Why Having This Hair Color Puts You At Greater Risk For Melanoma

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
It's no secret that natural-born red heads have to be careful in the sun or risk their skin turning the same shade as their hair. And that tendency to burn leads to a greater risk for redheads to develop skin cancer, according to a new report from Boston University.
But new research from the University might be able to help. Prior studies have found that people born with red hair have variants in Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R), a protein used for pigmentation in humans, which translates to an increased risk for cancer.
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For the first time, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have found a way to reduce risk. MC1R is modified by a process called palmitoylation. A laboratory experiment to enhance palmitoylation using a small molecule called palmostatin B, showed fewer cases of melanoma when exposed to UV light than did a control group that was not enhanced.
It's a promising first step that might one day lead to a treatment for people with red hair to be less affected by the sun, but it's still a first step. More research and more laboratory, animal, and later human tests will need to be done before the research from Boston University can become a real-life medicine people with red hair can take to prevent skin cancer.
“We hope our study allows for the development of a pharmacological prevention strategy for red-headed people to protect their skin and let them enjoy the sun like other people," the study authors said in a statement.
In the meantime, it's still important for everyone — no matter your hair color — to protect against UV radiation from the sun. That means slathering on sun screen if your skin will be exposed (yes, even in the fall or winter).
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