The A to Z Challenge – R for Red Hair

The A to Z Challenge is on! Hello and welcome to my Main blog. My name is Rose Anderson and I’m a romance novelist. Join me and more than 2279 bloggers and authors as we blog the alphabet throughout the month of April. My daily posts will be mostly history with some science topics here and there. I’ve chosen subjects that tickle my fancy, I hope you will find them interesting too.

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Today’s Calliope’s Writing Tablet post is brought to you by the letter R ~
R for Red Hair

I often write redheaded characters into my stories. Mostly because my husband loves red hair on women, and I like writing for him.  I also write redheads because I understand the mechanics. You see, I’m a natural redhead myself. Living close to the source, I see how the sun shines on the individual strands that make up a head of red hair.  I also get how those blushes and flushes work because my skin shows every emotion in technicolor. While I do have the pale skin tone that goes hand in hand with the hair, I don’t have that translucent look some redheads have, nor the freckles. Just a few… a sprinkle across my nose and on my shoulders. My husband says my skin is more pink. “like fresh-cut alabaster”.  🙂

“Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.”
~Lucille Ball

goldAs far back as I can remember, I’ve been told my hair coloring is unusual for a redhead. When I was little, the whole underside was white-blond. I’m not Irish Setter red nor strawberry blond. I’m not ginger, russet, auburn, or flaming copper orange either.  I’m basically the color of a golden retriever. 😀
I’m also the recipient of a rare recessive gene that says so.

Worldwide, mine is the rarest natural hair color among humans. I’ve read the odds are only 1 in 1000 babies will be born with red hair. Because red is a recessive trait, it takes both parents passing on a single mutated gene to produce a redheaded child. In my family, my father’s father was the redhead. On my mother’s side of the family tree there’s a redhead somewhere back in history. She carried this latent gene and passed it on to me. Her great grandmother so many time removed came to the colonies from Scotland about the mid-1700’s (my guess during the clearances there). Perhaps the gene came with her. Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads than anywhere on the planet, with Ireland a close second. This makes sense. Isolated island populations generally have isolated genes.ginger

Needless to say I was a surprise to a family of mostly brown-haired people, an anomaly up until my brother married a woman with recessive red hair genes and had two redhaired kids of his own and so on. My sister has a redheaded grandson. There are five of us in the family now. My own kids have a 1 in 4 chance of having red-haired offspring like anyone else carrying the mutated genes. But…it would be a sure thing if they married redheads. Sort of like two blue-eyed people will always have blue-eyed offspring.

It all happens on chromosome 16 where a mutation in the MC1R gene occurs. Because it’s a recessive trait, red hair can easily skip one generation or several, like it did in my family, then reappear the next time both parents carry the red hair gene, like it did for my brother and my nieces. The purpose of MC1R is to make a protein receptor called melanocortin 1. This protein is key in the conversion of phaeomelanin to eumelanin (pigments). With the MC1R gene, the conversions are infrequent so phaeomelanin builds up in the pigment cells and gives red hair, fair skin, and a predisposition to freckles. Whew. That’s the science of how we came to be. It’s also the best I can do to break it down for today’s post. I just woke up and the coffee it too hot to chug.

redsBut what’s the point?

Genes are funny things. Human beings have about 25,000 of them in our DNA and all made up of four similar chemicals that science reads as A, T, C, and G. The four travel in pairs and carry the instructions for everything the body needs and repeat themselves over and over in the gene sequence. Every once in a while there’s a glitch in the sequence and a mutation occurs. Most mutations are harmless. They’ll pop up in the family tree every once in a while as two different colored eyes or extra fingers and toes etc. Some sit benignly until some environmental trigger sets them off like a predisposition to certain forms of cancer. Others can be deadly from the start such as Tay-Sachs disease or Trisomy 18. By comparison the MC1R mutation is harmless. Almost as harmless as the genes for balding, dimples, and tongue rolling. The gene mutation probably arose 20,000-40,000 years ago.

