Redheads may be naturally pale and more inclined to seek out some sun, but according to a new study, even without the sun, they are at a higher risk for melanoma. In other words, redheads, your genes may be predisposing you to skin cancer, even if you never go outside. Thanks, mom and dad, right?
Published in the journal Nature, researchers found that those with red hair are not only more likely to freckle and burn, but they are also more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer–even more so than blonds.
Dr. David E. Fisher, director of the melanoma program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown and senior author of the study explained in a statement:
Even if you’re good about avoiding UV rays—you know, putting on sunscreen, wearing protective clothes and being careful at the beach—it’s still possible this red pigment is related to carcinogenic activity anyway.
In the study, Fisher and his team set out to determine how mice would react to ultraviolet light. Originally they wanted to study how moles would turn into melanoma. What they found was surprising: Even before the mice with redhead pigmentation were exposed to UV rays, they were more prone to develop the skin cancer. In fact, 50% of the redheads developed melanoma within a year. Meanwhile, the mice with black and blond pigments were less likely to develop melanoma.
The researchers thought so too, said Fisher.
We were very surprised. In fact, one of the first things we did was go back into the animal room with a UV meter just to be sure that for some inexplicable reason the lights were not actually emitting ultraviolet radiation.
Even though we know better now, this information could be dangerous for those with red hair, suggests Dr. Meenhard Herlyn, a microbiologist and dermatology professor at Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute:
The big danger here is that somebody will say, ‘Oh, well if I can’t do anything about it, then I can go to a suntanning salon and go tanning on the beach and just call it fate.’ That’s not the case. One still has to be very conscientious about not getting a sunburn and getting the damage.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and more than 9,000 will die from it, so be careful, no matter what color hair you have. And be sure to get annual exams by your dermatologist.