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Ginger Health: Red Hair Pigment Causes Higher Skin Cancer Risk, Not Pale Skin

We always thought that our paler-than-ghosts complexion was the reason why redheads are prone to skin damage and therefore skin cancer.

But, from recent developments in health news, it’s not. It turns out that, actually, the reddish pigment in our ginger hair, pheomelanin, is the culprit that makes us at higher risk of producing skin cancer.

I can hear you all right now, shrieking, “Noooooooo…!” in a dramatic, echoey fashion. Well, that’s what I did, anyway.

This research is been found by scientists at the MGH/Harvard Cutaneous Biology Research Centre, who have been testing the genetic code of mice with red hair to try to work out what causes redheads to be at higher risk of melanoma.

There are now two theories at work, regarding the activity of pheomelanin and how it is carcinogenic independent of UV radiation.

First of all, the red pigment in our hair could generate unstable oxygen-containing molecules that damage our skin cells. These molecules are known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS.

But the second theory says that synthesis of pheomelanin actually robs our skin cells of antioxidants that are vital in fighting against skin cancer.

So it’s got a lot less to do with us burning on the beach, and is more to do with our genetic make-up, our mutated MC1R gene, aka ‘the ginger gene’.

Fisher, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said: “We think a new prevention opportunity exists if we can block the form of reactive oxygen damage that the red pigment is producing.”

“I want to emphasise that we strongly believe UV is a contributor to melanoma, and UV may actually amplify this red pigment phenomenon,” he said. “It still is absolutely crucial for people to avoid sun exposure.”

We hear you. Don’t abandon all hope along with sun protection, ginger lovelies!

If anything, the knowledge that sun exposure is only one factor in our increased risk of melanoma should prompt gingers to take additional precautions to what we’re already doing.

Sun hat? Check. Sunscreen? Of course. Umbrella, for rain or shine?

Someone hand me the SPF 130!


By Emma

Enhance and care for red hair using Gingerful

Created for redheads, by redheads.


Emma Kelly is the Editor & Founder of Ginger Parrot. She dresses herself in mismatched multi-seasonal clothing and has a talent for sniffing out the next opportunity for coffee. She believes that any new band with a female musician is the next big thing and that whoever is currently dating Ryan Gosling is the luckiest lady on earth. Her biggest obsession is shopping online for castles, (probably) fueled by childish fantasies of finding her prince and settling down for a life of luxury, bathing in a pool of gin and bitter lemon. Other than that, though, she’ll be incessantly researching the latest gingerful news to deliver to Gingerkind.


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