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Why do redheads (and other people) sunburn so easily?

Why do redheads (and other people) sunburn so easily?

There aren’t many downsides to being ginger, but there’s one thing we all battle with: sunburn. We’ve all been burned by the sun on one occasion or other (try dozens), and it’s always such a surprise when it happens.

“What? How did you get there? I only put sunscreen on half an hour ago. Whyyyyyyy?” *shakes fist at the sky*

So why do gingers burn so easily in the sun?

The majority of redheads burn very easily, and this is something waaaay past their control. It’s due to redheads having low levels of eumelanin and high levels of pheomelanin.

[Side note: if you’re one of those rare unicorn-like gingers who can tan, this doesn’t apply to you]

What is melanin, you ask? It’s what controls the colour of every human’s skin. Every single person’s melanin levels are different and are determined by your genetics. Eumelanin is a brown/black pigment while pheomelanin is a pink/red one. Due to being darker, eumelanin is responsible for tanning, which is actually just a reaction to being exposed to UV – the eumelanin turns darker to try to protect your skin from burning. People with darker skin and the ability to tan have high eumelanin levels and low pheomelanin levels.

Like we said, most natural redheads (and a lot of other people on the planet) have the flipside of this: low eumelanin and high pheomelanin. By the way, fun fact: pheomelanin’s pinkish colour also explains the red pigments found in ginger hair, and in most cases, a warm, rosy skin tone, too.

Back to eumelanin. Low levels of eumelanin is what 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 burn more quickly and frequently if not wearing enough sun protection to work as a barrier.

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Redheads’ skin does contain some eumelanin, though, even if it’s only a little bit. These likely 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 fully fade once they appear, however a general tan does fade over time.

Freckles are better than tan anyway!

READ: How to do a skin cancer self-check exam

READ: Freckles – what are they, who gets them, and why do they appear?

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