The Science Behind Having Red Hair

How do your genes influence the color of your hair?

Do you have red hair? If you do, consider yourself special. Just 1 to 2 percent of the total world population has red hair, making it the rarest hair color in the world. Have you ever wondered about the science behind redheads? It all boils down to a combination of chemical pigments and genetics.

Humans get their hair color (and eye color) from a chemical pigment called melanin. There are two different types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin creates black and brown pigmentation, while pheomelanin creates pigmentation that ranges from red to pink. As you’d expect, people with red hair tend to have a lot more pheomelanin than eumelanin in their bodies.

What does pheomelanin have to do with red hair?

People with red hair have high levels of pheomelanin and relatively low levels of eumelanin in their hair and skin. They may also have a reduced ability to produce eumelanin, which might explain why they also typically have fair skin, light eye colors, freckles, and higher sensitivity to ultraviolet light. But what causes someone to have so much pheomelanin in the first place? It all comes down to genetics!

Are you more likely to have red hair?

The answer lies deep within your cells. Your DNA contains your MC1R gene that codes for a protein known as the Melanocortin 1 Receptor protein (MC1R). MC1R is directly involved in signaling the production of both black eumelanin and red pheomelanin.

A change in your MC1R gene, also known as a gene variant, at a specific location in your genetic code may create a change in your MC1R protein. In turn, there may be a change in your melanin production. Thus, your DNA can tell you whether you may be more likely to have red hair. 80% of redheads have at least one MC1R gene variant.

Use Your DNA to explore your hair color

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