Summertime can be a stressful and frustrating time for redheads. Not only does sunscreen become a daily chore, but every single one of your non-ginger pals constantly wants to compare their “tan” to yours. Duh, obviously there is no contest.
But why don’t redheads tan?
Every human’s skin is made up of different levels of pheomelanin and eumelanin, which work together to determine your skin colour. Eumelanin is a brown/black pigment while pheomelanin is a pink/red one.
Due to being darker, eumelanin is responsible for tanning, which is a reaction to being exposed to UV – it turns darker to try to protect your skin. People with darker skin and the ability to tan have high eumelanin levels and low pheomelanin levels.
Redheads, however, have low levels of eumelanin and high pheomelanin levels. Pheomelanin’s pinkish colour also explains the red pigments found in ginger hair, and in most cases, a warm, rosy skin tone, too. This lack of eumelanin is responsible for pale skin, as well as lighter eye colours, such as blue, green or grey. In place of tanning comes an inability to protect itself naturally against UV exposure, and so redheads tend to burn more quickly and frequently if not wearing sun protection.
Redheads’ skin does contain some eumelanin, though. In general, these take the form of freckles, which are actually concentrated patches of eumelanin. So, technically, if you have freckles, you do tan, just in teeny, tiny areas. Like tanning, freckles are your body’s natural response to UV exposure. They will likely never fade once they appear, however a general tan does fade over time.