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Maybe you should get a healthy haircut?

Have you considered that the person who cuts your hair is providing a health service?

Let’s start with the recognition that a haircut and style is usually a mood-lifting experience. People, especially older adults who may not get touched very much, can sit down in a comfortable chair, and a smiling stylist offers a sudsy, warm-water head and neck massage followed by intimate tending to how you feel and want to look. It’s active listening at its best.

Health benefits go way beyond elevating your spirits and improving your sense of self. That same stylist may caution you about the mole behind your ear that “seems to be enlarging a bit” and even recommend a dermatologist who could take a look at it. You may not have even known you had a mole behind your ear. She — 61 percent of hair salon owners are women — will probably have insight on any “flu bug going around” and perhaps remind you to get your flu and pneumonia immunizations. If the stylist has a vivid story about another customer who got “an awful case of shingles,” it serves as a powerful encouragement to get that vaccination, as well.

People of all ages may not go to their health provider regularly, but they will always get a haircut. They may not tell their doctor or dentist about their health concerns or share relationship issues, but they are very likely to tell their stylist. Studies show that “over 52 percent of people have seen the same hairdresser for over three years” and consider those visits as “essential.” A 2009 study at Ohio State University found that 80 percent of stylists said their “elderly clients share their problems, and 85 percent described their relationship with older clients as close or very close.”

But wait, there’s more. A national campaign, “Cut it Out,” trains hair stylists to be on the lookout for signs of domestic abuse and provides information on relevant helping organizations. In many salons, stylists wear pink breast cancer awareness ribbons and comfortably educate their captive-in-a-chair customers on how to “save second base.” During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, don’t be surprised if you see your stylist sporting pink hair.

In a small salon in South Carolina, the stylists have formed a “health awareness team” and are proud of the computers in their waiting area that encourage waiting customers to look up health information online. The computers provide easy access to health-related materials using Medline Plus, the consumer health website of the National Library of Medicine (www.medlineplus.gov). In this salon, if you find information you want to ponder further, there’s even a printer.

There’s a program called “Going to the Barbershop to Fight Cancer,” active in 22 states, that educates on the importance of prostrate screenings. Another program, part of a corporate wellness effort under the moniker, “Beauty Salons: The New Health Provider,” demonstrates how organizations in the south have enlisted barbers and beauticians to “fight the battle against hypertension and coronary heart disease among black Americans.”

Next time you get your hair cut, talk to the person wielding the scissors about beauty salons as health providers. Wear something pink.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.