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The 411: Photophobia & Light Sensitivity in Redheads

The redhead gene is linked to increased sensitivity to sunlight and can be complex


Redheads often have a gene variant called MC1R, which affects their hair and skin color. This gene variant is also linked to increased sensitivity to sunlight, leading to conditions like photosensitivity and photophobia. The exact mechanisms are complex and involve how the body produces and responds to melanin, the pigment responsible for skin and hair color. Here’s what we know: 

Let’s breakdown photosensitivity:

According to, photosensitivity, or increased sensitivity to light, is “heightened skin sensitivity or an unusual reaction when your skin is exposed to UV radiation from sunlight or a tanning bed.” Photosensitivity is sometimes referred to as a “sun allergy.” Exposure to sunlight can cause a reaction in the immune system that causes redness, inflammation and/or rash on the skin.

This sensitivity can make redheads more prone to sunburns and skin damage from UV radiation. Redheads have a higher risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, compared to individuals with darker skin tones. This increased risk is attributed to their reduced ability to produce melanin, which provides natural protection against UV radiation. Therefore, redheads need to take extra precautions when exposed to sunlight, such as wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and seeking shade to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. Regular skin checks and screenings are also essential for early detection and treatment.

Let’s breakdown photophobia: 

While you may read the word “photophobia” and think it’s a fear of light, it’s actually a medical term referring to those whose eyes are sensitive to light, especially bright lights. Photophobia is most common in those with light colored eyes, but can also be a symptom of a migraine, hangover or other internal issue.

Photophobia can exacerbate the risk of skin damage and skin cancer for redheads. When individuals with fair skin and light eyes experience photophobia, they may instinctively avoid bright light by seeking shade or staying indoors. While this can reduce discomfort, it can also lead to a false sense of security, as UV radiation can still penetrate through windows and cause skin damage. Additionally, if redheads are avoiding sunlight due to photophobia, they may be less likely to apply sunscreen or take other protective measures when they do go outside, further increasing their risk of sunburns and skin cancer. Therefore, managing photophobia effectively while still practicing sun safety measures is crucial for redheads to protect their skin health.

According to ophthalmologist Anupama Horne, photophobia “typically affects people with light eyes because they have less pigmentation in multiple layers of the eye than those with darker eyes. Because of this, they are unable to block out the effects of harsh lights like sunlight and fluorescent lights.”

The best way to reduce the impacts of photophobia is by keeping your eyes out of direct, bright light. This can be achieved by wearing sunglasses or hats while outdoors, and keeping lights dim or low when indoors. 

1. Wear sunglasses with UV protection.

2. Use hats or visors to shield the eyes.

3. Consider computer glasses with anti-glare coatings for screen time.

4. Stay hydrated.

5. Wear wide-brimmed hats outdoors.

6. Consult an eye care professional if photophobia persists or worsens.

What can redheads do? 

Redheads can manage photosensitivity and photophobia by taking precautions such as wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses with UV protection when outdoors. They should also seek shade during peak sunlight hours. Additionally, consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and possibly using specialized eye drops or medications can help alleviate symptoms.

Rock it like a Redhead! 


READ: Skin Cancer Risk For Redheads Is Equivalent to 21 Years In The Sun

READ: 7 Ways Redheads Can Help Reduce Their Chances of Getting Skin Cancer