What do Ariel, Jessica Rabbit, and Wilma Flintstone all have in common? Their beautiful red hair of course!
Now, red hair is less common than blonde, brown, or black hair, but just how rare is it?
Only 1% to 2% of the world population has red hair, making it the rarest of all hair colors.
Red hair is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene, prompting the hair and skin cells to make more of one type of melanin, leading to fair skin and striking scarlet hair.
Continue reading to find out more, including which countries have the most red-headed people and special characteristics of redheads.
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Where is red hair most common?
Red hair, also referred to as ginger or orange, is found in 1% to 2% of people worldwide, but it’s more common in Northern Europe, where up to 6% of people are redheads.
Ireland is known as the home of redheads with around 10% of the total population sporting luscious red locks.
Here’s a list of the top redheaded countries based on the percentage of the population with red hair.
- Scotland – 14%
- Ireland – 10%
- U.S. – 6%
- France – 5%
- England – 4%
What causes red hair?
Red hair ranges from bright auburn to red-orange and strawberry blonde. Redheads have higher levels of pheomelanin, a reddish pigment responsible for fair-skin features, including lighter hair, skin, eye color, and freckles.
People with red hair have low eumelanin levels, and this lack of dark pigment makes them more sensitive to ultraviolet light.
That’s why redheads need more sun protection than those with dark hair.
Red hair and blue eyes are quite a rare combination, and most people have at least one parent, if not both, with the same physical characteristics.
If both parents are redheads, there’s almost a 100% chance of the child having red hair. When one parent has red hair and the other doesn’t, there’s around a 50% chance their kid will have some shade of red strands.
If neither parent has red hair, but they carry the gene variant, there’s a 25% chance the child’s hair will end up red.
Redheads have recessive alleles on chromosome 16, causing an altered MC1R protein. This physical trait dates back hundreds or even thousands of years, and the term “Redhead” has been around since the 1500s at least.
Is red hair different from other colors?
There are approximately 140 million redheads around the world. They have some special similarities, not just in their beautiful hair hues, but also in how strong their strands are at holding pigment.
That’s why red hair is harder to dye than any other color. Ginger hair needs to have its pigment stripped before bleaching, which damages the hair and its natural color.
Something else redheads have in common is hair thickness. Red hair is thicker than other colors, so gingers actually have less hair.
People with red hair have around 90,000 strands on average, compared to 110,000 for blondes and 140,000 for brunettes.
These red strands will never truly go gray, but instead simply fade to rose gold and then white as people age.
Redheads are also bonded by their sensitivity to hot and cold pain, which means their temperatures change more quickly.
Their recessive traits often happen in pairs, which is why redheads are more likely to be left-handed.
And even though they have difficulties absorbing vitamin D thanks to lower melanin levels, redheads are unique in that they can produce vitamin D on their own when exposed to low light.
What color eyes do redheads have?
Red is the least common hair color and the same goes for blue eyes, so blue-eyed redheads are very rare.
Despite being Earth’s rarest combo, blue-eyed redheads do exist, but they are not nearly as common as redheads with brown, hazel, or green eyes.
Regardless of what color eyes a redhead has, scientists have expressed concern that these recessive traits may dwindle in the coming years as climate change persists.
However, so long as the recessive genes are passed down from different generations, redheads will still be around, even if they are rarer than brunettes and blondes.
Do redheads have health problems?
Only 1% of 2% of people have red hair, but those that do have beautiful orange strands may also be at higher risk of some health issues.
For example, redheads have fair skin that’s sensitive to ultraviolet light, making them more susceptible to skin cancer.
In 2010, the International Journal of Cancer reported that naturally red-haired people are 2.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer compared to those with other hair colors.
Due to their lower pain tolerance, redheads need more anesthetic for dental procedures and surgery.
This is because the MC1R gene responsible for red hair codes perceived pain receptors. This means that red-haired people have mutated genes that make them feel pain more than others.
Another interesting medical fact is that redheads have the highest risk of Parkinson’s disease and are two times as likely to develop the disease compared to people with black strands.
However, it’s not all bad news for redheads, as some medical studies indicated men with red strands are 54% less likely to have prostate cancer than blonde or brown-haired people.
Do redheads have birthmarks?
Redheads are known for their orange strands, ginger lashes, and freckles. They are also more likely to have birthmarks, such as congenital melanocytic naevi (CMN).
A 2012 study revealed children with these rare birthmarks were more likely to hold the MC1R mutation responsible for red hair than kids with no noticeable birthmarks.
CMN birthmarks occur in about 1 in 20,000 kids and may cover as much as 80% of the body. Even for redheads without these birthmarks, freckles are very common.
The freckles gene is dominant so even those with brown or blonde hair will possibly have freckles.
Then there’s the 20% of natural redheads who don’t have any freckles.
Remember, red hair is a recessive trait and both parents need to pass the gene on. which explains why it’s so rare.
Other examples of recessive traits include round eyes and being unable to roll your tongue. It’s all part of genetics and passing different traits down through different generations.