Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe red first emerged as a hair color around 18,000 B.C. Genetically speaking, red hair is closely linked with pale skin, which Scottish researchers believe is due to the melanocortin 1 receptor. This gene controls your melanin, the coloring agent for skin and hair. If you’ve inherited this combination of red hair and pale skin, you’ll need to take special care to protect your skin from sun damage.
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Redheads and Sensitive Skin
According to author Joni Loughran in “Natural Skin Care,” redheads and others of Celtic descent are more likely to have sensitive skin. Sensitive skin occurs because your skin is actually thinner than other people’s, placing your nerves and blood vessels closer to the outermost layer of skin. This is why everything from weather to temperature to cosmetics can cause redness and irritation. Loughran recommends avoiding any facial care products that contain alcohol, fragrances or artificial colors since these have a tendency to aggravage sensitive skin. She also notes that essential oils and alpha hydroxy acids can cause similar irritation.
Dermatologists at the University of Edinburgh note that people with red hair and pale skin are more likely to get sunburned, increasing their risk of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises pale-skin types that almost always burn rather than tan in the sun to wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30, wear sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade whenever possible, and check your skin every month for spots that may indicate cancer.
Unfortunately, redheads may be more susceptible to skin cancer even if they use regular sun protection. In 2005, researchers at Duke University discovered that the sun’s UV light affects different colors of skin pigment differently. People with red hair and fair skin have melanin pigments that appear to to encourage cell oxidation of the type that causes cancerous cell mutations. The researchers tested red melanin pigments and black melanin pigments; while the red pigments encouraged cell oxidation, black pigments discouraged oxidation.
In “The Redhead Handbook,” author Cort Cass writes that redheads have a tendency toward dry skin, especially during colder seasons. Untreated dry skin, Cass notes, has the potential to turn into psoriasis or eczema, which may require a doctor's care. Cass suggests using noncomedogenic moisturizer regularly, especially before makeup application. Noncomedogenic creams won’t clog pores, which can lead to pimples, whiteheads or blackheads.
Because your skin is thinner than people with darker hair, you’re prone to couperose skin, or skin with visibly dilated capillaries. According to Kathi Keville and Mindy Green in “Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art,” these capillaries are most likely to show around your nose and cheeks. High blood pressure, spicy foods and alcohol can all aggravate this condition. The authors suggest moderate exercise to improve circulation and supplements of vitamins E, B2 and C, all of which strengthen your capillaries. Avoid hot water, cold water, steam, and harsh exfoliating scrubs, which can all aggravate your skin and capillaries.