Pure Pedantry

…I am just concerned that she needs to stay out of the sun because being a redhead she is at high risk for skin cancer:


Fair-skinned redheads are known to have increased risk of developing melanoma. Now researchers may have pinpointed one of the reasons: variations in a gene called MC1R. This gene assists in producing melanin pigment to help protect the skin against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays (UV). However, some variations (variants) of MC1R are less protective than others. Two recent studies, from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and Western General Hospital in England, indicate that red hair, fair skin, and increased melanoma risk may all be linked to such variants of MC1R.

Each person’s skin reacts differently to UV, depending on the amount and type of melanin pigment in the skin. Two basic types of melanin are found to varying degrees in human skin: black eumelanin and red pheomelanin. Black Eumelanin, which is most abundant in dark-skinned populations, may offer considerable protection against UV. Red pheomelanin, however, is far less UV-protective and may actually contribute to UV damage; it can be broken down easily by UV, forming “free radical” molecules that may contribute to skin cancer. Redheaded individuals tend to have large amounts of pheomelanin in their hair and skin, and/or a decreased ability to make eumelanin. This could explain why they tend to tan poorly and are at high risk of sun damage.

The proportions of pheomelanin and eumelanin in each individual are controlled by a hormone called melanocyte-stimulating hormone or MSH. MSH thus plays an important role in how the skin responds to sun exposure. The hormone acts through a receptor gene called the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R). In their initial study, the British investigators sought to determine if any variations in the gene sequence of MC1R might be associated with both lighter skin pigmentation and lighter hair color. They found that certain variants of MC1R were indeed closely linked with both red hair color and fair skin that tended to sunburn rather than tan. The researchers studied 30 redheads with a history of sunburns and 30 dark-haired people who tanned easily. Variants in the MC1R gene associated with pheomelanin were found in 21 of the redheads, but none of the dark-haired subjects.

OK, so maybe I did it so that I could post a picture of Lindsay Lohan in a bikini. But this is a very serious public service announcement. If you are redheaded or Lindsay Lohan, you need to call me so that I can advise you about your skin cancer risk.

(This is in the medicine category by the way because it is about MEDICINE. I will have none of you naysayers criticizing the science in this post.)

Hat-tip: WWTDD.

UPDATE: I am amused to death that this is the post where I get all the comments. Where were you all when I was writing tomes about genetic heritability of behavior?

I always knew that some day I was going to have to sell out; I just never realized that this would be how.


  1. #1 Evil Monkey
    July 6, 2006

    Jake Jake Jake…. your taste is all in your mouth. Very disappointed, old chap. :)

  2. #2 Ian
    July 6, 2006

    Man she is fly. Also science

  3. #3 Mark Paris
    July 6, 2006

    I hate to be critical of babes in bikinis, but she really should starting thinking about an exercise program. I see the beginnings of flab, plus some laxness in the abdominal muscles. Sit-ups, Lindsay, plus a good regimen of aerobic exercise. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Look at Britney.

  4. #4 K8
    July 6, 2006

    Am I the only person not pleased to see Lindsay Lohan in a bikini in a science blog?

  5. #5 David Harmon
    July 6, 2006

    “Flab”???!!! With comments like that, no f-ing wonder she’s got an eating problem! She needs exercise, sure — but not to lose fat, to gain muscle!

  6. #6 SteveF
    July 6, 2006

    Kate, I’m afraid you are alone.

    Mark, you appear to be insane. Seek help my friend.

  7. #7 SteveA
    July 6, 2006

    I believe Mark is what we call a sarcacist (you know, someonw that uses sarcasm to prove a point. no? ok, I just made that word up…)

    That said, its good to see she has decided to use a healthy diet and the gym as a method of recovering from her stint as a hollywood anorexic (as opposed to a real anorexic nervosa).

    Being a “redhead” myself, I found the science in this post interesting, though it did take me 20minutes to read, darn distractions…

  8. #8 Mark Paris
    July 6, 2006

    Actually, as far as sun damage to fair skin, Lindsay has probably already suffered enough damage that her dermatologist will be freezing off actinic keratoses regulary in about 20 years.

  9. #9 ali
    November 3, 2006

    i love you

  10. #10 Ahmet
    December 31, 2006

    sexy body

  11. #11 staifkop
    April 20, 2007

    Redheads also have a higher pain-resistance. Damn, why am I thinking SM now?

  12. #12 jeffk
    April 20, 2007

    Despite her ups and downs, I always thought she was super hot.

    “plus some laxness in the abdominal muscles.” Flab no, but that I can see. Muscle tone is what helps keep people attractive past the age of 20.

  13. #13 Dulce
    May 2, 2007


  14. #14 craig
    June 18, 2007

    lindsay lohan is a godess.
    mean girls was amazing, i love her.

