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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Red Hair Pigment Might Raise Melanoma Risk: Study

Dermatologists say redheads must take extra care to check skin, avoid sun
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"We think a new prevention opportunity exists if we can block the form of reactive oxygen damage that the red pigment is producing," Fisher said.

Despite his research, Fisher does not downplay the role that UV rays have in skin cancer risk for everyone -- particularly redheads.

"I want to emphasize 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."

But the knowledge that sun exposure is only one factor in their increased risk of melanoma should prompt redheads to take additional precautions, said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation.

"Redheads should get more frequent body checks," said Downie, a dermatologist based in Montclair, N.J. "If they have no family history of skin cancer, they should still be checked at least twice a year, rather than the annual check we recommend for everyone else. If they have a family history of skin cancer, they should be checked every three months."

This is crucial since melanoma could form even on a part of the body that is never touched by sunlight.

"The location on one's skin of where a melanoma may occur is not necessarily confined to the sun-exposed parts of the skin," Fisher said. "It could occur elsewhere on the body."

Redheads also should practice vigilant sun avoidance, Downie said. They should use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and they should reapply it every hour.

They also should consider wearing broad-brimmed hats when outdoors, sticking to the shady side of the sidewalk and even vacationing in mountain areas rather than at the beach.

"Unfortunately with redheads, they have to practice some lifestyle alterations," Downie said. "They should practice even more strict sun avoidance than we originally thought they should."

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