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By Lisa Sykes, Director of Sustainability, Universal Companies

I spent most of my teen years at the beach. Hey, it was the ‘80s, and like everyone else, I squeezed and slathered my way through innumerable bottles of baby oil. Unfortunately, this bad behavior has generated copious clusters of freckles and moles on my chest and back. I’ve monitored them over the years, and never saw any changes. . .until recently.  Naturally, the mole that worried me the most was the one I could only see by folding myself into a contortionist-like pose in front of the mirror. The suspect mole had turned pink around the edges, so I immediately made an appointment with a dermatologist.

As I waited in the exam room, I focused on a laminated poster displaying large, colorful photos of dysplastic nevi, benign atypical moles that may resemble melanoma. (Apparently, the higher number of these, the higher the risk of melanoma.) It certainly heightened my awareness. When the doctor arrived, I explained my concerns to her and showed her the moles that concerned me. She looked me over and said that all of them were “birthday spots” except for the questionable one in the center of my back. She took a biopsy and scheduled me for a follow-up in two weeks.

On my way back to the work, I thought about the incredible opportunity that estheticians and massage therapists have to help their clients by keeping an eye out for suspicious looking moles or lesions. Practitioners can find them in areas where clients normally don’t look, such as the scalp or the back. And, by recognizing them and urging your clients to seek treatment, you may help prevent the advancement of a deadly disease.

The “ABCDE” mnemonic is a great reminder for spotting potential melanoma:
Borders that are irregular in shape
Colors that vary (brown and tan, pink)
Diameters that are fairly large (generally larger than 6mm)
Elevation or bumps


Non-melanoma skin cancers (e.g., basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma) usually appear as chronic reoccurring lesions that look like blisters, scabs, or ulcers. The basic rule is this: If you find an abnormal mole lesion, then it should be examined by a dermatologist.

Don’t be shy. If you spot an irregular looking mole or lesion, gently ask your client if he or she knows about it. The goal isn’t to send your client into sudden panic but to suggest that the client consult a dermatologist. It may save your client’s life. Fortunately, if detected early, skin cancer has a very high survival rate. And as a wellness center, the spa may be the best place to detect these abnormalities.

Incidentally, I did return to the dermatologist, and the biopsy came back negative. I am relieved, and because of my youthful folly, I will return every year for a check-up.

Want to learn more about early detection in the spa? Here are a couple of online resources: and

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