Attention Redheads: Beware of the Sun, and Not Just if You're Fair

There are warnings you've heard that might have you asking whether they're truth, rumor, or complete fiction. While some of these sayings may be silly (such as "don't go outside with wet hair or you'll catch a cold!"), there are many that concern serious health issues and aren't to be taken lightly. One of these sayings is the claim that those with blue eyes are more sensitive to light. This is true -- your blue-eyed friend isn't just obsessed with sunglasses, she might have an actual problem dealing with the sun. Those with blue eyes don't have as many layers of pigmentation and are thus unable to block out harsh light as easily as those with dark eyes.

Ever wonder what your eyes say about you? Click here to read about how people with blue eyes might not be considered as trustworthy as those with brown eyes.

In a similar vein, while the idea that redheads are more sensitive to the sun than those with other hair colors is true, it might not be solely for the reason you'd expect. Yes, those who are fair are more prone to burns, but a new study released suggests redheads aren't just in danger of melanoma because of their fair skin, but may be genetically prone to the deadly cancer specifically because of the color of their hair.

This past fall, a link was found between red hair pigment -- pheomelanin -- and the rate of melanoma. The question this time around was why.

Doctors believe that the body's creation of pheomelanin leaves skin cells more vulnerable to DNA damage -- which is the key factor in the development of cancer cells -- likely in one of two ways. The first option is that creating pheomelanin might also create unstable oxygen-containing molecules (referred to as Reactive Oxygen Species, or ROSs) that can damage cells. The second possibility is that its creation might rob skin cells of crucial antioxidants that they would have otherwise been able to use to prevent ROS damage.

So while UV rays will always be a large cause of melanoma (especially in those with fair skin), it seems redheads have an extra risk on top of what everyone else must face. And to make matters worse, too much exposure to the sun might amplify the effect pheomelanin has on your skin cells. The important takeaway is that those with red hair need to get their skin checked more often.

Those with the pheomelanin pigment in their system should see a dermatologist at least twice a year (rather than once a year as most individuals) if they have no family history of skin cancer. If someone in their family has battled the disease, the individual is encouraged to see a doctor every three months.

We all need to watch our time in the sun and focus on prevention, but those with enviable red tresses simply have to take even more care -- while considering some mild lifestyle alterations. Use an SPF of at least 30 while you're in the sun, and reapply every single hour. Choose to stay in the shade, and maybe turn down that vacation at the beach (tour some incredible city, instead!). Invest in a great hat collection, and just know that the more careful you are, the better chance you have at preventing this deadly disease.

Melanoma is a serious issue, with rates of the disease rising rapidly in the United States -- and most rapidly in young people. Take good care of your skin, and know what you can do to fight off disease. As always, prevention is the key -- so become best friends with your Derm. You won't regret it!

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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