New Information Connecting Redheads and Melanoma Skin Cancer

Cynthia Bailey, MD|January 31, 2013

Redheads and skin cancerA new scientific study published in the journal Nature has shown that redheads are more prone to melanoma skin cancers than their non-redheaded counterparts, even without sun exposure. Yes, if you’re a fair-skinned redhead (Fitz type 1 with red hair, freckles, inability to tan, and blue eyes), you have an increased risk even if you’re diligent at sun protecting your skin. It means that you need to take extra precautions and have an annual full exam. You also need to learn the signs of melanoma because when we catch melanoma skin cancer early, it's often curable. We know, without any doubt, that exposure to UV sunlight causes skin cancer. It produces free radicals in exposed skin and those free radicals damage your skin’s DNA. This new study demonstrates that free radicals also form in the skin of redheads without any UV light exposure. It means that just being a redhead puts you at an increased skin cancer risk. We've known for a long time that the skin pigment in redheads is different. Redheads make the type of melanin pigment called pheomelanin, instead of the more common eumelanin. What’s new is that we now know that pheomelanin production in the skin causes free radicals all by itself, even without UV exposure. If you add UV exposure, then you're adding even more free radicals to damage your skin's DNA and the skin cancer risk is even higher. What's the bottom line for redheads?

  1. Learn the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
  2. Do monthly self skin exams and see your dermatologist if any suspicious spots develop.
  3. Have an annual skin exam done by your dermatologist.
  4. Be 100% proficient at your sun protection, meaning no tan lines ever!

Click here to see the Skin Cancer Foundation’s ABCDE’s of melanoma Click here for my sun protection recommendations.

Click here to see the dermatologist recommended zinc oxide mineral/physical sunscreens that I trust.

Suntegrity 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen Reference: Mitra D et. al. An ultraviolet-radiation-independent pathway to melanoma carcinogenesis in the red hair/fair skin background.  Nature 2012 Nov 15;491:449 ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature11624 ) Photo: Thanks and Gratitutd to APDK

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