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UV Rays Hit Redheads Harder

Diane Luke
Senior Editor, TipsHire

Sunlight is a type electromagnetic energy that propagates via electromagnetic waves. In terms of health, the most important parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are the ultraviolet light (UV) which is invisible to the human eye, the visible light that allows us to see, and the infrared radiation which is our main source of heat, also invisible to the human eye. Excessive exposure to these represent a significant risk to health for everyone but is good to know that UV rays hit redheads harder.

Sunlight is essential for life but at the same time can be very dangerous for human health. Excessive sun exposure is associated with increased risk of several types of skin cancer, cataracts and other eye diseases and premature aging of the skin. It can also negatively affects people’s ability to resist against infections and compromises the effectiveness of vaccination programs.

UV exposure may cause skin cancers

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation causes skin changes. These, on the long-term, trigger different types of skin cancer, including melanoma which is the most dangerous type. It is estimated that more than 2 million non-melanoma cancers and 200,000 malignant melanomas occur globally each year. UV radiations are strictly connected to the ozone layer. If the ozone layer would get reduced by 10% another 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma cancers cases per year will be added.

The incidence of malignant melanoma worldwide continues to grow and is strongly related to the frequency of recreational exposure to sunlight. There is evidence that the risk for malignant melanoma is also related to the intermittent action of UV radiation on the skin, especially in childhood.

Other changes on the skin are an increased number of moles and a range of other changes that damages the blood vessels.

UV injuries on the fibrous tissue are often described as a skin aging caused by the tanning. This makes people look older because their skin loses its elasticity and gets wrinkled.

Caucasians (white skinned) have a higher risk of skin cancer due to the relative lack of skin pigmentation.

The eyes get affected by UV exposure

The negative action of ultraviolet radiation on the eyes of a person depends on the influence of several factors, such as:

  • ground reflection
  • the brightness of the sky leading to activation of reflex partially closing the eyelids atmospheric reflection
  • use of the sunglasses

Acute effects of UV radiation on the eye include the development of conjunctivitis, eyelids sunburns, or cornea sunburns.

Although painful, they are reversible, and could be easily prevented by using sunglasses, and are not associated with long-term injuries.

Chronic effects include the possible development of an opaque formation on the cornea, squamous cells of the conjunctiva cancer, and cataracts.

Yearly, about 20 million people are getting blind due to cataract. Of these, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 20% is due to the direct effects of UV rays.

UV Rays Reduce Immunity

UV rays apparently affect the body’s immune response by changing the activity and distribution of the cells responsible for triggering these responses. A number of studies indicate that exposure to UV rays suppresses the immune responses in both rodents and humans. In rodents that immune suppression causes an increase in susceptibility to certain infections involving the skin and certain systemic infections.

The mechanisms associated with immunity function suppression induced by the UV radiation is similar in rodents and humans. Therefore it is assumed that UV rays on humans may increase the risk for infections and decreases the efficiency of the vaccine. However, to support this theory further studies are needed.

Thermal effects of UV rays

The main effect of the infrared radiation is heating the tissues of the human body.

Infrared radiation can cause excess heat strokes and other similar reactions, especially to the elderly, to the people with various disabilities, or to the children.

At moderate levels of exposure, the feeling of heat caused by the sun is relaxing.

Photosensitivity and why UV rays hit redheads harder. Blondes are also affected

By chemical means, photosensitivity appearance of increased reactivity against the action of sunlight is caused by photoreactive chemicals which underwent the photoreactivation by electromagnetic energy.

Photoreactive substances can reach the skin through external applications, causing the spreading of the photosensitivity into the bloodstream, fact that causes a systemic photosensitivity.

A number of features of the target will influence the occurrence and intensity of the photosensitivity:

  • the thickness of skin pigmentation
  • optical qualities
  • the integrity of the skin or the lack of it
  • the existence of dermatitis

All those from the above are factors that directly influence photosensitivity reactions. Therefore, UV rays hit redheads harder. Blondes people are too vulnerable to photosensitivity, but not as much as the redheads are.

Redheads might seem special to everyone because of their somehow unnatural hair color and very white skin with freckles. They look special, that’s true, but they are this way due to a mutation of the MC1R gene which is responsible for the production of melanin pigments.

We’ve already learned by now that Caucasians (white skinned) who expose themselves to too much UV radiations are at risk of developing skin cancers, and Caucasians are not suffering from any genes mutation.

Redheads skin is paler than Caucasians due to the MC1R mutation, that leading to a very low melanin pigment production, leading at its turn to almost immediate sunburns and high risk for developing malign melanoma.

Redheads are absorbing more than 40% of the UV rays through the skin fact that leads to DNA radiation.

Blondes are also affected more than brunettes because of their low volume of melanin, but not as much as the redheads are.

Protection against UV rays

Methods of personal protection against UV radiation include appropriate clothing, hat and proper use of creams with SPF on exposed skin. Eye protection is required for filtering the UV rays.

Also, changing habits can lead to less exposure to UV. These include avoiding sun exposure for a period of over four hours, or at noon when the UV radiation levels are at their highest levels.

Creams with a broad-spectrum sunscreen should be used when other methods of protection are not reliable but they shouldn’t be used with the intention to extend the period of sun exposure.

Reflective properties of the soil influence the action of the UV radiation. Most natural surfaces such as grass, soil, and water reflect less than 10% of radiation. However, fresh snow reflects nearly 80%, while the sand reflects around 25% of the UV radiation, thus significantly increasing the influence of ultraviolet rays toward skiers, and respectively swimmers.

For redheads, a special protection against UV rays is needed. Redheads should always use sunscreen creams of at least SPF30, but the recommended sunscreen product to protect redheads from the UV radiations is of SPF50.

The melanin pigment is the natural reaction of the skin when is hit by UV radiations, but when the melanin is produced in very low quantities the UV radiations are increasing the risk of skin cancers. Due to the mutation on the MC1R gene, UV rays hit redheads harder, because their bodies don’t produce melanin pigments in the regular quantity when facing sunlight.

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