Oct. 17, 2011 -- Your hairdresser may be a valuable ally in the battle against skin cancer.
A new study shows many hairdressers already check their client's scalp, neck, and face for signs of skin cancer, and more than half have recommended that a client see a health care professional about an abnormal mole.
Melanomas of the scalp and neck account for 6% of all melanomas and about 10% of melanoma deaths in the U.S.
Researchers say the results suggest few hairdressers have received training in skin cancer education and may be an untapped resource in skin cancer screening and prevention.
"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 skincancer education in the salon," researcher Elizabeth E. Bailey, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues write in the Archives of Dermatology.
"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," they write.
In the study, researchers surveyed 203 hairdressers from 17 salons in a single chain in the Houston area.
The results showed 37% of hairdressers reported looking at more than 50% of their customers' scalps for suspicious lesions in the last month.
About 29% of hairdressers reported looking at more than 50% of their customers' necks and 15% looked at more than 50% of their customers' faces.
More than half (58%) said they had recommended at least once that a client see a health professional about an abnormal mole.
Most hairdressers (72%) had not received formal training on skin cancer. But many expressed an interest in becoming involved in skin cancer education. For example:
69% said they were "somewhat" or "very likely" to give clients a skin cancer information pamphlet during an appointment.
Nearly half (49%) said they were "very" or "extremely" interested in participating in a skin cancer education program.
25% say they already share general health information "often" or "always" with their clients.
Researchers say how often hairdressers checked their clients for suspicious lesions was associated with their own self-reported health practices and personal skin protection habits but not with their level of skin cancer education.
"Future research should focus on creating a program that provides hair professionals expert training and effective health communication tools to become confident and skilled lay skin cancer educators," the researchers write.