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Rock Your Ginger Genes on National “Love Your Red Hair Day”, But Know the Health Risks!

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by Dr. Fayne Frey, Board Certified Dermatologist 

National “Love Your Red Hair Day”

November 5th is National Love Your Red Hair Day. Yes, it’s true. Who knew there was such a holiday? I found out only recently. I think redheads have a unique and beautiful look. Think about some of the more famous redheads like Lucille Ball, Prince Harry, Nicole Kidman and Reba McEntire to name a few. We commonly nickname people with red hair carrot tops, gingers and even Little Orphan Annie after the fictional character. 

We know not all redheads come by this hair color naturally. After all, dyes in various shades of red are readily available these days, and very popular. Those who color their hair are lucky that they can rock the gorgeous red color, but do not have the same health risks as natural redheads. Natural redheads have a higher risk of skin cancer, a fact they need to take seriously.

Red hair is beautiful, but can attract unwanted attention

Last week, a friendly freckle-faced woman named Stacie visited my office for the first time.  Her family doctor advised her to see a dermatologist for a skin exam because of her fair skin, freckled face and fiery red hair. 

Stacie and I chatted awhile, and it was obvious she loves her red hair as an adult. However, as a child her sentiments were quite different. Growing up, family and friends stereotyped her as a “flaming redhead”, hot-tempered and moody, which she said was not true. She grew weary of people asking her if she was Irish simply because of her red hair, instead of asking about her nationality which actually is Eastern European. As a child walking into the classroom on the first day of school, every single teacher commented on her hair. When she met new friends at college of a new job, each person remarked on her hair. As our conversation continued, it dawned on both of us that people are fascinated by redheads.

How is hair color determined?

During our visit, I explained to Stacie that the kind of melanin, or pigment, the pigment producing cells of the skin make determines hair color. Human beings produce two types of melanin; eumelanin, a dark brown to black pigment, and pheomelanin, a reddish brown pigment.   The amount and ratio of these two pigments produced by the skin cells affects hair color. 

My hair is brown (most of it anyway, as I see gray hairs seeping into the mix, a topic for another article).  My pigment cells produce primarily eumelanin. Stacie’s skin cells produce an abundance of pheomelanin making her hair red.  Pheomelanin does not protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays as eumelanin does to some extent. For that reason, Stacie, like all redheads, is at risk for skin cancer.  Pheomelanin also accounts for Stacie’s light colored skin that tans very poorly and predisposes her to sun burns. It’s interesting to note that blond hair results from having little of either pigment have blond hair. We inherit which and how much pigment each of us produce, so genetics play a primary role in hair color.

More interesting facts about redheads

(these facts may be directly or indirectly related to genetics of hair color)

  • Red hair predisposes individuals to certain cancers like skin cancer. Malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is a particular concern for redheads.
  • While the exact reasoning is unclear, red hair predisposes individuals to certain diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Redheaded men may be less likely to develop prostate cancer. This may relate to their enhanced ability to produce vitamin D.
  • Science demonstrates that redheads may need more anesthesia when undergoing surgery than their brown haired counterparts.
  • Though only 2% of the population has red hair, a 2014 report by Upstream clearly showed that 30% of TV ads during prime time highlighted a redhead. If you are an aspiring actor, you have an advantage over the others!

The bottom line

During our appointment, I advised Stacie to continue to get annual skin exams. I also explained she needs to perform monthly skin self-exams, avoid direct sun exposure, and to wear sunscreen applied liberally and daily. Most importantly, I told her to continue to enjoy being a redhead, because the world is truly dazzled by them. National Love Your Red Hair Day celebrates the beauty of those gorgeous red tresses, so don’t hide it, let your red hair shine!

 

Fayne Frey, M.D.

fayne frey, 50Plus-Today team

Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer and is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products. As a speaker, Dr. Frey captivates audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products available. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

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