By: Guest Writer, Dr. Leslie Baumann M.D.

Harvard dermatologist Madhu Pathak calls redheads “three-time losers” because their red pigment is an inadequate filter of sunlight and their skin is more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer and wrinkling with age.

Is this true? 

Being a redhead myself, I hate think of us as any type of losers- so instead I would like to say that we are eumelanonically challenged.

What I mean by this is natural redheads have less eumelanin- the pigment that gives a brownish black hue to skin and hair.  There are 3 main reasons that ‘red hairs’ are more likely to get skin cancer:

1) We tan poorly, therefore many of us have developed sunburns trying to tan.

2) Our eumelanin levels are low so we do not get as much natural antioxidant protection from eumelanin.

3) our pheomelanin, when exposed to sun, makes free radicals that can lead to damage to our DNA.

The sun damage that redheads get from these 3 reasons leads to sun burns, wrinkles, skin cancer and freckles.  The sun damage occurs more in redheads for these reasons:

When irradiated, pheomelanin produces free radicals, therefore pheomelanin may contribute to photoaging of the skin.  Eumelanin, however, may actually have antioxidant activity which protects skin.  These may be one of the reasons that redheads are more likely to develop skin cancer. Redheads have less eumelanin in their skin (and hair) and more pheomelanin in their skin (and hair), as compared to darker skin and hair types.  Therefore, they have less natural protection or more damage from sun exposure.

The lesson is, always wear lots of sunscreen and keep your skin safe from the sun!

 

Photo Credit: Kara Kochalko,  © How to be a Redhead