Supermodel Cintia Dicker may be enough to convince you that redheads are practically a whole other species. But if you still have doubts, there’s a growing pile of research on the quirks of ginger biology.

The latest: Melanoma occurs more often in mice genetically similar to human redheads, even if they’ve never been exposed to UV rays, according to a study published online in the journal Nature. If the research pans out in humans, redheads may need more than sunscreen and shade to protect them from this deadly form of skin cancer.

Scientists already knew people with red hair were at higher risk of melanoma overall. In fact, they’re about two and a half times as likely to develop it as people with other hair colors, according to a 2010 meta-analysis in the International Journal of Cancer.

To put that in perspective, about 21 of every 100,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. (Can you distinguish skin cancer from your average freckle? It’s not so easy. Read our guide to What Skin Cancer Looks Like.)

Why the extra risk? It’s in the genes—specifically, variations in a gene called MC1R. This gene directs redheads’ bodies to produce more of the red-gold pigment pheomelaninand, and less of the dark pigment eumelanin. In addition to affecting coloring, eumelanin acts as an antioxidant. Low levels leave redheads more prone to cancer-causing DNA damage from free radicals.

Research also shows these rare creatures, who comprise between 1 and 2 percent of the world’s population, are:

Extra sensitive. Gingers feel heat and cold more intensely, and need 20 percent larger doses of numbing drugs to withstand the pain of an electric shock, according to a small study in the journal Anesthesiology. The finding touched a nerve, say the University of Louisville researchers who published it. Afterward, they received a flood of mail from gingers with anesthesia-related horror stories.

Dentist-adverse. Redheads are twice as likely to skip dental visits because they dread pain from the drill, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association. (Does that describe you? Here’s Why You Need to See the Dentist, Stat.) One tip: Cue up a funny podcast to block out unpleasant noises.

More prone to disease. Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, to be specific. Shunning the sun to protect fair skin could lead to low levels of vitamin D, implicated in these and other diseases.

Seen as less attractive . . . Redheads are initially viewed as less attractive, according to a University of Westminster study. And French researchers found redheaded men were more likely to be snubbed at a bar. (Perhaps it’s because, as an Australian study found, young and middle-aged redheads are 86 percent more likely to have premature lines and wrinkles than those sporting other shades.)

. . . But also more kinky. But it all works out, since gingers end up with more active sex lives, per research at the University ofHamburg. (Check out more crazy color research, including The Hair Color That Makes You Horny.)



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