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Bald? Why you need to check and protect your skin

Monday 28 September 2020

A man stands on a soccer field holding a soccer ball.
Wearing a hat while you play sports can protect you from dangerous skin damage.

Whether you’re rocking a fresh shave or your hair has thinned out with age, if you’re bald, you need to be extra aware of the health of your scalp.

While it can occur anywhere on the body, skin cancer can be more likely to develop on the parts of your body that get a lot of sun exposure. And if you don’t have hair up there, the top of your head is the first place the sun will hit with full force, particularly during the middle of the day when you’re most likely to be exposed to the sun’s peak ultraviolet radiation (UVR) levels.

Does being bald or shaving my head raise my risk of skin cancer?

Unfortunately, yes. Studies show that having thinning or no hair on top can significantly increase your chance of developing some skins cancers, particularly squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas.

While the good news is the deadliest of all skin cancers, melanoma, does not appear to be more likely to develop in bald people, melanomas can develop on the scalp of any person, whether there’s hair there or not. It’s worth keeping an eye out for them, because melanomas on the scalp and neck are actually the most dangerous kind to get.

What can I do to protect my head and scalp from the sun?

Staying out of the sun is the best way to protect your skin from harmful UVR that can cause skin cancer, but we know that’s not always possible. If you do need to go out in the sun, follow these steps to protect the skin on your head (and apply the same steps to other areas of exposed skin, too!)

Cover up

Pop on a broad brim hat, to protect your face, neck and ears, whenever you’re out in the sun. Keep a hat on hand in the car or your bag and take one with you to work in case you need to go outside unexpectedly (hands up if you’ve gotten burnt by a surprise fire drill!). You can even get special hats for swimming that will keep their shape and dry well, and if you need to go to a fancy outdoor occasion like a party or wedding, you can get dressier hats to match your look and keep your scalp safe.

Slather on sunscreen

A big advantage for bald people: there’s nothing to stop you getting protection from sunscreen on your scalp. While spreading sunscreen through hair can be tricky, if you're bald or balding, you might find you can use sunscreen up top with more ease. Make sure it’s broad spectrum, at least SPF 30 or higher, and reapply every two hours and immediately after you go swimming or towel off.

Seek shade

If you have to be outside during the day, spend as much time in the shade as possible. Sitting under a tree with dense foliage can reduce UVR exposure by up to 75%. Combining this with a broad brim hat will ensure you are well protected. So much better than having your scalp frying under midday sun!

A man lies back against a tree after a hike.

How can I check my scalp for skin cancer?

Early detection of skin cancers is really important, so it pays to be aware of the state of your skin. Skin cancers can develop quickly and you’re more likely to notice a change if you’ve already spent a bit of time getting familiar with your skin.

It’s hard to see your scalp all over, so you might want to use a mirror or camera to get a good view of the back of your head and neck and behind your ears. A partner, friend or your barber can also give you a hand, just remember to ask them regularly.

Follow our guide on how to check your skin for skin cancer. When checking your skin, keep an eye out for these changes in particular:

  • new moles or moles that have increased in size
  • changes in the outline of a mole
  • a mole that becomes rough, scaly or ulcerated (like a sore)
  • moles that itch, tingle, bleed or weep
  • a spot or freckle that becomes raised or develops a lump within it
  • a spot or freckle that changes colour or is varied in colour
  • or spots or freckles that look different from others on your skin.

You can also use the tools available on the Skin Cancer College of Australia website, Scan Your Skin, to help you check your skin and identify your cancer risk factors.

If you notice a change in your skin, even if you’re not sure about it, you should show your doctor straight away.

What about if I’m hairier?

Just because you have a full head of hair, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of skin cancers on your scalp. And unlike your bald buddies, your hair might actually make it harder for you to spot changes in your skin.

Having a thorough look yourself, or getting a partner, friend, barber or doctor to check over your skin regularly is a must for anyone, hairy, bald or somewhere in between.

More information

Last updated: 28 September 2020