  15. #15 Kimber
    September 17, 2007

    What I want to know is: Is there any way redheads can tan better? I heard of some injection that can be used to give more melanin to a fair skinned person’s body that acts as MC1R, is this true? I’m a redhead, and although I’m a hot redhead, I still hate that I can’t naturally tan. I get spraytans, which is obviously healthier (at least, as of now they say). God forbid we find later that spray tans actually cause permanent stains and that I’ll be orange or purple the rest of my life.

  16. #16 me
    December 9, 2007


  17. #17 Giulia
    December 30, 2007

    No offence, but this whole conversation about Lindsay Lohan is ridiculous! I mean is this supposed to be a science blog or a gossip page??!

  18. #18 53rdmonkey
    January 3, 2008

    yeah i got a question? my dad’s a redhead, my mum’s a brunette, and im a brown/blonde haired individual… i sunburn pretty easily, im quite white, but my forearms have browned?? who the hell am i?

  19. #19 Amanda
    February 1, 2008

    Am I one of a few poeple who read this because of what it said instead of the picture of Lohan?
    I am one of those redheads who go into the sun for an hour and come back in with a burn so bad it blisters then bleeds and I go back to my whiteness. I am now thankful to know what it is in my skin that makes that happen.
    Thank you to the author for writting this it was informative.


  20. #20 MacDonald
    February 28, 2008

    What’s the big deal about getting a tan? It’s not healthy for anybody – let alone redheads! Tanning is just the body’s way of protecting itself from ultraviolet damage.

    Okay, you’ve probably guessed by now I’m a redhead. I’m the guy on the beach in the broad-brimmed hat and the long sleeve shirt (Egyptian cotton is the coolest fiber on the planet). My dermatoligist asked me if I have any short-sleeved shirts and I replied that I had a few. “Don’t wear them when there’s a full moon” he advised. Could I be the first to have a ‘moonburn?’

    Redheaded women with fair skin, and yes, even freckles, are beautiful in this mind’s eye. And in case you are wondering, there are quite a few women that like red-headed men too. We’re not all Scott Farkas bullies as the media would have you believe.

    And to my fellow redheads I say: don’t believe that sun-block will protect you – it won’t. My father died of skin cancer on his left forearm, the one he rested on the window sill when he was driving. He used sunblock regularly.

  21. #21 Bailey
    March 2, 2008

    …You do know that she isn’t a real red head, right?

  22. #22 jessica
    March 15, 2008

    haha im a redhead, but i dont mind apparently being fair skinned is back in …white and proud of it!!!but yeah that was pretty informative didnt know about that to that degree thanks

  23. #23 lukaslohan
    March 19, 2008

    i love her she is totally sexy…

    lindsay rocks

  24. #24 Andary
    April 1, 2008

    She’s hot!!

  25. #25 Andary
    April 1, 2008

    Why do you guys critise her?? she’s cool…great…hot…i love her…she’s my number one fan..you rock Lindsay Lohan!!

  26. #26 Jessica
    April 24, 2008

    im a natural redhead and i have fair skin, but when in the sun i get very dark and tan well. My eyes are also blue, so yeah im kind of different, but im sexy, come on how many tan redheads do u know?

  27. #27 Lauren
    May 6, 2008

    I’m a tanned redhead too. I guess it just has to do with what you’re born with. My dad isn’t a redhead but he tans well and so do I. I tan better on my body than my face though but I think that’s pretty common.

  28. #28 andy
    June 6, 2008

    Redheads that tan are few and far between. My old college gf had beautiful auburn hair and would get an incredible tan in the summertime. Jesus that girl was gorgeous.

    Another dark redhead I dated would get tons of freckles that would almost all blend together to form a tan – LOL. Not a bad looking gal either. OK, I have a fetish for redheads.

    Time for a cold shower :-).

  29. #29 ashley
    June 29, 2008

    im a redhead and im full italian and i tan pretty well.. there are so many different kinds of redheads but i think that even if u cant get that tan its ok cuz tanning is so bad for u anyways

  30. #30 reanna smithson
    July 8, 2008

    you get a life you fucking fag! DO NOT tell lindsay that she should be doing crunches or that she has the beginning of flab you disgusting queer! i dont care if you have a fucking 6 pack no one should lecture anyone about their body ITS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

  31. #31 Terri
    July 19, 2008

    Honestly, I do believe we’re all turning into a nation of hypocondriacs. Am I wrong in my belief that this country was pretty much built by folks out working in the sun? Isn’t sunlight the best source of vitamin D, unless you get it as an un-natural additive in your food?

