Redheads may have gorgeous hair and complexions, but it turns out that they may be as much as 100 times more at risk of developing skin cancer than their darker skinned counterparts. Only about one to two percent of people in the world have naturally red hair; research shows that redheads carry a genetic mutation that makes them much more vulnerable to the rays of the sun. Melanoma is the dangerous type of skin cancer, and it’s also responsible for about 75 percent of all of the skin cancer deaths that occur.
Scientists with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, as well as Boston University School of Medicine took a look at cells that most of the time would show genetic activity that would help to suppress tumors and protect the cells from cancer after exposure to UV rays. In the case of those with red hair, the skin cells did not have those protective properties.
According to Wenyi Wei, PhD, co-senior author of the study, with Harvard Medical School, those with red hair have mutations in the melanocortin-1 receptor, or the MC1R. It’s the essential gene for pigmentation of the skin. In the study, researchers were able to show that mutations of MC1R are not only a contributor to the natural red hair, but they can also make it more likely that people with red hair will get skin cancer if not careful.
Dr. Wei has also said that these findings may help to provide an explanation on the molecular level as to why redheads that carry mutations to MC1R are anywhere from 10 to 100 times more at risk for melanoma than others, and are also more sensitive to skin damage from UV rays than those that have darker skin.
Both UVA and UVB rays can cause DNA in the skin cells to mutate and cause melanoma, but there are things that people can do to help prevent this from happening. According to Mary Lupo, MD, clinical professor of dermatology with Tulane University Medical School, New Orleans, the study means that red headed people have possible triggers and genetic tendencies when it comes to skin cancer, as well as the known UV intolerance.
She says that while you cannot change your genetic make-up, healthy habits can help with early detection and wearing hats; sunscreen and staying in the shade can help. However, it is also necessary to stay out of the midday sun, and always wear an SPF of at least 45 when they will be out for long than a half hour.