Hairdressers look at the scalp more intensely than their clients ever will, and this puts them in a good position to notice any suspicious skin lesions on their customers' scalps and necks. So it makes sense to educate them about melanoma detection. A study published recently in JAMA Dermatology did just that, using a brief educational video about the criteria for detecting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The team found that the video significantly improved hairdressers' ability to recognize dangerous skin lesions and made them more confident about their ability to catch moles and skin lesions that met the ABCDE criteria: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, more than one Color, greater than 6 mm in Diameter; and Elevation.

Hairdressers, barbers and massage therapists all have a role to play in detecting skin cancer.

Marc Glashofer, a board certified dermatologist and skin cancer expert based in northern New Jersey, who was not involved with the current study, said he was not surprised hairdressers have a role to play in melanoma detection. “Patients often come in and say they were having their hair cut, and the hairdresser noticed a spot that looked concerning to them,” Glashofer said, adding “If they notice something, you should not blow it off.”

Men get skin cancer more than women, David Leffell, the chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale University, told TheDoctor, and so barbers can also help identify suspicious lesions. Massage therapists are another group of professionals that see parts of the body their clients can’t see, such as those tanning salon regulars may develop. “I have had patients come in when a massage therapist has identified something on their lower back,” said Leffell, who was also not part of the study.

If a hairdresser or massage therapist does find something that looks atypical, it’s a good idea to follow-up with a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Leffel believes it's smart to provide education to any group that has a chance to examine skin. “Since hairdressers and barbers are licensed, there should be a minimal amount of education about recognizing skin lesions,” he said. Recognizing suspicious lesions should be a part of continuing education in these professions. A simple PowerPoint presentation or online module is probably all that is needed.

Training hairdressers in melanoma screening and referral is a promising area of future study, researchers, from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, concluded. “The answer to questions about future research is, ‘How can it hurt?’ It can only be beneficial,” said Leffell.