Salons across Canada join skin cancer detection training

Hairstylists from a dozen salons across Canada are being taught to detect suspicious skin lesions on clients in a program led by two northern Ontario medical students.

When it comes to health and wellness, it is a team effort and that’s why the Styling Hair & Saving Lives (Sty-Lives) program was created to help hairstylists and barbers screen clients for possible skin cancer.

"Sty-Lives is an initiative that was founded by Save Your Skin Foundation alongside myself and one of my colleagues in medical school," explained Miranda Waugh, a first-year dermatology resident and graduate of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

"It very much came from a position of seeing that there is a demand and a need for more information and empowerment behind hairstylists in detecting skin cancers or suspicious skin lesions in areas that are a little bit trickier to find on yourself in a self-examination."

Sty-Lives launched at the end of 2021, right before Christmas, and is the first of its kind in Canada.

So far 12 different salons have jumped on board across Canada. In northern Ontario, four salons are participating. They are located in Lively, Val Caron, Little Current and Thunder Bay. Officials said outside of Ontario, there are salons in Quebec City and Vancouver who have also registered.

"Basically, the way it works is hairstylists or hair salons that are interested are provided with educational resources, as well as pamphlets, business cards to help really boost the initiative at their local salon or within their practice," Waugh said.

"We also have made a great tutorial video which goes step-to-step on what to look for, red flags, and that hopefully will help with the enrollment of this project moving forward."

Officials said the overall goal is to help increase communication and education, which will hopefully lead to earlier detection of possible skin cancers.

"Skin cancer is the most common cancer of all cancers and we know that in Canada we have about 80 thousand new diagnoses of skin cancer, probably more, and about 10 per cent of those are melanoma," said Dr. Lyne Giroux, a dermatologist in Sudbury.

"The big thing about melanoma is it can travel and so the earlier you find it the better. So if you find it late there is more chance that it’s spread to other parts of your body, your lymph nodes, lungs, brain, liver."

Early detection is important, she said.

"So this program is very timely and we know that melanoma it’s one of the only cancers that’s increasing every year so this is very important."

Dr. Giroux says as a dermatologist, she thinks it’s extremely important to have more people looking for suspicious lesions, especially hairdressers.

"As a working dermatologist, I could probably count, you know, at least 50 times in my 16-year career when someone’s said 'oh, my hairdresser told me to come in' or 'oh, my hairdresser saw this.' So I think it is very relevant," she said.

Toronto hairstylist Cassandra Richardson joined the initiative for a very personal reason, her mom is a skin cancer survivor. Richardson said she’s ready to help anyone who sits in her chair.

"I’m very passionate about prevention and early detection so this really means a lot to me in the fact that you can absolutely change someone’s life by simply doing your job," she said.

"It’s so easy with the instructional video that Miranda sent. Like it’s so easy to tell someone that 'you have a spot on your head, you should get checked out.' It doesn’t have to involve anything  more than that. Just that simple step of telling that person that it exists is just one step closer to saving their life."

Adding, "It’s just so easy. There’s just no excuse not to do it as a hairstylist."

As for Natalie Richardson, a melanoma survivor and part of the Save Your Skin Foundation, she is extremely thankful to help bring more people on board to help detect skin cancer.

"I’m grateful," she said. "I’m grateful for this project and the work of all the professionals involved and all of the dermatologists and professionals across the country who do work in skin cancer prevention and detection every day. It’s something that I didn’t know about before I was touched by it and now it’s my mission in life to try and help other people avoid going through what I and my family went through."

Hair professionals across Canada are eligible to participate by registering online.

"We’re ready," said Richardson.

"We have all our cards and brochures and materials ready to send to interested salons."