Not always a pretty picture
I say almost as harmless because there’s a physiological downside to being a redhead:

  • Sun burn and skin cancer. Redheads have less melanin in their skin cells and melanin is needed to protect the skin from UV rays. I burn in the sun. Oh how I burn. The pigment responsible for a redhead’s distinctive coloring also plays a role in their risk for melanoma. It’s like living a game of Russian roulette where the  skin cancer bullet is chambered and waiting. I’ve had more than one bad cell send me to the dermatologist and odds say this will worsen as I age. Most of my sunburns, and the damage from them, were had before the invention of sunscreen. Skin damage is accumulative.
  • Redheads have a high pain tolerance (I do), but are more sensitive to some kinds of pain than others. They are less sensitive to stinging pain, shots, and pinpricks, and are less responsive to anesthetics administered under the skin like Novocaine (I am). Studies show redheads are different in regard to pain perception and body reactions. This means that the mutation that makes a redhead also does something in the brain. Tickling me is akin to punching me on the pain scale. Better you stick me with a pin!
  • Redheads often need higher levels of anesthesia, 20% more, to get the same level of sedation. In my personal experience with surgery, it wasn’t pain exactly, but I felt every moment of my daughter being born by C-section because the spinal block wasn’t working 100%. They topped me off with nitrous oxide (lol that’s a post for another day). In my last surgery I was given an anesthesiologist who specialized in working with redheads. Hmm..
  • Redheads are more sensitive to heat and cold. (I’m sensitive to heat and have been known to faint if I get over-heated) 
  • They suffer more toothaches. (not me)
  • Redheads are at greater risk of developing sclerosis and endometriosis, and have a 90% increased risk for the progressive neurological disorder called Parkinson’s Disease. 90%!
  • They tend to be more prone to allergies. ( I am)
  • Redheads are more likely to get stung by wasps or bees (yep)
  • Redheads may be prone to industrial deafness because melanocytes (melanin -producing cells) are found in the middle ear.
  • That pale skin is good for something. It allows the body to soak more vitamin D. Not only does vitamin D help protect against many diseases, it’s essential for healthy bones. Consequently, redheads have less osteoporosis. (My last bone scan surprised the doctor. She expected to see osteoporosis in someone my age)

fire“There was never a saint with red hair.”
~A Russian Proverb

FYI: Russia literally means land of red because of a redheaded viking named Rurik. Odder still — red haired clowns began in Russia. Hmm..

Historically speaking, people with red hair have been discriminated against. Superstitions exist across the world to this day.
Here’s a list of redhead oddities:

  • To the Ancient Greeks redheads turn into vampires when they die.
  • During the Spanish Inquisition flame-colored hair was evidence of being marked by the fires of hell.
  • Folklore in Liverpool has it that meeting a redhead at the beginning of a journey is bad luck and reason to turn back.
  • Redheads bruise more than other people (this is true for me).
  • Aristotle believed redheads were “emotionally unhousebroken”.
  • Red haired children have been historically branded as the result of “unclean” sex.
  • In English and Scottish tradition, the first caller at your home should never be a redhead on the New Year. To safeguard from such an occurrence, a non-ginger would go out and come in again.
  • If you pass a redhead in Corsica, you’d better spit and turn around to ward off the evil eye.
  • Rumor has it Hitler banned the marriages of two redheads as he feared the resultant deviant offspring.
  • Brahmins were forbidden to marry redheads.
  • Africa’s Cameroon redheaded albinos are ritually murdered, even today.
  • The fat of a redheaded man was an essential ingredient for poison. If one was hanged, his fat made a good base for a balm for aches and pains.
  • Ancient Egyptians offered up redheads in ritual tribute to their god Osiris, usually by burning or burying alive.
  • Gingers are thought to be soulless.
  • Because natural red hair holds its pigment more than other colors do, it’s harder to dye.
  • Redheads have been historically deemed untrustworthy. Biblical artworks through history display the prejudice against redheads: Lillith, Judas, Mary Magdalene, and Cain for example. Then there is that redheaded bare-breasted serpent-woman in the Sistine Chapel painting who’s handing a juicy red apple to eve. Curiously, some scholars speculate that because Adam was from “red earth” and the Hebrew word for “red” is adom, that Adam was a redhead. Hmm…
  • Redheads were thought to be witches and their freckles were witches marks. During the witch hunts, upwards of 45,000 women were tortured and murdered usually by burning at the stake or by drowning. A lot of redheads in that tally.
  • Russian tradition declares that red hair is both a sign that a person holds a fiery temper and craziness. (my husband says this is true. lol)
  • A French Proverb declares, “redheaded women are either violent or false, and usually are both.” (maybe we’re just tired of being called carrot top)
  • “Gingerism” is the bullying or prejudice of redheads. What a crazy world.


