Spotting health issues

Professionals in the hair and beauty industry are ideally placed to help clients who may have health challenges.

For years, the mental health charity Samaritans has highlighted hair and beauty professionals’ role in listening to clients who may be struggling. Among its partners are barbers with training to recognise such issues (such as the Lions Barber Collective – highlighted in salonfocus Autumn 2022).

Now the BELONG project is collaborating with the industry to promote the uptake of NHS health checks and breast cancer awareness among women from diverse communities, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and supported by the NHS Race and Health Observatory. Designed by King’s College London researchers, BELONG involves creating an app in consultation with salon staff, clients, nurses and healthcare assistants, and training them to use it and recommend it to clients.
‘Salons are special: they are familiar and trusted places where women meet, so they can be a community health asset and embed health-promoting messages into conversations between staff and clients,’ says Dr Mariam Molokhia, joint principal investigator at BELONG.

‘Promoting partnerships between GP surgeries and salons can enable access to healthcare services, regardless of age, gender, financial circumstances or ethnicity.’

Current campaigns

BELONG isn’t the only collaboration. Paused for Thought was launched in 2022 to train Matthew Curtis UK stylists about the menopause and signpost clients to the free Balance app, while London South Bank University has trained barbers to test clients’ blood pressure, particularly black and Asian men, who are more likely to have undiagnosed problems.

And in 2018, cancer charity Skcin developed an online course that has accredited more than 10,000 professionals. Masced (Melanoma And Skin Cancer Early Detection) educates hair, health and beauty professionals on skin cancer symptoms, and how to signpost (not diagnose) clients with lesions or marks. One in four men and one in five women will be diagnosed with skin cancer – yet 90% of cases are preventable.
‘We take learners through the signs and symptoms,’ says Skcin CEO Marie Tudor. ‘We talk about prevention and early detection, and how to have the conversation with clients [see Resources].
‘We focus on education and raising awareness. We want to work closely with the sector as it is key to our mission of reaching more people.’

There are increasing numbers of resources to help professionals know what to spot and how to signpost. And what’s more, the Beauty and Wellbeing All-Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster has published an inquiry into the how the complementary therapy sector can play a preventative role in supporting people’s health and wellbeing, and how surgeries can connect with it.

What’s your role?

The hairdressing and barbering apprenticeship will soon also include a health and wellbeing element. NHBF director of quality and standards Caroline Larissey explains that clients are asking for advice about physical and mental health as part of self-care.
‘We’re a caring sector, but people don’t always have that knowledge,’ she says. ‘It makes sense to embed in the apprenticeship the importance of maintaining both professionals’ and clients’ wellbeing.’

It’s important to note that hair and beauty professionals’ role is to listen and signpost only. As Mariam says of BELONG: ‘Hairdressers and beauty therapists will be trained to start a conversation, including signposting to resources and services, but will not provide health consultations. Salons will be supported by local surgeries that can provide advice as required.’


Hannah Klewpatinond, owner of HK Hair in Milton Keynes, has spoken to clients on ‘lots of occasions’ about health issues, including skin cancer, psoriasis, alopecia and infertility.

‘We’re in a privileged position,’ she says. ‘I see clients regularly and would notice certain skin changes. Few people get as close to the scalp.’

She and her staff undertook mental health first aid training during lockdown, so they are more aware of issues and can raise them and support clients. ‘The first thing to understand is that we’re signposting,’ she adds. ‘We’re not an alternative to a medical professional.’
Clients feel able to talk in Hannah’s salon. ‘We’ve created a safe space, and what is said in the chair remains in the chair,’ she says. ‘Some clients are different generations of the same family.’

Hair and beauty professionals are more accessible than GPs, and Hannah believes talking to a stylist can feel easier and less stigmatising. ‘It’s relaxed, and that is a different experience from visiting the GP.’

She points out that there are no blurred lines about supporting clients with health issues: ‘We are offering them a service.’ She also notes that if she has signposted a client to the GP or another service, and the next time they come in they haven’t done anything about it, she has a duty of care to remind them – but it is their choice.

‘One client had a lesion on her ear and I advised her to go to the GP,’ Hannah says. ‘When she came back eight weeks later she still hadn’t been. She did go eventually, and it turned out to be cancer cells.’


  • Hairdressers and beauty therapists in south and west London can sign up to BELONG
  • Skcin’s training course on melanoma and skin cancer early detection for hair and beauty industry practitioners
  • NHBF blog – Body image and body dysmorphia: spotting the signs
  • NHBF blog – Dealing with a stressed salon or barbershop employee
  • Samaritans – How to support someone you’re worried about
  • A calendar of national campaigns from NHS Employers that can help you think about health issues


Use Samaritans’ SHUSH active listening tips:

  • Show you care (by giving eye contact and focusing on the person); have patience; use open questions (requiring more than a yes/no answer); say it back (check you’ve understood but don’t interrupt or offer a solution); have courage (to ask certain questions).
  • Look for training on spotting health issues from charities, local authorities and the NHS – much is free or inexpensive.
  • Support team members who may be anxious about a client – sensitively check on the client yourself, and have resources for staff.
  • Gather knowledge of local health and charitable services.
  • Offer private spaces for clients, if needed.
  • Signpost to a medical professional – never diagnose.


Training is key in helping clients with health issues. Skcin was founded in 2006 in Nottingham to promote sun safety. The charity was born out of the loss of Karen Clifford to melanoma skin cancer – Karen’s daughter, beauty therapist Tracey, first detected a lesion on her mum’s stomach.