As stylists, it’s your job to make clients look and feel beautiful, but you can also have an impact on your customer’s health. Since hair stylists spend so much time with one of the hard to see spot’s on a client’s body – their head – it’s much easier for them to see problems in that area.
Skin cancer on the scalp often goes undiagnosed, and the longer it goes undiagnosed, the harder it can be to treat successfully. We’ve asked Dr. Jaggi Rao, a dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, for some tips to help stylists detect possible problems this summer on their clients.
Don’t just do a mole check.
The main think to look out for is moles, but there are other things that could also indicate a problem. “Pay close attention to not only the quality of the scalp skin, but also the caliber, strength, and absence of hair follicles,” advises Dr. Rao.
Follow your ABC’s.
Suspicious moles have one or more of what are known as the ABCDE criteria, says Dr. Rao. Here’s what they are:
A = Asymmetry. Is one side radically different from the other in terms of shape and colour?
B = Border Irregularity. Are the edges of the mole irregular or not clearly defined?
C = Colour Change. One or two shades of brown in a mole are normal, but if there are more than 2, or if it’s turning black, there might be something wrong.
D = Diameter. Is it bigger than 6 mm? It’s especially bad if you see that a mole that used to be small is suddenly much bigger.
E = Evolving. Moles that quickly change in any of the ways mentioned above should be looked at by a doctor.
Vertical growth is OK.
“Many people think that elevated or raised moles are dangerous,” says Dr. Rao. “That is not true; just as we grow, moles may also grow. Vertical growth is part of the normal growth process.” It’s horizontal, rather than vertical, growth that needs to be watched out for.
Prevention is key.
If a client asks how to prevent sun cancer on the scalp, SPF 30 sunscreen can be used on very thin or exposed scalps. Hats are also a great option for protecting the vulnerable skin under the hair. What Dr. Rao does not recommend, are UVA/UVB hair sprays. “The science is fiction,” he says.
Follow your gut. Dangerous melanomas (the most serious form of skin cancer) can take on a number of forms. “At times, the appearance may be deceptively benign, but they [can also] exhibit any or all of the ABCDE criteria,” says Dr. Rao. If something looks or feels wrong to you, suggest the client has it checked out by a medical professional. You just might be saving his or her life.