and while we might root for Walter White in some ways, his choices should make us uncomfortable.  In the end, Walter White admits his crimes made him “feel alive.”   Are ethical behaviors simply a way to feel good about ourselves, i.e. not cause ourselves guilt, to feel superior to others, or are ethics a gray area?

If you think ethics is bunk, but perhaps wisdom is your bag, visit this TED Talk where Barry Schwartz talks about using wisdom but not teaching ethics or watch this PhilosophyBasics video on YouTube.