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Hair stylists poised to become skin cancer detectives

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Hair stylists could help detect skin cancer.

Your hair stylist could save your life: Here’s how

Researchers have found a new source for detecting skin cancer that might save your life - it's your hairdresser. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hair stylists see more people daily than physicians, putting them in an excellent position to screen for skin cancer.

The scientists say since there aren't enough dermatologists to go around, they've found partnering with non-medical personnel - in this case hair stylists and barbers - is a good way to close the gap when it comes to skin cancer detection.

Hair stylists are in a perfect position to look for suspicious moles on the scalp, ears, face and neck area. Stylists also give advice to their clients, making them especially suitable for suggesting a visit to dermatologist for follow-up.

Alan C. Geller, senior author of a study that appears in the Archives of Dermatology said, “The scalp is not a place that people can easily look at on their own, and we don’t think a lot of physicians are looking for melanoma on the scalp. Most people make 10 visits or more a year to see their hair dressers and barbers and they tend to look more carefully for moles and lesions on the scalp.”

The researchers surveyed over 200 stylists and barbers from 17 salons in the Houston area. They found more than 37 percent of stylists had scanned almost half of their customer’s scalps.

Those without formal training who still knew the ABCD rule of melanoma detection were more likely to notice a client’s skin.

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Many hair stylists who inspect their own moles already know what to look for. Some have had family members with skin cancer.

Hair stylists also expressed an interest in receiving formal training that could help them identify moles and other lesions on the scalp, face and neck area.

Geller explains the scalp is a common place where melanoma develops, but it’s also a difficult area for people to check. Ten percent of fatal melanomas are found on the scalp.

Skin cancer education at your hair salon?

"Hair professionals are currently acting as lay health advisors for skin cancer detection and prevention and are willing to become more involved in skin cancer education in the salon," said the investigators. "As professionals who have a natural view of difficult-to-see areas and who develop a close rapport with their customers, hair professionals are ideally suited to this role."

Dr. Elizabeth E. Bailey of the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says infrastructures are already in place to train hair stylists to detect skin cancer. "Future research should focus on creating a program that provides hair professionals with expert training and effective health communication tools to become confident and skilled lay skin cancer educators."

Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(10):1159-1165. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2011.184
"Skin Cancer Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors in the Salon"
Elizabeth E. Bailey, MD, et al
October, 2011

Image credit: Morgue file