Is it true that people with blonde or red hair are more likely to develop melanoma?

Is it true that people with blonde or red hair are more likely to develop melanoma? If so, what steps should I take to make sure I am protecting myself and decreasing my risk?

Melanoma, which develops in the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin, has been dubbed the most serious type of skin cancer by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Mayo Clinic explains that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma.

Traditionally, the risk of melanoma increases with age. But, this risk has been on the rise in people under the age of 40 for the past several years. Melanoma is now one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially among women.

There are groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing melanoma. Those who have fair skin, red or blonde hair, light-colored eyes, or skin that freckles easily are all more vulnerable to the sun. Since people with these traits naturally have less melanin pigment, they also have less protection from UV radiation. Melanoma is 20 times more common in white people than it is in people of color.

In order to decrease the risk, it is recommended to limit exposure to UV radiation. This does not mean you have to stay inside all the time, it just means you’ll have to use extra precaution when you do venture out into the sun.

Remembering to apply sunscreen every day is important, even when it is a cloudy day. A broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is most effective, as it provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Also, don’t forget to reapply to exposed skin every two hours.

It’s important to note here that sunscreen is important to use daily no matter your skin tone.There is a commonly held — and false — belief that darker-skinned people with more melanin do not need to worry about using sunscreen. In reality, everyone is at risk of skin damage from excessive sun exposure and should also be using sunscreen.

Wearing protective clothing can also be beneficial. Lightweight long-sleeve clothing or long pants or skirts will keep your skin covered and protected from the sun. Brimmed hats and sunglasses are two more accessories that could save your skin.

Even when taking these extra safety measures for your skin, you should still perform regular skin self-exams, especially if you know you are at a higher risk of developing melanoma. If you notice any spots, itching, bleeding or general changes in your skin, it is always a good idea to contact a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible.

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