Kelly Margolin, owner of Tangles Hair Salon on Main Street in Norway, cuts a customer’s hair. (Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc)

BUCKFIELD — Joan Abrams, owner of Hair Solutions in Buckfield, has eyes on the back of her customer’s heads. Someday, she could save a life.

Abrams said her position as a hairdresser lends her a unique vantage point to spot suspicious abnormalities on her client’s skin and scalp.

Abrams said she’s been a hairdresser since 1979, and has owned Hair Solutions since 1987;  years ago, she attended a training, and has been on the lookout for potential cancerous spots since.

Abrams said she’s not accepting new clients, and works with the same customers on a regular basis. For those who live alone, she’s the only person who thoroughly checks her customer’s hair, as well as the backs of their necks and ears.  

“If there’s a spot I notice in their hair, I grab their cell phone and take a picture of it, and we compare to see if there’s any change. That way they have it right on their phone to show their physician if they do end up going,” Abrams said. 

According to Abrams, people who work closely with hair and skin are in the perfect position to spot melanoma in it’s early stages, when the chances of recovery are greater. Abrams said she knows what to look out for.

“Any change is huge, anything that’s not symmetrical, has a funny color, or suddenly changes or looks different after a long time. All I do is point it out. I say, ‘there’s been a change, I think you should bring it up with your doctor’.  Observation, that’s about all I do,” said Abrams.

“Not even a person’s spouse can root through every inch of their hair once a month. We’re the first defense. We don’t diagnose, but if we see a change, or if we see something come up, all of my customers are regulars. I know if there’s something new. I’m the perfect person in their life to keep an eye out for that.” 

Abrams attended a presentation called “Skinny on Skin” put on by The Dempsey Center and held at the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine in Norway on October 22, 2018.  The presentation aimed to teach hair professionals how to screen for suspicious moles while performing common salon services. 

Doctor Vinny Seiverling, Dermatology Division director at the Maine Medical Center and assistant professor of Dermatology Tufts University School of Medicine spoke at the presentation held in October. 

“The goal of Skinny on Skin is to increase awareness of skin cancers, specifically melanoma,” Seiverling said in a Feb. 25 phone interview. Seiverlng said the “Skinny on Skin” initiative was started by a group called IMPACT Melanoma in response to melanoma rates in the Northeast, and Maine, some of the highest rates in the country.

“Many times, patients with skin cancer don’t see a dermatologist because there’s a terrible shortage of dermatologists. A patient’s primary care doctor, massage therapists, and hairdressers are people the patients are seeing often and they’re at the first of the line to be able to identify,” said Seiverling.

Although Abrams previously attended other classes and presentations, she found the “Skinny on Skin” presentation informative. She said her one complaint was there weren’t more hairdressers in attendance.

Kelly Margolin, owner of Tangles Hair Salon in Norway, is in the habit of checking her client’s heads while she cuts. And she’s spotted suspicious spots before.

“I was doing my client’s hair—she gets a full foil. I was going through with a foiling comb, in half inch sections at a time. She had a spot above her ear, on the side of her head, that was three colors and an odd shape. I said ‘you really should get that looked at, it does not look good, it looks exactly like what they tell you the warning signs are.”

Margolin said the client went to a dermatologist, and while the spot on her head wasn’t cancerous, the doctors found multiple spots on her face that were, and removed them.

“She said, ‘of all the people I’ve had do my hair, nobody’s ever mentioned it,'” said Margolin.

Margolin said she would be interested in attending a training in the future; but getting the word out would be vital. She doesn’t leave her salon much. But for now, Margolin said she’ll keep looking out.

“I don’t think anyone [hairdressers] should ever assume the customer know it’s there, and risk embarrassment. It’s better to say something than think, ‘I don’t want to embarrass them’.”

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