Here’s how your hair color can put you at a greater risk for skin cancer

If you’re a natural redhead, you may want to be extra careful as you frolic in the sun this summer. The medical journal Nature Communications has just released a study proving that people with a certain hair color are more likely to develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Those with red hair, fair skin, and freckles have a higher risk of contracting melanoma, so make sure you lather on that sunscreen and toss on a hat at your next barbecue.

The research was conducted on 400 different melanoma patients and their DNA, finding that those with the gene MC1R, which is strongly linked to red hair and fair skin, had 42 percent more mutations in their skin cells than others. When you’ve got these mutations in your body, cancer cells can multiply at a frightening rate, thus researchers have definitively concluded that the MC1R gene is associated with much higher rates of skin cancer.

It sounds terrifying, but don’t take it the wrong way and think that your gorgeous red locks are going to give you skin cancer one day. It’s just that cancer cells are more likely to grow rapidly in your body, so you have to prevent them from getting to that point. That means you should use lots of sunscreen, stay in the shade, don’t lay out in the direct sun for extended periods of time, and examine your skin regularly to make sure there aren’t any moles that could indicate cancer. Ultimately, use common sense to take care of yourself, and if you have any specific questions, speak to your medical provider.

If it makes you feel any better, folks with brown and blonde hair carry MC1R, too, but redheads simply have an extra variant of it, making it a bigger concern. However, keep in mind that you don’t have to have red hair in order to carry MC1R, so if you feel like you want to get tested and see whether this particular gene belongs to you, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. No matter what, be proud of your natural hair color — but stock up on that sunblock!

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