On Being a Redhead.

I just finished Pale Girl Speaks: A Year Uncovered (a memoir written by Hillary Fogelson.) I borrowed the book on Friday afternoon and couldn’t seem to put it down.

Fogelson is both laughable and (genuinely) honest regarding her experience with melanoma. Her transparency is refreshing.

I immediately plucked the book off the shelf after noticing the title. Being a redhead definitely has its pros and cons so I was curious to see what exactly Fogelson would be ‘speaking’ about.

Now having completed the book, I am so glad to have read it. Fogelson’s story encouraged me reflect on my own experience as both a redhead and someone who’s had several pre-cancerous moles removed


I remember the first time I saw a dermatologist. I was a sophomore in college and had been urged by my doctor (and yes, my mom) to get an all-over skin check.

At the time, I didn’t find it vital to my health; however, I decided to make an appointment to appease everyone’s urging.  Flash forward to me on a cold patient’s table, impatiently (and a bit nervously) awaiting my doctor’s arrival.

After ten minutes or so, my magazine-buried head jolted upwards to the infamous knock, knock, knock and my new doctor smiling as she walked through the door and approached the table.

We greeted one another, had the routine introductions (yada, yada, yada) and then it was time to divulge my medical history. Oh shit.

Me (paraphrased): My medical history? I mean I’ve never broken a bone, needed stiches or had surgery before…

Doc (paraphrased): Yes, I see that here in your file; however, I meant your history in the sun: the number of times you’ve been sunburned, the amount of UV exposure (either in the sun or in tanning beds…)

Inside my head (paraphrased): Oh the hours I used to spend in the tanning bed – did I mention the few times I tanned twice in one day? Divulging this kind of information to a dermatologist was guaranteed to get me a lecture.

I first visited a tanning salon in high school (while trying to look like my fellow orange tanned high school friends.) I had never been able to tan in the sun but I figured it might be easier in a bed. Wrong. My first few visits I got burnt – not just a little on my shoulders or nose – I’m talking complete backside, (surprisingly) my feet, and face. I was a 5’10 tomato, and yet, I’d wait a few days and go back for more.

I eventually stopped tanning for several months (I began to realize that bronze skin wasn’t in the cards for me) but, yet again, picked up the dirty habit when I started working out at a gym.  Girls at my gym wore short shorts with ‘back-from-vacation’ bronzed legs while I covered mine up in sweats. Not only was I out of shape but to be fair-skinned on top of it all? I had to do something about it. So I started tanning again.

That said…
My dermatologist wasn’t pleased (could I blame her?) She lectured me on the warnings of tanning beds and then performed the skin check. Everything seemed normal and routine.

Until she found something.

A mole on my shin, right below the knee, appeared ‘irregular’. And then another on my lower arm. She removed both that day for the possibility of pre-cancerous cells.

I received my results a few days later…basal cell carcinoma (AKA slow growing cancer cells.) Less than a week later, I was back in my dermatologists office for removal of a bigger portion of skin. Hooray I now have an inch long scar under my knee – and all that time I was worried about my fair, pale skin?

It was then and there that I realized I needed to start changing my habits when it came to my health – specifically, my skin’s health. I’d always be sure to lather up, I’d limit my sun exposure (as much as I can control) and I’d NEVER step foot in another tanning salon.

It has been four years since my first visit to a dermatologist and, I must say, I am so thankful that I decided to get checked out. Yes, my moles were only pre-cancerous; however, since my first experience, I’ve had six more irregular moles removed and two more basal cell carcinoma spots (adding two more scars on my body – lower back and shoulder blade.)

Friends: if there is any takeaway from this post, let it be that anyone can get skin cancer. Anyone. Yes, there are certain skin tones that are less likely to ever experience a problem; however, with the use of tanning beds, our overexposure in the sun and genetics (yes, genetics!): we are all at risk. If you’ve never seen a dermatologist, I highly recommend you schedule an appointment (especially those of you that are fair!)

Thank you Hilary Fogelson for your lovely, witty memoir.

