Pigment in skin of redheads could make them more susceptible to skin cancer

Scientists say findings show pigment could contribute to melanoma

Scientists have revealed another reason why people with red hair are more susceptible to skin cancer – a pigment in their skin.

A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital say redheads have a pigment in their skin which can actively contribute to the development of skin cancer.

Several types of the pigment melanin are found in the skin. People with dark hair or skin have a form called eumelanin, which shields against UV damage.

However redheads have a pigment called pheomelanin, which is less effective.

The team studied mice which were almost identical genetically apart from the gene that controls the type of melanin their skin produced.

The class of gene which can make normal cells cancerous was activated in patches of the animal’s skin pigment cells. But within months half of the red mice had developed skin cancer, whereas only a handful of dark mice had.

The researchers claim this previously unexplained factor could help scientists come up with a formula for better suncreams.

Research leader Dr David Fisher, said: ‘We’ve known for a long time that people with red hair and fair skin have the highest melanoma risk of any skin type. These new findings do not increase that risk but identify a new mechanism to help explain it.

‘This may provide an opportunity to develop better sunscreens and other measures that directly address this pigmentation-associated risk while continuing to protect against UV radiation, which remains our first line of defence against melanoma and other skin cancers.’

People with red hair and pale skin also have a higher risk of developing skin cancer as they have less natural protection against the sun.

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