Red Hair? Make sure you Slip, Slop, Slap!

By Alice Orszulok

If you have pale skin, you’re probably more than aware that you have a higher risk of turning tomato-red after a day in the sun than someone with a darker complexion. But did you ever stop and wonder if it had anything to do with the colour of your hair? Scientists are now suggesting that there is a link between someone’s hair colour—particularly redheads—and their chances of developing melanoma.

Genes play a main role in determining what we look like. They carry information that makes look how you look: whether you have curly hair or straight hair, blue eyes or brown eyes. A person’s skin pigment, which determines your hair colour and skin tone, is controlled by the gene receptor melanocortin-1 (MC1R). If you have red hair, it means a mutation has occurred in this particular gene receptor, which causes the rare hair colour and usually lighter skin tone that goes with it. Only one to two per cent of the entire human population have red hair!

Scientists are now suggesting that this same mutation triggers a cancer-causing signaling pathway when redheads are exposed to the sun’s rays. According to researchers, this MC1R-RHC gene (RHC stands for red hair colour) lowers a cell’s ability to protect itself against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, and also triggers signals in the body that can cause cancer.

In people that don’t have red hair, the receptor MC1R gene protects the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes) from sun damage by joining up to another gene called PTEN, which is able to stop tumours from developing. In people that have red hair, this does not happen and the gene PTEN is not protected, making it easier for tumours to grow.

“Our findings provide a possible molecular mechanism as to why red-haired individuals harboring MC1R mutations are much more susceptible to UV-induced skin damage than individuals with darker skin, resulting in a 10-to-100-fold higher frequency of melanoma,” explains co-author of the study Dr Wenyi Wei of Harvard Medical School.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, accounting for 75 per cent of all skin cancer-related deaths. Dr Wei suggests that if you do have red hair or pale skin, protection from UV exposure will decrease your chances of developing melanoma in the future. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go out into the sun at all, but always remember to use sun protection, such as sunscreen, a hat and long clothing to block out the sun.

Source [Science Daily]

Keyword [Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It starts in the pigment cells (melanocytes) that produce skin colour, and can then spread to other parts of the body. If it is not detected early on, it can potentially lead to death, which is why it’s so important to protect your skin from the sun.