Hairdressers are identifying skin cancer on client’s heads

Your hairdresser might just save your life, thanks to an initiative that trains stylists to detect signs of skin cancer.

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A program called Sty Lives – short for Styling Hair and Saving Lives – has been launched across Canada, led by two medical students based in Ontario along with the Save Your Skin Foundation

The foundation trains hairdressers to spot lesions on the ears, faces and scalps of their clients.

Kathy Barnard, founder of the foundation, told CBC’s Daybreak South program: “Ninety percent of skin cancer is preventable if we catch it early enough.”

Barnard, who is a melanoma survivor and lives in Pentiction, British Columbia, said 70 salons across the country, including 10 in BC, had already signed up to the program.

An estimated 8,700 people in Canada would be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, in 2021 with 1,250 Canadians dying from it, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Barnard said that hairdressers were in a unique situation to be able to spot lesions early in hard-to-see areas.

Kathy Barnard said ninety percent of skin cancer is preventable if caught early.
YouTube/saveyourskinfdn

“Most skin cancers are in the head, neck and behind-your-ear areas where we don’t usually see – the ones that are most exposed to the sun,” she said.

Barnard’s friend and neighbor Brian Dunn was diagnosed with melanoma last summer after his wife discovered a dark patch on his skin while cutting his hair.

The couple let Barnard examine the patch and she advised him to go and see a doctor and get further tests carried out.

Hairdressers have a close view of their client’s heads and possible legions that others would normally never see.
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“It was unbelievable how fast and quick it was. They got me in for surgery … I feel great now,” said Dunn, a retired hairdresser who said he had been checking scalps at work for years.

“We can see parts of your head that you can’t. When we’re doing colors, perms or cuts, we’re pretty close to your scalp so we can see what’s going on.”

Barnard helped set up the Sty-Lives program in December, in part motivated by Dunn’s experience.

A hairdresser inspects a client's head in the mirror.
The trained hairdressers do not diagnose their clients with cancer, but they do alert them to suspicious growths.
YouTube/saveyourskinfdn

While the program does not ask hairdressers to diagnose skin cancer it is designed so people can be alerted that they might need to seek out professional advice and get tested, she said.

“We just provide all the materials and training we can for those hairdressers and barbers to make sure that their patients are going to have it checked.”

All hair professionals in Canada are eligible for the training and registration is free.

A hairdresser finishes working with a client.
Registration for Sty-Lives is free for Canadian hair professionals.
YouTube/saveyourskinfdn

“We’re pretty excited, it’s really gaining momentum and I think we can all just really make a difference,” said Barnard.

This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.

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