MAR 30, 2017 2:36 PM PDT

Why Redheads Need More SPF

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Aside from their iconic fiery mane, redheads are also often blessed with pale skin and plenty of freckles. With their fair complexion, people with red hair are more likely to burn than tan, which means they can't stay out in the sun for very long even with sun protection. What causes all these traits to coincide together in one package?

Scientists have pinpointed one gene, the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene, as responsible for at providing the instructions for making the pigment protein melanin that gives color to the skin and hair. Inactivity of the MC1R gene causes the production of phenomelanin, which leads to fairer skin, hair, and freckles. The recessive version of the gene is commonly dubbed the "ginger gene." With less melanin, redheads are most susceptible to DNA damages caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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