Protecting Your Scalp

Father enjoying a quiet moment in the sun on the trampoline

Checking for unusual lesions or dark moles is an important way to protect yourself from malignant melanoma, the more dangerous form of skin cancer. However, checking your scalp can prove difficult for most people.

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lisa Christman, whose practice is located in North Hills, suggests enlisting the help of your hairstylist or barber. “When you get your hair cut or colored ask the hairdresser to tell you if they see something dark or suspicious,” she says, recommending that you should check your entire body for unusual signs once a month.

Most are happy to serve, she adds, and she has been working on starting a program through her practice to train hair professionals on what to check for. Look for dark moles that appear to grow darker, those that have changed in shape or have irregular edges and pink or crusty looking sores that don’t heal. Dark moles can signal malignant melanoma, while pink and crusty lesions could indicate squamous or basal cell carcinoma, a less dangerous form of cancer when caught early.

Hair offers substantial protection from the sun’s rays; however, fair-skinned people, boys and men with short buzz-style cuts, and those with thinning hair are particularly at risk. Also, areas around the hairline and along the part are susceptible.

“Early on, men and women with thinning hair don’t realize the sun is getting through to the scalp,” says Dr. Christman. “A lot of the damage is done before they realize it.”

The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to wear a hat. Hold it up to the sun to check if you can see through the fabric—the tighter the weave, the more protection it offers. When spending time in intense sun, like fishing or swimming, a hat made of SPF-infused fabric offers added protection.

Dr. Christman also recommends applying sunscreen to your part and, for those with short or thinning hair directly to the scalp. Gel sunscreens are less greasy on the hair but need to be applied more often.

Though according to the Skin Cancer Foundation fewer than 6 percent are diagnosed with skin cancer of the scalp or neck, they account for 10 percent of fatalities, perhaps due to a delay in diagnosis.