With temperatures finally increasing after what feels like a very long winter, a lot of our focus turns to sun protection. Protecting skin from sun damage should be a concern for everyone, but new research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Leeds has found that those who carry the red hair gene (around 1 in 4 in the UK) are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer, making it all the more important to make sun protection a normal part of your routine.


A ‘silent’ gene with increased risk of skin cancer?

It’s generally accepted that paler skin is more prone to sun damage, especially in those with red hair. However, this new research shows that people who carry the MC1R gene, who do not have red hair, are also at risk of sun damage, leading to skin cancer. It is estimated that the 25% of people who carry this gene, are completely unaware of the risks they face.

Whilst they may not have red hair, MC1R carriers are usually more prone to burning. They can find that their skin is paler than others, with freckles and their hair colour could be brown or blonde, and sometimes feature a hint of red. The increased risk is the equivalent of 21 years of extra sun exposure compared to someone without the gene, and the skin type of carriers is less able to protect itself from sun damage.


Important step in skin cancer research

The research has not only reiterated the fact that people with red hair are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, but it has also proved that those who possess the gene associated with red hair and its mutations are also at an increased risk. The research is the latest in ground-breaking insights into the effects of genetics and cancer, and one of the first to be based on what is quite a common genetic profile. It is hoped that through this research and future research, it will be even more possible to identify those who are at more risk of developing cancer.

Many people believe that the absence of red hair means that they are less at risk of developing skin cancer than those who do, however paler skin types – particularly those with freckles and moles which tend to burn in the sun, rather than tan, should take precautions to ensure that their skin is protected. A higher SPF protection product, covering up and staying out of the sun are just some ways to guard against sun damage.


Protecting your skin in the summer months

Whilst people with paler skin are proven to be more at risk of developing skin cancer, it is vital that everyone takes steps to prevent sun damage and make sure they use the right sun protection, especially in the summer months. Not only does sun protection help to prevent skin cancer, but it also helps to prevent premature ageing as well as other effects such as the scarring left by burns and sun spots too.

For more information on the best way to protect your skin during the summer months, read our previous articles on sun protection. Adopting the right habits now can go a long way to ensuring your skin is adequately protected in the long term, and if you can, try to avoid being in direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest.