12 Facts About Redheads That Might Shock You

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Did you know that redheads make up only about 2% of the world’s population, yet they have acquired folklore-like reputation. They’re feisty, they are witches, they’re wild and even reckless- supposedly. Truth be told, most of those things are just assumptions. The one thing about them we do know for certain is they have the rarest hair color in the world. Redheads are certainly unique, and have equally unique traits. Let’s take a closer look at 12 facts about redheads hat may just surprise you.

Red Hair And Blue Eyes Is Rare

Redheads are born with a mutation or several of the MC1R (or melanocortin 1 receptor) gene, this is the gene that determines our hair, skin and eye color. Of these the rarest mutation is to be born with not only red hair but red hair and blue eyes. If this is you, you hit the genetic jackpot!

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According to Mark Elgar, PhD, evolutionary biology professor at the University of Melbourne, the likelihood of having both traits are around 0.17% – that’s approximately 13 million people out of the 7.6 billion on earth. So what makes this combination so rare? It’s because the red hair gene and the blue eye gene are both recessive, and to have two parents who can pass down two sets of recessive genes is extremely uncommon.

Redhead Child, Non-Redhead Parents

Like I mentioned before, red hair is a recessive trait. Which means both parents have to have this gene variant for you to inherit it.

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But here’s the catch, the parents don’t necessarily have to have red hair themselves in order to produce beautiful ginger babies. Parents can be carriers of recessive genes, but have another dominant gene from their parents that gave them a different color hair other than red. Because of this, a family that hasn’t had a redheaded baby in years can suddenly have a fiery haired offspring.

Redheads Are At Greater Risk For Specific Gynecological Cancers

Per an extensive review published in PLOS One in 2017, women with red hair are at significantly higher risk for certain gynecological cancers, such as cervical, uterine and ovarian cancer. The review suggested the increased risk was related to being exposed to higher levels of estrogen before birth, influencing not only the possibility of certain medical conditions, but also the occurrence of specific hair and eye color, particularly red hair.

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says Peter Frost, PhD states “Estrogen creates a predisposition to certain types of cancer, and it looks like there’s a three-way relationship between being a woman, having red hair and having these diseases.”

Redheads Aren’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

Redheads may be rare but they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, out of the billions of people walking this planet 2% of them are gingers, that means 158 million redheads.

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No surprise here, but the highest population of redheads is in Ireland, just because they’re rare doesn’t mean that their genes are being diluted. Even when a person’s recessive genes are visibly present, they are still in their DNA. Which means that it’s completely plausible for a brown eyed, brown haired person to produce a carrot top way down on their family tree.

Redheads Greater Risk For Skin Cancer

Gregory Papadeas, DO, a Denver-based dermatologist and past president of the Colorado Dermatologic Society Says “There’s no question that red-haired individuals are at a much higher risk for skin cancer than brown-haired individuals,” They can even develop melanoma, one of the more serious skin cancers that starts in the cells that produce melanin.

Source: olansky dermatology

“Melanin works as a shock absorber, protecting you from ultraviolet light. It’s a person’s innate sunscreen,” says Papadeas. However, in redheads the MC1R gene (the gene that the MC1R gene informs the cells that create melanin) mutates and causes melanocytes to primarily make the reddish pigment pheomelanin. Unfortunately, because redheads have much higher levels of pheomelanin then say a brown haired brown eyed person does, they’re more susceptible to damage from the sun.

Redheads Might Experience Accelerated Aging

A 2016 study in Current Biology revealed that individuals who had two copies of the MC1R gene (linked to red hair) might appear up to two years older than people who don’t have two copies. The authors suggest, this is about the same effects that smoking has on perceived age.

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Contrary to popular belief this had absolutely nothing to do with the link between redheads having more skin damage from sun exposure, instead,the gene variant that causes red hair is associated with pathways that cause sagging skin, amongst other things.The authors suggest this is the first evidence of genetic basis for perceived age. Whether or not this will lead to the discovery of the fountain of youth is another story.

Redheads Need More Anesthetic

Studies suggest that redheads experience pain differently than the rest of the population, that they might even have a higher pain tolerance in general. There are studies that show redheads may even require higher levels of anesthetic in order to be fully sedated during certain procedures. In a small study published in the journal Anesthesiology, it is suggested that women with red hair required up to 20% more anesthesia to keep them sedated than women with dark hair.

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A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association suggested this may be the very reason that people with red hair are more fearful and less likely to visit the dentist. These studies however are anecdotal, and many other studies refute the information provided in these studies. Like one study from the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia that found people with red hair didn’t actually need higher doses of anesthesia. The connection between red hair and the effects of anesthesia are still being studied, but regardless of your hair color, if you are having a procedure and still experience pain you should say so.

Redheads Have Higher Pain Tolerance

David Fisher, MD, PhD, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital has done many studies on redheaded individuals. He says “The pain threshold is the limit from where you don’t feel anything to where you just start to feel pain.”

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Many studies have shown that women with red hair have a higher tolerance for pain, a 2021 study co-authored by Dr. Fisher gives us a little more insight on why that is. In layman’s terms the research that involved red-haired mice (which possess similar MC1R variants as humans) indicated that the gene responsible for red hair is also involved in regulating expression of factors that govern certain pain sensations. So, redheads’ melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) release factors that effectively favor the signals to the brain that say “don’t feel pain” over “feel pain.” One day, he adds, these findings may lead to pain-relieving medications that are safer than those currently on the market.

Redheads Might Be More Likely To Have More Kids

Although redheads have a tendency to have more fertility problems, there are studies that suggest they may still have more children than most.

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Although many factors could contribute to this conclusion, none of them are conclusive. There are some theories that suggest redheads start conceiving children at a younger age, others say that it has to do with their skeletal build being more adept at giving birth. All just theories, but interesting nonetheless.

Redheads Generate More Vitamin

When our bodies are exposed to ultraviolet light (UVB) we produce vitamin D which is essential for bone health. A study done in 2020 in Experimental Dermatology found significantly  higher levels of a precursor to vitamin D (calcidiol) in redheads, leading to the idea that redheads have the potential to produce more vitamin D than those with other hair colors.

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The exact reason as to why this occurs is unknown, however it is suggested that it is a survival mechanism for those that inhabit parts of the world that have low intensity UVB rays.

Redheads Seen As Being More Volatile

Studies have been conducted on how people perceive the personalities and attractiveness of redheads. In one study, a group of researchers had the same woman sit in different nightclubs with their hair dyed either blonde, brunette or red. The experiment showed that she was approached more frequently by men in the blonde condition.

Source: Dominik Day/ Unsplash

Researchers then took the same images of these women and had them rated by 126 men. This study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, found that men rated redheads as the most temperamenta, least shy and the most sexually promiscuous.

Redheads Might Be More Sexually Active

There has been some research that suggests women with red hair have a higher sex drive and are more sexually active. However, some experts suggest that this has more to do with the amount of suitors than it does anything else.

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A 2022 study that was published in Frontiers in Psychology looked at 110 women (34% of whom were redheads) concluded that redheaded women scored higher on measures of sexual desire and reported more sexual activity and more sexual partners. It also showed redheads started having sexual relations earlier in life than those with other hair colors did. It’s unclear why this is, but some speculate that it is because redheads have a certain allure to them, and partners may be more inclined to pursue sexual experiences with them. Clearly to be a redhead means you are subjected to a unique set of life experiences, both genetic and by choice.

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Athena Hallet

Written by Athena Hallet

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