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This article is about people with red hair, also sometimes called redheads. For other uses, see Redhead
Woman with red hair
Man with red hair

Red hair (also referred to as titian) varies from a deep orange-red through burnt orange to bright copper. It is characterized by high levels of the reddish pigment pheomelanin and relatively low levels of the dark pigment eumelanin. People with red hair are often referred to as redheads.Approximately 1% to 2% of the human population has red hair. It occurs more frequently (between 2% and 6% of the population) in northern and western Europeans, and their descendants, and at lower frequencies throughout other parts of the world. Red hair appears in people with two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a change in the MC1R protein. It is associated with fair skin colour, freckles, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light, as the mutated MC1R protein is found in the skin and eyes instead of the darker melanin. Cultural reactions have varied from ridicule to admiration; many common stereotypes exist regarding redheads and they are often portrayed as the “fiery-tempered redhead”.

Geographic distribution


Several accounts by Greek writers detail redheaded people. A fragment by the Greek poet Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red haired. The Greek historian Herodotus described the "Budini", probably Udmurts and Permyak Finns located on the Volga in what is modern-day Russiamarker, as being predominantly redheaded. The Greek historian Dio Cassius described Boudica, the famous Celtic Queen of the Iceni, to: "be tall and terrifying in appearance ... a great mass of red hair ... over her shoulders". Also many mythological characters from Homer's The Iliad, (themselves supposedly Greek) are described as being "red-haired" including Menelaus and Achilles.

The Roman Tacitus commented on the "red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia (Scotlandmarker)", which he linked with some red haired Gaulish tribes of Germanic and Belgic relation.

Red hair has also been found in Asia, notably among the Tocharians who occupied the northwesternmost province of what is modern-day Chinamarker. The 2nd millennium BC caucasian Tarim mummies in Chinamarker were found with red and blonde hair.

Image:Thrace-ostrusha.jpg|A fresco of a red-haired Thracian noble woman in the Ostrusha Mound in central Bulgariamarker, 4th century B.C.Image:MirceacelBatran.jpg|Prince Mircea I of Wallachia, fresco from the Episcopiei de Argeş ChurchImage:Central Asian Buddhist Monks.jpeg|Red-headed, blue-eyed Central Asian (Tocharian?) and East-Asian Buddhist monks, Bezaklik, Eastern Tarim Basin, China, 9th-10th centuryImage:Juan de Flandes 002.jpg|Portrait of a young girl by Juan de Flandes c. 1500. The subject is possibly Catalina de Aragón, Spanish Infanta and later first of the six wives of Henry VIII of England.


Today, red hair is most commonly found at the western fringes of Europe; it is associated particularly (though not primarily) with the people located in the United Kingdommarker and in Irelandmarker (although Victorian era ethnographers claimed that the Udmurt people of the Volga were "the most red-headed men in the world").

Redheads constitute approximately four percent of the European population. Scotlandmarker has the highest proportion of redheads, as 13 percent of the population has red hair and approximately 40 percent carries the recessive redhead gene. Irelandmarker has the second highest percentage; as many as 10 percent of the Irish population have red, auburn, or strawberry blond hair.It is thought that up to 46 percent of the Irish population carries the recessive redhead gene. Red hair reaches frequencies of up to 10 percent in Walesmarker.

Red-hair is found commonly amongst Ashkenazi Jewish populations.

In the United Statesmarker, anywhere from two to six percent of the population is estimated to have red hair. This would give the U.S. the largest population of redheads in the world, at 6 to 18 million, compared to approximately 650,000 in Scotland and 420,000 in Ireland.

Red or reddish-tinged hair is also found in other European populations particularly in the Nordic and Baltic countries as well as parts of the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Francemarker, Portugalmarker, Spainmarker, Italymarker, Germanymarker, Russiamarker and South Slavic countries and Albaniamarker.

The Berber populations of Moroccomarker and northern Algeriamarker have occasional redheads. Red hair frequency is especially significant among the Kabyles from Algeria where it reaches 4 percent .

In Asia, darker or mixed tinges of red hair can be found sporadically from Northern India, northern Middle East (such as Iranmarker, Lebanonmarker and the countries of the Levant) and in rare instances on Island of Hirado, Japanmarker and the South Pacific. Red hair can be found amongst those of Iranian descent, such as the Pashtuns, Persian, Lurs and Nuristani.

In Argentinamarker and Brazilmarker people with red hair also make up a small portion of the population.

Biochemistry and genetics

A close-up view of red hair
The pigment pheomelanin gives red hair its distinctive colour. Red hair has far more pheomelanin than other hair colours, but far less of the dark pigment eumelanin.

