Hairdressers and barbers can play a key role in helping to spot the early signs of skin cancer. But how do you know what to look for and what other advice can you offer?

This blog post covers:

What is skin cancer?

The most common types of skin cancer are called ‘non-melanoma’. The first sign of non-melanoma is usually a persistent lump or discoloured patch on the skin.

The less common type of skin cancer is called ‘melanoma’, which can be more serious than ‘non-melanoma’. The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or change in an existing mole.

Most skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light damaging DNA in skin cells. The main source of UV light is the sun. The NHS warns that sunbed use also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

Barber beard cut

Which salon or barbershop clients are at risk?

“It’s best practice to assume that everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer, so you should always be on the lookout for signs,” advises NHF Trade Member TrichoCare Education. However, bear in mind that some clients may be more prone to developing skin cancer than others, including:

• Those who have lots of holidays in the sun.
• Clients who use sunbeds.
• Clients with fairer skins and/or a large number of freckles.
• Men with bald patches or thinning hair.
• Women with fine or thinning hair.
• Clients who work outdoors.

Where should I look?

Key places to look for possible problems include:

• The top of the head.
• On and behind the ears.
• The back of the neck and shoulders.
• The face including the nose and cheeks.

Be extra observant when checking those areas that clients can’t easily see for themselves. However, don’t ignore potential problems on more obvious areas of the skin. Sometimes changes caused by skin cancer can appear slowly and your client may not notice what is happening.

Salon health and safety

What should I look for?

Look for anything out of the ordinary. With regular salon or barbershop clients, you may notice:

• A new mole, growth or sore that doesn’t heal.
• A change in the colour or size of a mole.
• A red swelling that may bleed a little.
• A mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs.

The early signs of skin cancer can be hard to recognise as they may look similar to conditions such as dry scalp or ordinary spots, so it’s a good idea to know what skin cancers can look like. The most common sign of skin cancer is a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin. You can see some examples on the NHS website. You can also see examples of moles that might be a cause for concern.

What if I spot something on my salon or barbershop client?

It’s crucial to tell your client if you spot anything that may potentially be skin cancer. But don’t alarm or worry them, as it’s just as likely to be nothing.

Ask if they already know about it as there may be a straightforward explanation, and always advise them to keep an eye on it. If you’re concerned about something you see on a client’s skin or scalp, advise them to get it checked out by their GP. Again, reassure them that it’s probably nothing, but definitely worth getting checked.

Health and Safety

Advise salon and barbershop clients on sun protection

Most hair professionals will know that the sun – especially mixed with sea and swimming pool water, can have a drying and damaging effect on hair and will suggest hair protection products.

But hairdressers and barbers need to be aware that the sun (and sunbeds) can cause far more serious damage to the scalp and skin. Advise your clients to:
• Avoid getting sunburn.
• Use sunscreen.
• Wear clothes that minimise the amount of skin that is exposed to the sun.

You can find more skin safety tips to pass onto your clients on the NHS website.

Checklist

• Understand what skin cancer is and what it might look like.
• Keep an eye on your clients’ skin and be alert to any changes.
• Don’t alarm your clients if you spot something.
• Do advise them to get medical advice to be on the safe side.
• Offer clients skin protection advice.

Health & Safety backup and support for Members

Become an NHF Member for less than 75p a day to take advantage of our range of indispensable health and safety benefits for salons and barbershops. These include:

Essential health & safety kits at discounted rates for Members.
Free commercial helpline to help with legal aspects of health & safety.
• Member discounts on NHF health & safety events.
• Access to our friendly and knowledgeable membership team.
Peace-of-mind insurance and allergy alert cards and guide.