redhead (2)The upside

  • Apparently everyone wants to be red. Red hair dye outsells all other colors.
  • In Denmark it is an honor to have a redheaded child.
  • In Poland, if you pass three redheads on the street you’ll win the state lottery!
  • Redheads don’t turn grey. We fade to bright white, and do it later in life too. 🙂
  • MC1R is used in crime scene DNA testing. It greatly narrows a search if you’re looking for a redhead.
  • The 16th-century artist Titian, a.k.a. Tiziano Vecelli, painted so many redheads that his name became associated with a shade of red.
  • The red haired slaves of Romans were obtained at a higher price, and redhead desirability put a lot of red-haired genes into the harem families of sheiks and throughout the middle east.
  • Red hair is considered an outward display of the passion within.
  • Redheads have fewer hairs on their head than do blondes or brunettes, but each individual cinnamon strand is thicker. For instance, blondes have on average 140,000 hairs while redheads have approximately 90,000. (I have a very thick head of hair)
  • People with red hair often have different colored hair at different times of their life. (I change color twice a year, as a matter of fact. It’s noticeable and people always comment on it.)
  • According to Hamburg sex researcher Dr. Werner Habermehl, women with red hair have more sex than women with other hair colors. Curiously, this ties in with the popularity of red hair dye.
  • To people who believe, it’s lucky to touch a redhead’s hair.

Some Neanderthals were probably redheads. (this info was last updated in 2007. Great strides have been made in the genome project since.)

I’m speechless.

Tomorrow ~ letter S


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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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8 Responses to The A to Z Challenge – R for Red Hair

  1. Ray G says:

    My wife is a redhead. She has just about every one of the traits you mention including the sunburn, etc. She also has Lupus, similar to one of the conditions you mentioned. She can’t stay outdoors until late in the afternoon. It has gotten worse. When we first married we spent time outdoors, but now she won’t even attempt it. Maybe because she can’t go out in the sun she has a vitamin D deficiency. She was born with white hair, but her hair turned blonde. She has problems with bees and carries a bee sting kit in the car and her purse. I can peacefully coexist with them. Her heritage is Scotts Irish. We have a great granddaughter with auburn hair and freckles who turns reddish blonde is she spends time outdoors in warm weather. Now she is grown she doesn’t stay outdoors that much so it hasn’t appeared since she was a teen.

    One of the links you provided said modern humans did not interbreed with Neanderthals. How then do you explain your ancestral DNA results? Perhaps it just wasn’t common.

    I was unaware of any discrimination against redheads beyond teasing.

  2. I’ve been teased. lol it does get annoying. That Neanderthal link was last updated in 2007. There have been great strides in cracking the genome since. I’ve added that bit to the post. Thanks for bringing it up. 🙂

  3. tara tyler says:

    what a plethora of red-headed info!
    more toothaches? that would be the worst, in addition to all those other calamities!
    it sure is pretty & unique, though – like Chuckie from Rugrats, when his hair was black, no one noticed him… it stands out! (and the female lead from my first novel is a spunky red head =)
    happy a to z-ing!

  4. skmarshall2014 says:

    Very interesting post, Rose. I remember a girl in grade school had curly red hair. I thought it was beautiful. In the summer time her hair turned a really gorgeous reddish-blonde color.

    • I’ve never liked it. lol I wanted brown hair and skin that would tan. I tried a perm once and looked like Little Orphan Annie with grey eyes instead of blank ones. 😛

  5. I can personally attest to much of what you wrote, Rose, being a fellow redhead. Learned lots from you as usual, though. Had no idea so many people see redheads as evil or unlucky. So glad I won’t turn gray. My grandmother had a lovely head of faded red hair in her sixties and even as a girl I admired it.

  6. Pingback: Spring’s Here & Hump Day Happenings #MFRWauthor |

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