The genetics of red hair, discovered in 1997, appears to be associated with the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), which is found on chromosome 16. Red hair is associated with fair skin colour due to low concentrations of eumelanin. This lower melanin-concentration has the advantage that a sufficient concentration of important Vitamin D can be produced under low light conditions. However, when the UV-radiation is strong (like in the regions close to the equator) the lower concentration of melanin leads to several medical disadvantages - one of them is the higher rate of skin cancer.

The MC1R recessive variant gene, which gives people red hair and fair skin, is also associated with freckles, though it is not uncommon to see a redhead without freckles. Eighty percent of redheads have an MC1R gene variant, and the prevalence of these alleles is highest in Scotlandmarker and Irelandmarker. The alleles that code for red hair occur close to the alleles that affect skin colour, so it seems that the phenotypic expression for lighter skin and red hair are interrelated.

Red hair can originate from several different changes on the MC1R-gene. If one of these changes is present on both chromosomes then the respective individual is likely to have red hair. This type of inheritance is described as an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. Even if both parents do not have red hair themselves, both can be carriers for the gene and have a redheaded child. ( red hair genetics).


The alleles Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, Asp294His, and Arg142His on MC1R are shown to be recessives for the red hair phenotype.The gene HCL2 (also called RHC or RHA) on chromosome 4 may also be related to red hair.



Red hair is the rarest natural hair colour in humans. The pale skin associated with red hair may be of advantage in far-northern climates where sunlight is scarce. Studies by Bodmer and Cavalli-Sforza (1976) hypothesized that lighter skin pigmentation prevents rickets in colder latitudes by encouraging higher levels of Vitamin D production and also allows the individual to retain heat better than someone with darker skin. Rees (2004) suggested that the vividness and rarity of red hair may lead to its becoming desirable in a partner and therefore it could become more common through sexual selection.

Harding et al. (2000) proposed that red hair was not the result of positive selection but rather occurs due to a lack of negative selection. In Africa, for example, red hair is selected against because high levels of sun would be harmful to fair skin. However, in Northern Europe this does not happen, so redheads come about through genetic drift.

Estimates on the original occurrence of the currently active gene for red hair vary from 20,000 to 100,000 years ago.

A DNA study has concluded that some Neanderthals also had red hair, although the mutation responsible for this differs from that which causes red hair in modern humans.


A 2007 report in The Courier-Mail, which cited the National Geographic magazine and unnamed "genetic scientists", said that red hair is likely to die out in the near future. Other blogs and news sources ran similar stories that attributed the research to the magazine or the "Oxford Hair Foundation". However, a HowStuffWorks article says that the foundation was funded by hair-dye maker Procter & Gamble, and that other experts had dismissed the research as either lacking in evidence or simply bogus. The National Geographic article in fact states "while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn't going away".

Red hair is caused by a recessive relatively rare gene, expression of which can skip generations. It is not likely to disappear at any time in the foreseeable future.

Medical implications of the red hair gene


Melanin in the skin aids UV tolerance through suntanning, but fair-skinned persons lack the levels of melanin needed to prevent UV-induced DNA-damage. Studies have shown that red hair alleles in MC1R effect increased freckles and decreased tanning ability. It has been found that Europeans who are heterozygous for red hair exhibit increased sensitivity to UV radiation.

Red hair and its relationship to UV sensitivity are of interest to many melanoma researchers. Sunshine can both be good and bad for a person's health and the different alleles on MC1R represent these adaptations. It also has been shown that individuals with pale skin are highly susceptible to a variety of skin cancers such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Due to this sensitivity many people have advised redheads to wear sunscreen.

Sensitivity to pain and injury

There is little or no evidence to support the belief that people with red hair have a higher chance than people with other hair colours to hemorrhage or suffer other bleeding complications. One study, however, reports a link between red hair and a higher rate of bruising.

In people with red hair, the cells producing skin and hair pigments have mutated MC1R genes. Researchers have found that the MC1R mutation triggers the excess release of Pheomelanin, the hormone that stimulates melanocytes and Pheomelanin also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

Two studies have demonstrated that people with red hair have differential sensitivity to pain compared to people with other hair colours. One study found that people with red hair are more sensitive to thermal pain (associated with naturally occurring low vitamin K levels), while another study concluded that redheads are less sensitive to pain from electrical stimuli.

Researchers have found that people with red hair require greater amounts of anesthetic, however this is controversial and other research publications have concluded that women with naturally red hair require less of the painkiller pentazocine than do either women of other hair colours or men of any hair colour. A study showed women with red hair had a greater analgesic response to that particular pain medication than men. A follow-up study by the same group showed that men and women with red hair had a greater analgesic response to morphine-6-glucuronide.

