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Growing up as a redhead, I always knew that I needed to wear sunscreen and stay covered to protect my skin. Even though I thought that I knew how to KELLY MURPHY PROFILEkeep my skin healthy year-round, I recall many summer nights lying in bed as the skin on my back peeled off in sheets, in too much pain to move. However, I didn’t realize the real danger of sunburns until I did a summer internship with the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation.

Redheads, like myself, are a rarity comprising only 2-6% of the total population of the United States. This summer, I learned that people with red hair developed melanoma 10 to 100 times more often than people without redhair. Boston researchers found redheads have a genetic mutation in the melanocytes, pigment producing cells. This mutation affects the melanin and doesn’t let the skin tan and doesn’t protect the cells from UV damage (Collins, NIH, 2013). This increases the likelihood of red heads developing skin cancer including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer deaths even though it is often preventable.

So what does all of this mean for those of us with fair skin and red hair? We need to take special precautions. Listed are practical tips for living a SunAWARE life.
1. Researchers state that proper daily use of a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50% (JCO, 2011). It is recommended to use a whole handful for the whole body. It is important to reapply sunscreen every two hours as sunscreen effectiveness decreases as it is degraded when exposed to UV light. Pay close attention to areas of the skin that are not covered with clothing.
2. Wear a wide brimmed hat which covers the face, ears, and neck. Most skin cancers develop on the tips of the ears and nose. Use extra caution to protect these vulnerable areas.
3. Avoid indoor tanning. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is actually evidence of skin damage. People who use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75%.
4. Redheads should Inspect their skin for new growths or changes and see a dermatologist or healthcare provider for any concerns.
5. Make sure the sunglasses you are wearing block UV light. Sunglasses without this protection could cause photokeratitis, sunburn of the eye, and could lead to melanoma of the eye. Use eye protection year-round.

With the incidence of skin cancer steadily increasing, it is important to take this information and educate those who you love. I learned through my internship that most skin cancers are preventable. By providing those you care about with this valuable information, you could save a life.




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