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Fighting cancer

NH hair stylists join the fight against skin cancer

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 24. 2013 9:28PM
Stylist Morgan Cote of Elavina Salon and Spa checks the scalp of Beth Cavan of Bedford in Manchester on Wednesday. Cote participated in Tuesday's Skinny On Skin event to instruct stylists on how to recognize melanoma. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- The Melanoma Foundation of New England is recruiting a new group of highly trained operatives in the battle against skin cancer.

Hairstylists and salon professionals get a good look from above while caring for hair and can notice signs of concern regarding potential melanoma, which is treatable if detected early but can be deadly if left alone.

"Melanomas of the head and scalp are the most lethal," said Deb Girard, executive director of the Melanoma Foundation of New England. "One of the reasons they're the most lethal is they get diagnosed the most later because you can't see your own scalp."

The Concord, Mass.-based foundation hosted the Skinny on Skin this week at the Puritan Conference Center. Several dozen stylists attended the informational session.

"It's up to us to kind of shift the whole paradigm about health care and make all of these early detection programs more accessible," Girard said. "Skin cancer is the only cancer that you can see."

And while a visit to get a mole checked out may fall low on the priority list, trips to the salon are often on a regular schedule.

"A lot of people have a relationship with their stylist. They share a great bond," said Dr. Robin Travers, a dermatologist from Chestnut Hill, Mass., who was among the consultants who fielded questions and helped stylists with one-on-one scalp examination techniques. "It's a different kind of relationship than with their doctor. They may be more likely to take them up on that urging to go see their doctor."

Manchester's Elavina Salon and Spa, located at 1802 Elm St., is among the partners in the Skinny on Skin initiative.

Elavina stylist Morgan Cote says she has seen concerning signs on clients' skin or scalp since she started in the business nine years ago but wasn't sure how to address it.

"I don't think I ever really felt confident enough to tell them, so having this is great," Cote said. "It is nice to know that being a hairdresser I am able to educate my clients on the importance of caring for their skin."

It was a common question among stylists who attended Monday's event. How do you tell a client that they may want to get checked out by a doctor?

"I think a lot of us kind of know the things to look for or the major things to look for, but I don't think we know how to talk to someone and how to open that door. I think that's really important in events like this. It really gives you the tools to help somebody and to make it comfortable," said stylist Brittney DePiero of Nashua. "You don't want to offend someone or upset them, but you really want them to take you seriously. I feel like a lot of the techniques we learned tonight and some of the wording is really helpful."

Girard said one concern the foundation has is that melanoma patients are getting younger, often damaging their own skin in tanning beds. During the seminar, the stylists lined up for a look at sun damage on their own faces beneath the visible layers of skin by tucking their heads into a facial scanner.

"There's nothing that works quite so well as seeing something firsthand," Girard said.This was the third such seminar the foundation has conducted. The others were in Maine and Boston. The idea is to get more people looking for potential melanoma and spotting it early.

"I think it's a great way to build awareness about the impact of melanoma, especially in regards to how common it is and how much of a difference a hairstylist can really make. I think it's fantastic," said Dr. Laurel Morton, a dermatologist from Travers' practice. "They're pretty savvy. They've thought a lot about this stuff."

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