Red hair of pathological origin

Most red hair is caused by the MC1R gene and is non-pathological. However, in rare cases red hair can be associated with disease or genetic disorder:
  • In cases of severe malnutrition, normally dark human hair may turn red or blonde. The condition, part of a syndrome known as kwashiorkor, is a sign of critical starvation caused chiefly by protein deficiency, and is common during periods of famine.
  • One variety of albinism (Type 3, aka rufous albinism), sometimes seen in Africans and inhabitants of New Guineamarker, results in red hair and red-coloured skin.
  • Red hair is found on people lacking pro-opiomelanocortin.


In various times and cultures, red hair has been prized, feared, and ridiculed.

Beliefs about temperament

A common idea about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues. In Anne of Green Gables, a character says of Anne Shirley, the redheaded heroine, that "her temper matches her hair", while in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield remarks that "People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie [his dead brother] never did, and he had very red hair."

During the early stages of modern medicine, red hair was thought to be a sign of a sanguine temperament. In the Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda, redheads are seen as most likely to have a Pitta temperament.

Another belief is that redheads are highly sexed; for example, Jonathan Swift satirizes redhead stereotypes in part four of Gulliver's Travels, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms," when he writes that: "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity." Swift goes on to write that: "...neither was the hair of this brute [a Yahoo] of a red colour (which might have been some excuse for an appetite a little irregular) but black as a sloe..." In the novel and film Red-Headed Woman, the titular protagonist is a sexually aggressive home-wrecker who frequently throws violent temper tantrums.

Fashion and art

Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, and during the Elizabethan era in England, red hair was fashionable for women. In modern times, red hair is subject to fashion trends; celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Alyson Hannigan, Marcia Cross and Geri Halliwell can boost sales of red hair dye.

Sometimes, red hair darkens as people get older, becoming a more brownish colour or losing some of its vividness. This leads some to associate red hair with youthfulness, a quality that is generally considered desirable. In several countries such as Indiamarker, Iranmarker, and Pakistanmarker, henna and saffron are used on hair to give it a bright red appearance.

Many painters have exhibited a fascination with red hair. The colour "titian" takes its name from Titian, who often painted women with red hair. Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus depicts the mythological goddess Venus as a redhead. Other painters notable for their redheads include the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmund Leighton, Modigliani, Gustav Klimt.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Red-Headed League involves a man who is asked to become a member of a mysterious group of red–headed people. The 1943 film DuBarry Was a Lady garishly featured red–heads Lucille Ball and Red Skelton in gaudy Technicolor. In the novel Perfume, the protagonist exhibits a weird way to relate red–haired woman to a popular perfume.

Gingerism (prejudice/discrimination towards redheads)

Red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration. A savage red-haired man is portrayed in the fable by Grimm brothers (Der Eisenhans) as the spirit of the forest of iron. Theophilus Presbyter describes how the blood of a red-haired young man is necessary to create gold from copper, in a mixture with the ashes of a basilisk.

Montague Summers, in his translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, notes that red hair and green eyes were thought to be the sign of a witch, a werewolf or a vampire during the Middle Ages;

In modern-day UK, the words "ginger" or "ginga" are sometimes derogatorily used to describe red-headed people, with terms such as "gingerphobia" (fear of redheads) or "gingerism" (prejudice against redheads) used by the media. Some have speculated that the dislike of red-hair may derive from the historical English sentiment that people of Irish or Celtic background, with a greater prevalence of red hair, were ethnically inferior. Redheads are also sometimes referred to disparagingly as "carrot tops" and "carrot heads". "Gingerism" has been compared to racism, although this is widely disputed, and bodies such as the UK Commission for Racial Equality do not monitor cases of discrimination and hate crimes against redheads. A UK woman recently won an award from a tribunal after being sexually harassed and receiving abuse because of her red hair; a family in Newcastle upon Tynemarker, England, was forced to move twice after being targeted for abuse and hate crime on account of their red hair; and in 2003, a 20 year old was stabbed in the back for "being ginger." In May 2009, a British schoolboy committed suicide after being bullied for having red hair. The British singer Mick Hucknall, who believes that he has repeatedly faced prejudice or been described as ugly on account of his hair colour, argues that Gingerism should be described as a form of racism.This prejudice has been satirised on a number of TV shows. The British comedian Catherine Tate (herself a redhead) appeared as a red haired character in a running sketch of her series The Catherine Tate Show. The sketch saw fictional character Sandra Kemp, who was forced to seek solace in a refuge for ginger people because they had been ostracised from society. The British comedy Bo' Selecta! (starring redhead Leigh Francis) featured a spoof documentary which involved a caricature of Mick Hucknall presenting a show in which celebrities (played by themselves) dyed their hair red for a day and went about daily life being insulted by people. In real life, Hucknall has commented that derogatory references to his red hair are a form of bigotry.

