Redheads' Skin Cancer Risk

Health: Redheads are more prone to skin cancer/redhead with freckles and a glaring sun?
There's a new clue about why redheads have higher skin cancer rates than people with black hair.

Skin pigment chemistry could play a role. The finding was announced in Washington, D.C. at the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Duke University chemistry professor John D. Simon, PhD, and colleagues studied structures called melanosomes from human hair. Melanosomes make melanin, which gives skin and hair their color.

The scientists took melanosomes from red and black human hair, since it's hard to get melanosomes from human skin. They tested the melanosomes with a sophisticated laser.

Fending Off Sun Rays

Melanosomes from black hair were only affected by high energy ultraviolet-B (UV-B) light. In the real world, the atmosphere filters that out, according to the researchers.

In contrast, melanosomes from red hair were affected by UV-A and UV-B radiation. They lost electrons in a process called oxidation, which stresses cells and can damage DNA.

Thus, exposure to everyday UV-A and UV-B levels might rattle red hair pigments and contribute to the different skin cancer rates, Simon tells WebMD in an email.

By the way, UV-A and UV-B radiation aren't just around on sunny summer days. They're present year-round, so keep sun protection strategies in place after summer fades.

Preventing Skin Cancer

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So it's never too late to begin protecting yourself from the sun.