Hairstylists may play a role in detecting skin cancer.

Curly hair stylist

A new study published in this month’s issue of Archives of Dermatology suggests that your hairstylist may be one of your greatest defenses against skin cancer.

In the survey of 203 hair professionals spanning 17 salons in the Houston area, 37.1 percent reported looking at clients’ scalps for signs of suspicious lesions, while 28.8 percent looked over necks and 15.3 percent closely studied faces for suspicious lesions during routine hair services.

What makes the findings especially pertinent is that while melanoma of the scalp and neck represented only six percent of all skin cancer cases, it accounted for 10 percent of all melanoma deaths in the United States from 1973 to 2003. Experts say that growths on sun-prone areas like the tips of ears and scalp can often escape notice until cancer has spread to a later stage, which may attribute to the higher fatality rate.

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Because hairstylists work so closely with the head and often see clients on a regular basis, they’re in the unique position to detect changes that may signal a cancerous lesion. And since many ‘regulars’ often chat openly about health, diet and medical care while sitting for a color service or routine trim, stylists often get a more comprehensive view of wellbeing than even a personal physician.

“This study provides evidence that 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,” says lead researcher Elizabeth E. Bailey, M.D. of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. A follow-up study, supported by the Melanoma Foundation of New England aims to educate hair professionals about detecting skin cancer.

Stylists like Natasha Sunshine of L.A.’s Byu-Ti Salon have helped in part to increase survival rates by detecting skin cancer before it can take hold.

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While giving her own father, 61-year-old Andrew Bycoffe, a haircut, she noticed an irregular mole she didn’t remember seeing while previously working on his hair. After urging her father to see a dermatologist, the lesion was determined to be pre-cancerous.

It was surgically removed before the cells could propagate.

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