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Discovery: Redheads Soak Up More Sun

Sunlight exposure is the primary source of vitamin D for most people. UV rays absorbed by the skin cause us to turn pre-vitamin D into its usable form; but of course, people take this to the extreme with too much sun exposure which results in purplish skin or worse, a sunburn. Redheads are said to have less melanin, meaning we absorb more sunlight and therefore need less for the body to produce its required amount of usable vitamin D.

In other words, all humans produce their own Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but only those with lighter skin (with less melanin) require less exposure (either in time or intensity) to produce the amount they need. To get more facts on this discovery, we spoke with some of the top doctors and asked them if it’s true: do redheads really soak up more sun? 

“There are two types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is produced in ‘black’ and ‘brown’ hair and in all types of skin. Pheomelanin is produced in red hair. Eumelanin, because of its chemical structure, provides better sun protection than does pheomelanin,” says David J. Goldberg M.D., Director of Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of NY/NJ.” Redheads also usually have less melanin-producing capacity in their skin and thus are more sun-sensitive than are their dark-haired counterparts who usually have darker skin, more melanin, and therefore more sun protection capacity.

Mariga Sheedy, an aesthetician, skin health coach and Irish redhead said, “Everyone, regardless of skin, hair or eye color, or ethnic origin, has roughly the same number of melanocytes (cells which produce pigment granules) which produce similar amounts of melanin in healthy skin of all types and colors. The variation comes in the ratio of red to brown pigment inherited from your family gene pool.”

As we discovered above, pigment granules come in two colors: red (pheomelanin) and brown (eumelanin). “Personal skin and hair color and your ability to tan (or not) come from the ratio of red to brown you inherited,” says Sheedy. “The production of both colors of melanin generates free radical damage in the skin which needs anti-oxidants to repair it. Unfortunately, the production of pheomelanin takes more energy and creates more free radicals than the production of brown pigment. Therefore, redheads will need to supplement their diet and their skincare with anti-oxidants especially as they get older.” 

Sheedy continues, “Another trait of pheomelanin is that the pigment granules group or ‘nest’ together, giving rise to freckles, as though the red pigment granules know they offer less UV protection than brown, so they clump together to offer better protection. It is useful to know that if the red hair gene is in your family history, then even if you do not have red hair yourself, you do carry the gene, giving you the same high risk for UV damage.”

Comment below and tell us: do you feel like you soak up more sun than your blonde and brunette friends?