The pejorative use of the word "ginger" and related discrimination was used to illustrate a point about racism and prejudice in the "Ginger Kids", "Le Petit Tourette" and "Fatbeard" episodes of South Park.

Films and television programmes often portray school bullies as having red hair; for example, Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story or the O'Doyle family in the movie Billy Madison. The bully character Caruso in Everybody Hates Chris is a redhead. However, children with red hair are often themselves targeted by bullies; "Somebody with ginger hair will stand out from the crowd," says anti-bullying expert Louise Burfitt-Dons.

Religious and mythological traditions

Red is the preferred dyeing colour in Islam. It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad used to dye his hair red using Henna. Henna or Hina is a flowering plant which traditionally has been used to dye hair red. There are no side effects to this. Al-Bukhari related in his Sahih, from ‘Uthman b. ‘Abd-Allah b. Mawhab: We went to Umm Salma, and she brought out for us some of the hair of the Messenger of Allah, and lo, it was dyed with henna and indigo.” (Bukhari, Libas, 66) And in the four sunan, from the Prophet, it is related that he said, ‘The best you can use for changing the colour of white hair are henna and katam.’ (Tirmidhi, Libas, 20). In the two books of the Sahih, from Anas, it is quoted that Abu Bakr used hair dye of both henna and katam. (Muslim, Fada’il, 100)” (Ibn Qayyim; 259) (Katam is a plant from Yemenmarker which produces a reddish-black dye).

Esau's entire body is supposed to have been covered with red hair. King David is also known for having red hair, based on the description of his physical appearance as "admoni", the Biblical Hebrew word normally interpreted to mean 'ruddy' and/or 'red-haired' (1 Samuel 16-17).

Early artistic representations of Mary Magdalene usually depict her as having long flowing red hair, although a description of her hair colour was never mentioned in the Bible, and it is possible the colour is an effect caused by pigment degradation in the ancient paint. This tradition is used as a plot device in the book and movie The Da Vinci Code. Thor, of Norse mythology, was generally portrayed as having red hair.Ancient Egyptians associated both red-haired humans and red-coloured animals with the god Set, considering them to be favored by the powerful and temperamental deity.

There is a tradition amongst astrologers that the planet Mars ("the red planet") is more likely to be rising above the eastern horizon (on or near the astrological Ascendant, which supposedly influences a person's appearance) at the time of the birth of a red haired person than for the population in general.

The name Rhys may have been derived from the local word for red hair.

Achilles, the central character of Homer's Iliad, is described as having red hair, possibly contributing to the original myths of temperament.

Hundreds of redheads together at the Redheadday 2008

Red Hair festival

Redheadday is the name of a Dutch festival that takes place each first weekend of September in the city of Bredamarker, the Netherlandsmarker. The two-day festival is a gathering of people with natural red hair, but is also focused on art related to the colour red. Activities during the festival are lectures, workshops and demonstrations. The festival attracts attendance from thousands of genuine redheads from 20 countries and is free due to sponsorship of the local government.