    Now we have turned into such clean freaks that everyone and their bothers and mothers is allergic to something.(or claim they are)

    Someone sees one photo of a person on the beach, and all the sudden she might get skin cancer. Well, according to my physician, the skin cancer caused by the sun is not the one that kills you. Melqnoma is the real killer….and it isn’t caused by the sun. Quite the contrary. )see footnote(

    Personally, I don’t give a hooot about scientific advice. Every other day the ‘experts’ come out with another study that’s meant to correct their last one. I’ve chosen a psychologically healthier approach of moderation. I accept my mortality and recognise that if I was to live an extra 5 or 10 years, those years would be the worse of my life. I will enjoy my life, eating and doing whatever pleses me in a sensible manner. During the last seven years of my Grandfather’s life he had 7 strokes and the final four years he lay in bed unable to see, hear, or speak.

    Many laymen and even professionals consider the basal cell carcinoma, the squamous cell carcinoma and the malignant melanoma as one group – namely skin cancer. This grouping is problematic for two reasons:

    * the mechanism that generates the first two forms is different from the mechanism that generates the melanoma. The direct DNA damage is responsible for BCC and SCC while the indirect DNA damage causes melanoma.
    * the mortality rate of BCC and SCC is around 0.3 causing 2000 deaths per year in the US. In comparison the mortality rate of melanoma is 15-20% and it causes 138000 deaths per year.[3]

    Even though it is rare, malignant melanoma is responsible for 75 % of all skin cancer related death cases[4].

    While sunscreen has been shown to protect against BCC and SCC it may not protect against malignant melanoma. When sunscreen penetrates into the skin it generates reactive chemicals[2]. It has been found that sunscreen use is correlated with malignant melanoma. However, it is not likely that sunscreen use causes melanoma.

  32. #32 Lee Harrison
    August 13, 2008

    And to my fellow redheads I say: don’t believe that sun-block will protect you – it won’t. My father died of skin cancer on his left forearm, the one he rested on the window sill when he was driving. He used sunblock regularly.

    Sorry to hear that – cancer is never a good way to go.

    But sunblock does work – the problem is that almost everyone doesn’t know what it actually does and adverts like the Australian ‘slip-slop-slap’ campaign don’t change that. (For non Aussies, that’s Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, and Slap on a hat.)

    The reason we are advised to reapply sunblock is because it rubs off during exercise/swimming/whatever – not so that we can stay in the sun as long as we like. Sun blocks are like filters.

    Example: on a hypothetical high-UV-index sunny day here in Australia (skin cancer capital of the world…) you may be able to stay in the sun for ten minutes before you have recieved a potentially dangerous dose of UV radiation. An SPF 15 sunblock would allow you to stay outside on that same day for 15 times as long (150 minutes) by cutting the amount of UV reaching your skin by a factor of 15.

    Reapplying sunblock after your 150 minutes are up will make no difference – you have already reached the potentially dangerous dose and need to get into the shade. What reapplication does for you is allow you to get up to the full 150 minutes by repairing any cover that has worn off/been washed off/been sweated off.

    (And as for the ‘this is scienceblogs, why are there bikini pics here!!11!!’ style comments – get a life. It’s the science themed blog of a scientist and his interests – not a science magazine. Of course, you may have simply been posting ironically and my meter’s on the fritz.)

  33. #33 nessy
    August 21, 2008

    i heard that sun screen only filters and that sun block is way better, if it really helps at all. soon scientists are going to be saying that sunscreen is terriable for you… it is chemicals after all.

    mostly i agree with terri, sun is a good thing for you, and now were all so afraid of every little thing in life that we’re turning into a weak race in general. do you think that horses care about sun damage? yet they live in the sun all day every day and they all die at pretty much the same age. and for those of you saying horses dont sunburn, some do, there are fair horses that burn around their nose and eyes.

    were all going to die eventually, if you love to be out in the sun i say live it up cuz you could be walking home from the beach and get hit by a car… get it?

    oh and for the record i am a red head that gets a pretty good tan, and i love the sun so i am going to live it up

    and as far as the lindsy issue, it’s her life let her do as she pleases, and how do we know that she isnt wearing sun block????

  34. #34 nessy
    August 21, 2008

    oh but i must say to the author of this that it was very informative, and if there is injections that you can get to help protect you like some one was saying i would be very interested in that.

  35. #35 Redhead19
    April 20, 2009

    I dont think that tan is real anyway, look at her armpits

  36. #36 ALBOCHICKA
    September 17, 2009

    so yeah, iim a natural redhead too, and im also full albanian.
    both my parentals have brownn haiiir..
    and iim naturally tan and ii dont get sunburnt
    but my sister (also redhead) has never been tan… shes like a ghost dude.

  37. #37 alex
    February 24, 2011


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