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Fair Skin Is Capable of Tanning, Too

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As the summer sun starts to heat up, people flock to the beach to work on their summer tan. For the longest time it was believed that people with fair skin and red hair were only capable of turning tomato red under sun. According to ScienceDaily, however, there is a new study that shows fairer complexions are just as capable of tanning as their olive counterparts.

Scientists once believed that redheads were more apt to burn due to their inability to make melanin—the pigment that is created to protect our skin against ultra-violet radiation. A team from the University’s Centre for Skin Sciences (CSS) found that in lab settings, pigment cells from very fair skin were able to create just as much melanin as olive skin.

The study, which was done on isolated skin cells cultured under identical conditions, showed that in some instances the fair skin created up to five time more melanin than olive skin. The study did show, however, that the fair skin had a higher inflammatory response to ultra-violet radiation than olive skin did.

According to CSS Director and Professor of Cell Biology Des Tobin, the study’s lead author, “Research into sunburn has tended to ignore melanocytes — the cells that make melanin — as it’s been assumed that was all they did. But our research has shown that in some skin types they also contribute to the inflammation that creates sunburn and it’s this, rather than their ability to make melanin, that seems to be at the root of how different skins respond to the sun.”

During the study, which was partially funded by Wellcome Trust and published in an issue of Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research, melanocytes were isoloated from five patients with fair skin and five with olive skin.  Some cells from each patient were stimulated to make melanin, while other cells were subjected to UVR. The melanin levels and levels of a pro-inflammatory chemical called prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2) were then measured.  While all of the fair skin cells were able to make just as much, if not more, melanin, the fair skin cells made up to five times more PGE2 than the olive skin cells.

According to Professor Tobin, melanocytes may play a role in UVR-induced inflammation. Anti-inflammatory intervention may be key in protecting fairer skin types from sunburn. However, future studies will be necessary to prove this. Fair or olive skin aside, here at Reflections Center for Skin & Body we recommend that you use SPF 45 sunscreen or higher for adequate sun protection.