Science Now Knows Why Redheads Are at Greater Risk of Skin Cancer
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Science Now Knows Why Redheads Are at Greater Risk of Skin Cancer

Natural redheads like Jessica Chastain are kind of like unicorns — real (yes, unicorns WERE real, thank you very much) but pretty rare — they are estimated to make up between 1-6% of the entire population, with the rest of ‘em pulling an Emma Stone or Christina Aguilera and using a little aide in the form of dye to get that amber glow.

While they certainly have their advantages (uh, hello, freaking BEAUTIFUL hair), they also have their pitfalls: like being more prone to skin cancer, for one. Those rocking a natural copper are right up there with those with freckles and pale skin as prime candidates for diseases such as melanoma.

But why is that? It’s a question that, up until now, has left scientists pretty stumped.

new study found that the color is rare because it’s actually linked to a specific gene in our DNA — MC1R — which is also incidentally the same gene that causes a higher frequency (42% more, to be exact) of mutations in melanoma skin cancer.

While anyone can carry a single copy of this gene (which is why some blondes or brunettes may also have pale skin or freckles), redheads carry two, putting them at a greater risk than most.

“It has been known for a while that a person with red hair has an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer, but this is the first time that the gene has been proven to be associated with skin cancers with more mutations,” said Dr. David Adams, a joint lead researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

“Unexpectedly, we also showed that people with only a single copy of the gene variant have a much higher number of tumor mutations than the rest of the population.”

Yikes! That’s some pretty scary stuff, indeed. But now that we know that our risks are ingrained in our DNA — literally! — it’s a better reminder than ever to load up on sunscreen and follow proper sun-safety procedures when soaking up those rays.

Does this new info make you rethink your sun strategy? Tell us over @BritandCo!

(h/t Refinery29, photos via Dave Kotinsky/Getty + Getty)