Things I’ve Learned as a Redhead:
– Having tanned skin doesn’t make a person beautiful – confidence does.
– Sunscreen is my best friend (especially in the summer months.)
– As a redhead, I was always envious of my ‘normal-looking’ friends who had brown or blonde hair. On that harmonious day when my parents told me I was old enough to decide what color my hair was; naturally I began to dye it (highlights, lowlights, brown, accidently black one time – yikes!) It was a little more than two years ago when I decided, ‘No more!’ Red really is the best (for me 🙂 )
– Black eyeliner does not look good on everyone – especially, me. My days of dark liner are gone. I’ve found that browns are less harsh on fair skin and really make light eyes pop.
– Green is flattering to both hair color and skin tone . It just is.

Some interesting reads on redheads:
Are Redheads Going Extinct?
The Pain of Being a Redhead
Redhead Pigment Boosts Skin Cancer Risk

I know this was a longer post than usual, so for those of you who stuck through it – thanks for reading! 🙂

13 thoughts on “On Being a Redhead.

  1. Both me and my sister have very fair skin and considered ourselves very sun-conscious. We would wear sunscreen when doing outdoor activities and rarely went to the beach. Last year my sister had a melanoma removed from her right forearm, leaving an eye-shaped scar of skin graft that she wears a protective band over. Just before she found out I started wearing sunscreen 24/7 and it still freaks me out. People just don’t understand the risks.

    PS I think red hair and fair skin is beautiful 🙂

  2. I’m freckly and I used to tan too. :/ I also was pretty brown for three years when I lived in the DR with the intense sun. Now, of course, I wish I’d been more careful. I love being tan, but it’s so not worth it!

  3. My lovely wife is a petite Irish redhead and is 56 years old. She has enough sense to stay out of the sun because of her light complexion (she is not just white, she is almost transparent). However, the nice thing about staying out of the sun is that she has no wrinkles! Women half her age look so much older because when you worship the sun it has a strange way of paying your back (wrinkles).

  4. I love this post! I think skin health is something that we don’t take as seriously as we should. I can totally relate. Though I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any moles, I have had my share of severe sun burns. My skin is super fair and, like you, I realized a while ago that tanned skin wasn’t in the cards for me. I always super vigilant about sunscreen and limiting my exposure.

  5. I love your hair color! I agree with the eyeliner thing — I have really light eyelashes and my mom finally suggested that I stop wearing dark brown eyeliner. Now I don’t wear it at all, and I think it looks so much better! I just got my skin checked last week, and thankfully I checked out fine, but I will continue to wear SPF 30 and be more careful about the amount of time I spend in the sun.

  6. Great post!! I’ve actually always been envious of red heads. I still to this day would love to dye my hair red.. however I don’t have enough balls to do so, Ha Ha. I’m also very pale & always have to make sure I lotion up before going out into the sun.

    Have a wonderful day ❤

  7. This book sounds great! I used to LIVEE in the tanning beds in High School and even into my first years of college. It’s been over a year since I’ve been in one and I don’t plan to go back! I have embraced my paleness for two winters now and love it! I do get some color in the summer, but I try to lather up! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, I need to go see a dermatologist!

  8. This is a great post! While I’m not a redhead, I have very, very fair skin! I take after my father who is primarily of Lithuanian descent! I go to the dermatologist once a year for a check up, and this past year she noted a few spots she wanted to keep an eye on. I’ve definitely had some HORRIBLE sunburns in my past, and am guilty of tanning for “special” occasions — like proms and my wedding. I doubt I’ll ever be able to rationalize stepping into a tanning bed ever again though!

  9. Di, I can so relate to this post. In fact, you’ve give me a good kick in the pants to go have my many moles and freckles checked. I haven’t done it in at least a year, and I know you’re supposed to go every year.

    Both my parents have had several cancerous spots removed–which means I have the genetic aspect to skin cancer.

    Also, my hair is a reddish auburn (despite some of the pics on here where it seems to look darker) and I have green eyes and tons of freckles. Therefore, I can relate! I don’t tan very easy and black eyeliner looks terrible on me. (But a mauve-y purple actually does wonders!) About a year ago, at 23, I finally accepted my pale skin…and I will never ever ever tan in a tanning bed again either. When I’m in the sun, it’s sunscreen all over every time 🙂

    You are so right that skin cancer can affect any age, gender, or skin type. But us fair-skinned, freckly folks need to be especially vigilant.

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