Luck of the Irish – Is Fair Skin Dangerous?

Dr. examining lesion through magnifying glass.

Whether or not people of Irish descent have any actual luck (think four-leaf clovers and leprechauns), one thing that isn’t very lucky about them is the fair skin many people in that part of the world were born with. But it’s not just the Irish – many genetic makeups turn out children with fair skin, who grow into fair-skinned adults, who then often have a lot of trouble with the sun.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, we wanted to focus on the issues people with fair skin face, whether they’re Irish or not. Here are some things that might interest you.

The sun and skin type

In Ireland, there are many cloudy days and the people aren’t exposed to the sun as much as people in different lands. In the land of Houston, Texas, we’re exposed to a lot of sun. If you live here and have fair skin, you probably already know the hazards: sunburn comes easily, sometimes when spending even small amounts of time in the sun.

Dark-skinned people have a different skin-pigmentation profile, which helps them ward off the most harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The lighter the skin, the more susceptible one is to sun-damaged skin. And any way you slice it, sun-damaged skin is no good.

Skin cancer

When skin is burned, it sets the stage for various types of skin cancer. When skin is burned over and over throughout a lifetime, developing skin cancer is far more likely. Every burn is harmful and puts you more at risk for various types of skin cancer.

The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Although prevalent, they are also the easiest to treat and the less likely to cause death. A less-common form of skin cancer is called melanoma. This cancer is aggressive, resistant to treatment and deadly. In 2015 worldwide, there were 3.1 million newly diagnosed cases of melanoma, and 59,800 people died from it.

What causes melanoma?

The primary cause of melanoma is the ultraviolet light from the sun. The most at-risk demographic is individuals with fair skin. In about 25 percent of melanoma cases, the growth of a new mole is the first symptom. But it’s not just the sun’s UV rays that can cause melanoma – tanning beds and ultraviolet lamps also are known to lead to this disease.

How can people with fair skin protect themselves?

  1. Always use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher when you spend more than 15 minutes in direct sunlight.
  2. Wear protective clothing – wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, long pants, etc.
  3. Try to avoid being out in the sun when it’s directly overhead.
  4. Eat a healthy diet to keep your immune system strong.

If you have fair skin (or any type of skin!) and haven’t had a skin cancer screening lately, you can schedule one with DermSurgery Associates of Houston. Yearly skin checks can detect cancer in its early stages and give you the opportunity for effective treatment.

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DermSurgery Associates is a Greater Houston area dermatology practice offering cosmetic, surgical and non-invasive dermatology treatments and procedures with industry-leading physicians trained and experienced with the most current dermatology technologies and procedures. For more information, contact

DermSurgery Associates

7515 Main, Suite 240

Houston, TX 77030


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