As a natural redhead myself, I’m intrigued by the subtle
genetic differences that make me (and all redheads) different from 98% of the
population. But beyond the fair skin and tendency to freckle, there are a few
other interesting skin-related differences that set us apart.
I recently stumbled upon this 2005 study
about whether or not redheads are more sensitive to pain. Researchers decided
to take a closer look after seeing a consistent connection between having red
hair and needing higher doses of lidocaine for pain relief. Indeed, the study
did find that redheads are more sensitive to thermal pain (both the cold and
heat varieties), and are more resistant to lidocaine. This study alone
established that the genetic mutation that leads to red hair also plays a role
in pain sensitivity.
Those of us with red hair also have less eumelanin, the
pigment responsible for dark skin and hair. With less of this type of pigment,
redheads are more likely to burn with even a little unprotected sun exposure.
This fact makes those with red hair more prone to skin cancer as well. Furthermore, eumelanin also has a natural antioxidant effect, so with less of this
pigment, our skin is less able to defend itself against the damage that leads
to skin cancer. And as if that weren’t enough, the pheomelanin that makes our
hair red has been found to generate free radicals when exposed to UV light,
which leads to even more cancer-causing skin damage.
So what’s a redhead to do? Obviously the best line of
defense against skin damage is to wear sunscreen 365 days a year, and treat
your skin to antioxidants, both topically and internally. Then get a UV
protectant spray to help preserve the healthy, beautiful red tresses that most
women have to go to the salon to get!