The Link between Red Hair and Skin Cancer
People have different types of hair color ranging from different tints of black, blonde and red hair. Statistically, black is the most common hair color. Natural pure blonde hair is present in about 2% of the world’s population while red hair is the least common hair color. In fact, redheads constitute just a little more than 1% of the world’s population. However, Britain has a high proportion of redheads compared to other populations around the world. For example, redheads make up 13% of Scotland’s population.
Research on redheads and skin cancer
A new study now shows a link between red hair color and skin cancer. Scientists have suspected this connection for many years. However, this new study, published in the Nature Communications journal and supported by the Institute of Well-come Trust Sanger, provides a scientific basis for this suspicion. The lead researcher, David Adams, and his team identified a variant of an MC1R gene that leads to the production of red hair. This gene also causes pale skin, freckles, and susceptibility to sunburns.
The study involved about 400 cancer patients. The research team looked at the DNA sequences of the participants. They found 42% more mutations associated with exposure to the sun in the tumors found in people who had the MC1R variant gene. It is the same variant gene responsible for producing red hair. Further investigations by the researchers determined that this MC1R variant gene increased the number of sun-related mutations while raising the level of mutations associated with other causes of skin cancer.
Explanations for the findings
This study was the first of its kind because it linked a gene to additional mutations in patients that have skin cancer. The researchers postulated that exposing yourself to strong UV radiation from the sun causes damage to your DNA. They further argued that the unique skin pigmentation found in redheads caused more UV light to reach and damage their DNA than is usually the case with people who have other hair colors.
What the study means for redheads
The researchers concluded their study by urging all redheads to take care while they are in the sun. In fact, this study found that the risk of skin cancer in redheads because of exposure to the sun is rather high. The researchers described this increased risk as similar to redheads having 21 extra years of exposure to the sun than people with other hair colors have. This research, co-funded by Cancer Research in the UK, is quite insightful especially for people with red hair. However, people with different hair colors should also take care of their skin. That means wearing protective clothing during summer and using sunscreen when necessary.