See also



  1. Red Alert! Washington Post: Original Date 2002-03-19. Accessed 2007-02-06.
  2. National Geographic, September, 2007
  3. The Life of Agricola, Ch. 11
  4. Fernandez-Armesto, F., ed. (1994), The Times Guide to the Peoples of Europe. London: Times Books.
  5. Red Hair - LoveToKnow Hair
  6. BBC NEWS | Scotland | Scots ginger 'nuts' appeal
  7. American Journal of Physical Anthropology Volume 26, Issue 1, 1940
  8. The Annals of Human Genetics, Vol. 20, p. 327, 1955–56.
  9. Ernest L. Abel, Jewish genetic disorders (NY 2001), page 229
  10. Stirling, John. The Races of Morocco. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, Vol. 8, 1870 - 1871 (1870 - 1871), pp. clxix-clxxiii doi:10.2307/3025183
  11. "Their pigmentation is characteristically brunet, but definite blonds occur. Black and dark brown hair run to 85 per cent of the whole, while reds number 4 per cent", Carleton S. Coon, The Races of Europe (1939), Greenwood Press, 1972, p.478
  12. "There are, however, a noticeable number of Kabyles with red hair, blue eyes and fair skin", Area Handbook for Algeria, American University, 1965, p.91
  13. Yamamoto M., and Neel J.V. "A note on red hair on the Island of Hirado, Japan". Jinrui Idengaku Zasshi. March 1967. 11 (4), pp 257-62.
  14. El Rojo Como Blanco Clarin, 07/17/2007
  15. HGNC Symbol Report:HCL2
  16. Bodmer WF, Cavalli-Sforza LL.Genetics, evolution and man. San Francisco:WH Freeman; 1976.
  17. The Genetics of Sun Sensitivity in Humans by Jonathan L. Rees. The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 75 (2004), pages 739–751.
  18. Nicole's hair secrets Daily Telegraph 2002-10-02, Accessed 2005-11-02
  19. Red hair genes 100,000 years old Oxford Blueprint Vol. 1 Issue 11 2001-05-31
  21. Gingers extinct in 100 years. Retrieved on 2009-06-28.
  22. Redhead extinction. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved on 2009-06-28.
  23. Pleiotropic effects of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene on human pigmentation. Flanagan, Healy, et al. Human Molecular Genetics, 2000, Vol. 9, No. 17 2531-2537.
  24. Rees JL (2002a) Molecular phototypes. In: Ortonne J-P, Ballotti R (eds) Mechanisms of suntanning. Martin Dunitz,London, pp 333–339
  25. Rees JL (2002b) Skin cancer (including nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome). In: Vogelstein B, Kinzler K (eds) The genetic basis of human cancer, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 529–548
  26. Redheads | Ginger | Hair | Red | Orange
  27. Kumar Veena V., Kumar Naveen V., and Isaacson Glenn. Superstition and post-tonsillectomy hemorrhage The Laryngoscope 2004, vol. 114, no11, pp. 2031-2033
  28. Liem, Edwin B. et al. Women with Red Hair Report a Slightly Increased Rate of Bruising but Have Normal Coagulation Tests Anesthesia & Analgesia 2006;102:313-318
  29. Mogil JS et al. The melanocortin-1 receptor gene mediates female-specific mechanisms of analgesia in mice and humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 2003 April 15;100(8):4867-72.
  30. Mogil JS et al. Melanocortin-1 receptor gene variants affect pain and mu-opioid analgesia in mice and humans. Journal of Medical Genetics. 2005 July;42(7):583-7.
  31. Pathology Guy: Accumulations and Deposits Ed Friedlander, M.D., Pathologist. Last updated 2006-09-24
  32. Human Molecular Genetics. 11: 1997, 2002; Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 994: 233, 2003
  33. The Practical Magnetic Healer G. M. Brown 1899
  34. Gulliver's Travels on Project Gutenberg Original by Jonathan Swift 1726
  35. Celebrity Redhead Hairstyles Kendra Van Wagner,
  36. Henna – history Plant Cultures: Exploring plants and people. 2004-11-18
  37. The Art of Being a Redhead - Gallery of 19th Century portraits of women with red hair
  38. Modigliani painting
  39. Klimt painting
  40. Palo Galloni, Il sacro artefice, Laterza, Bari 1998 (Italian book, chapter 2 about the recipe of Theophilus De auro hyspanico).
  41. - see Malleus Maleficarum
  42. Gingerphobia: Carrot-tops see red BBC News, 2000-02-22
  43. £18,000 for the waitress taunted over her red hair Daily Mail, 26 June 2007
  44. Red-haired family forced to move BBC News, 2 June 2007
  45. Schoolboy bullied over ginger hair hanged himselfDaily Telegraph, 12 May 2009
  46. Taking the Mick By Richard Jinman, Sydney Morning Herald
  47. Mick Hucknall says that 'ginger' jibes are as bad as racism
  48. Catherine Tate: Ginger Refuge video, 18th December 2008
  49. Richard Jinman, July 5 2003, "Taking the Mick" , Sydney Morning Herald
  50. Carrot-Tops: Being Red Not So Easy - ABC News
  51. In The Name Of Allah Muhammad's Appearance
  52. The Astrological Journal, vol. 5, p. 2224 (September-October 1988)

Further reading

  • Cass, Cort. The Redhead Handbook (2003).
  • Collins, Tim. The Ginger Survival Guide (2006).
  • Ditz, Uwe. Redheads (2000).
  • Douglas, Stephen. The Redhead Encyclopedia (1996).
  • Krobatsch, Jason. I Have Red Hair (2009).
  • Roach, Marion. Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair (2005).
  • Sacharov, Allen. The Red Head Book (1985).

External links

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