Health Advice at the Hair Salon

In some communities, particularly where many African-Americans live, the local salon or barber shop is a cultural institution. Men and women alike visit these social hubs on a regular basis not only to get their hair done but to connect with friends and neighbors in a familiar, comforting environment where they can talk, share, vent, and just be themselves. But over the last few years, some hair salons and barbers have been dispensing more than just trims and extensions—they've been giving out health advice, too.

Realizing that for many African-Americans, the shop where they get their hair done is a place of vital importance and trust, health educators in a number of cities have been training salon and barber shop proprietors to offer health advice and screenings to customers. While some African-American men and women shy away from doctor visits—whether because of financial issues or because of an ingrained distrust of the medical profession—they aren't likely to scoff at gently delivered advice on prostate-cancer screenings or a free blood-pressure test while in the barber's chair. Nor are they likely, while having extensions put in, to ignore an earnest appeal from their stylist to get a mammogram as soon as possible. Some customers, if they're found to have high blood pressure, are even promised a free haircut if they go to a doctor and get a prescription for hypertension medication. Occasionally a customer with alarmingly high blood pressure is sent straight to the emergency room.

Why is the medical field targeting the black population with this grassroots salon-based initiative? African-American men suffer disproportionately from high blood pressure and prostate cancer, according to the American Heart Association. Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to stroke or heart disease, which cause up to one-fourth of all deaths among black Americans. African-American women also are at higher risk of heart disease than any other ethnic group, they suffer disproportionately from high blood pressure, and they are more likely to have aggressive breast cancers and die of the disease than other women.

At least one study shows that dispensing health advice and tests along with a wash and trim really does work. A study of 17 barber shops in the Dallas area revealed that 51 percent of customers who received pamphlets on hypertension had their blood pressure under control after two years, and 53 percent of those who had their blood pressure checked by stylists at every visit had their blood pressure under control after two years.



Black Barbershop Outreach Program,

St. Louis University,

New York Times,

American Cancer Society,