No matter the amount of sun exposure you have had, if you have inherited the redhead gene from even one parent, you are at a higher genetic risk for Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Mutations in a gene known as MC1R are the culprit. Those with a hint of red or strawberry blondes may only carry a few MC1R mutations while vibrant redheads may carry many. Therefore, the risk of developing Melanoma varies from 10-100 x that of people without the gene variants. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, studies have shown that having the redhead gene mutations is equivalent to an extra 21 years of sun exposure compared to those without them.
In addition to this gene mutation, redheads with pale skin and light eyes have a higher risk for other skin cancers that are directly related to sun exposure. This is because pale skin burns rather than tans due to having less of a chemical, melanin, that helps skin absorb and scatter UV radiation before causing molecular damage in cells that can lead to skin cancer.
Redheads are 1.5 X more likely to get basal cell skin cancer, the most common type of skin cancer and 12x more likely to get squamous cell carcinomas, which are more aggressive and can metastasize. While less aggressive than Melanoma, because of the much larger number of squamous cell skin cancers diagnosed, this is actually the type of skin cancer that causes the most skin cancer deaths in Americans each year.
So, sun protection measures are crucial beginning at a very young age, especially for redheads. Make sure you are protected every time you go outside. Seek shade, avoid peak sun hours when possible, and always wear your sunscreen, sun protective clothing, hats, hat liners, and sunglasses.