5 Health Facts About Redheads

by Allison Tsai Editor

Bright red hair, fair skin and freckles are the distinguishing features redheads, but they also share some common health issues.

Red hair, fair skin and freckles are caused by a gene mutation

The MC1R, or melanocortin 1 receptor, is responsible for the production of melanin, which determines skin and hair color. Melanin is produced in two forms, one causes dark hair and skin, the other causes red or blond hair, fair skin and freckles. The amount of each melanin in a person will determine hair and skin color. When a gene mutation occurs, it makes the blond-redhead melanin.

Redheads are at great risk for melanoma

New research suggests that redheads are more at risk for melanoma even if they haven't been exposed to the sun. Researchers studied mice with dark melanin and the “redhead” melanin, and found the redhead pigment itself was causing melanoma to develop. Researchers hypothesized that oxidative stress caused by the pigment was encouraging melanoma to grow. They also suggested that antioxidant treatments could cut the risk.

Redheads need more anesthesia

A 2004 study looked at how redheaded women responded to anesthesia compared to dark-haired women. The women were given anesthesia, followed by electric shocks. If a woman moved, more anesthesia was given to her until she no longer moved when shocked. If she didn't move, the amount of anesthesia was reduced. The researchers found that redheads needed about 20 percent more anesthesia than the dark-haired participants.

Redheads experience more pain

A 2009 study found that people with naturally red hair are resistant to local anesthetics, such as Novacaine. This can lead to anxiety and an avoidance of going to the dentist. Researchers hypothesized that because MC1R is part of a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, the mutation that inhibits MC1R and causes red hair may influence the body’s sensitivity to pain.

Redheads aren’t going extinct

Redheads carry two copies of a gene mutation that inhibits the receptor responsible for hair and skin pigment (the MC1R). It’s a recessive trait, which means that like all recessive traits, both parents need to pass it on to a child for him or her to have red hair. Sometimes recessive traits will skip a generation, but they generally don't disappear.

Allison Tsai
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Allison Tsai

Allison wrote for HealthCentral as an editor and producer for Allergy, Asthma, Cold & Flu, COPD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Skin Care, Skin Cancer, and Sleep Disorders.