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Melanin can be good, or bad

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2005 - Spring


It’s common knowledge that blondes and redheads need more protection from the sun to prevent skin cancer, but a Yale scientist may have discovered why. The culprit may be the melanin in the follicles of light-colored skin, Douglas E. Brash, Ph.D., professor of therapeutic radiology and genetics, reported in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October.

Brash began his research to determine why fair-skinned but dark-haired people were less vulnerable to skin cancer than blondes or redheads. He found that among the fair-haired, melanin, the source of skin and hair color which usually protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays, actually magnifies the rays’ damaging effects. For the study, he irradiated mice of various hair colors with UV rays and found pronounced cell death in yellow-haired mice.

“What this tells us is that melanin is not just good for you, it can also be bad,” Brash said. “It depends on the color of your particular melanin.”

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