12 questions about red hair, answered

red hair facts

These insights may change the way you approach your beauty routine

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / March 14 2019

Red hair. Whether you’re a natural redhead, dyed redhead or just a fan of that striking, fiery hue, there’s no denying that it’s one colour that sets you apart from the crowd.

From auburn and copper to strawberry blonde, rich reds and bright orangey shades, red hair is one of the most versatile and universally flattering hair colours. Yep, it’s true. This hair colour actually looks good on *everyone*.

However, having beautiful ginger hair doesn’t come without some drawbacks – sunburn and freckles, for starters. It’s a hair colour that comes with its own rule book. Your red-hair genes can impact your daily life, so it pays to be well-informed!

We’ve got all your questions about red hair, answered. Plus, we’ve uncovered the redhead facts that may change the way you approach your beauty routine…

#1 / Where does red hair come from?
While many people think red hair originates from Ireland or Scotland, surprisingly its history begins in central Asia – with the very first instance of a redhead Asian estimated to be up to 100,000 years ago. Red hair can also occur in any ethnicity – you’ll even find African people with red hair.

#2 / Is red hair a mutation?
Interestingly, yes! Red hair is technically due to a mutation in a gene called the Melanocortin 1 Receptor, or MC1R. This is the same gene that causes freckles and pale skin (guess that explains why all three tend to go hand-in-hand!). 

#3 / Is red hair recessive?
The MC1R gene is recessive, so a person needs two copies of it in order to have red hair. That means both parents must be carriers of the gene to be able to have redhead offspring, and even then there is only a one in four chance that one of their children will have red hair. 

#4 / What is the percentage of redheads in the world?
Less than two per cent of the world’s population have red hair. To put this into perspective though, that’s still about 140 million people. Western Europe has a greater redhead population than any other part of the world, with Scotland boasting the highest percentage (13 per cent), followed by Ireland (10 per cent).

#5 / What are the odds of having red hair and blue eyes?
The odds of having red hair colour and blue eyes are even slimmer – the rarest eye colour for redheads to have is blue. Only 1.17 per cent of the world's population has red hair and blue eyes – that’s approximately 13 million people. 

#6 / Are there more women or male redheads?
A 2008 study* proved that lighter-coloured hair is actually more common in women than in men, with red hair being especially more frequent in females.  

#7 / Are redheads more sensitive to sun? 
In short, yes, they are. Cosmetic chemist and founder of hop & cotton Ee Ting Ng says, “This is because redheads have extremely fair skin, which is naturally very low in eumelanin. Eumelanin is the black/brown pigment that protects us against UV by preventing UV rays from penetrating our skin. Conversely, darker skin shades have more eumelanin, thus are more protected against the sun.”

#8 / Are redheads more likely to get skin cancer? 
“If they do not adequately protect themselves from the sun, redheads can be more prone to skin cancer,” says Ee Ting Ng. “Due to their lack of eumelanin, UV rays are able to penetrate their skin more easily, making them more susceptible to the damaging effects of UV. This includes damage to skin DNA, which can result in skin cancer.”

But it’s not all bad news! Ee Ting Ng says, “You can enjoy the sun provided you are applying enough sunscreen properly and also at regular intervals. Those with darker skin tones should not rely on their higher eumelanin levels to be protected from skin cancer – sun protection is essential for them, too.”

#9 / Can redheads get a tan?
It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely! Because you tend to have paler skin, you’re more sensitive to UV rays and more likely to burn in the sun, rather than get a tan. But there’s always fake tan (which is a much safer option, anyway)! 

#10 / Do all redheads have freckles?
Got red hair, got freckles, right? Actually, this isn’t true. Although red hair and freckles are caused by the same gene, not all redheads develop freckles.

#11 / Who are the most famous redhead celebrities?
Looking for your redhead celebrity doppelganger to inspire your daily ‘do? Or maybe you’re not a real redhead but want to get in on the season’s hottest hue. The good news is there is no shortage of beautiful redheads. Natural redheads like actresses Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Isla Fisher and redhead model Lily Cole are our among our top picks for beauty inspo. 

#12 / When is national redhead day?
Want some recognition for how rare you are? Then mark the official national ginger day – it’s November 5th, FYI - in your calendar. National Love Your Red Hair Day started back in 2011 in response to Facebook groups like “Kick A Ginger Day”.  National Love Your Red Hair Day encourages redheads to love their hair and embrace their unique qualities. Every year, thousands of redheads use the #LoveYourRedHairDay in Instagram captions, tweets and Facebook posts.

5 amazing insights about red hair 

Now we’ve answered all your red hair-related questions, allow us to hit you with some fascinating facts that every redhead should know.

#1 / Redheads produce higher levels of vitamin D 
While everyone produces their own vitamin D, redheads can actually produce higher levels of vitamin D to help make up for less sun exposure. Pretty nifty, huh? “Your sensitivity to UV is compensated by your higher efficiency at producing vitamin D compared to those with darker skin tones. This means that redheads can produce sufficient vitamin D to maintain healthy bones and overall immunity despite minimal sun exposure,” says Ee Ting.

#2 / Red hair is thicker than other hair colours 
According to celebrity hairstylist and Co-Creative Director of ELEVEN Australia, Joey Scandizzo, red hair is usually thicker and coarser than other hair colours. “Generally, people with red hair have less hairs on their head but the actual strands are thicker, which gives the illusion of more hair,” he says  “This combination of thicker strands with less density is actually a dream to style,” he adds. Lucky you!

#3 / It’s harder to dye red hair
De Lorenzo Educator Fiona Dessaix says colouring natural red hair can be more difficult than other natural colours. “The natural melanin contained in red hair is made up of red and yellow colour pigments - this is referred to as pheomelanin. The yellow pigment is the hardest to dissolve and remove from the hair, making lightening the hair or depositing colour more difficult.” 

Scandizzo adds, “It’s not hard to take red hair darker, but red hair holds onto its pigment more, making it a mission to lighten. A redhead wanting to be ash blonde is my worst nightmare! It’s a process and you’ll have to bleach it.” Similar to switching from brunette to blonde, dyeing red hair takes patience. Also, keep in mind that your hair may need additional TLC (read: a great hair mask) to compensate for damage caused during the bleaching process.

#4 / Red hair doesn’t go grey
Yep. This is a thing and it’s amazing. Because red hair keeps its natural pigment a lot longer than other shades, redheads DON’T go grey like other hair colours. How crazy is that?! “Instead, their red will fade and lose vibrancy over time,” says Scandizzo. “So, while a redhead might be super vibrant when they’re younger, it will fade to a more strawberry tone over time and eventually to white.”

#5 / Redheads should avoid heavy styling products
“Redheads should stay away from heavy waxes because they can make your hair seem darker, and they dull out dimension,” says Scandizzo. “Instead, go for products that get absorbed into your hair, such as ELEVEN Australia I Want Body Texture Spray, which adds guts and volume for a show-stopping head of red hair.” We also recommend trying De Lorenzo Allevi8 Shine Serum.

Loving these ginger facts? Check out our article on why red hair suits everyone.

Who is your favourite celebrity with red hair? Let us know in the comment section below.

*Shekar, S. N., Duffy, D. L., Frudakis, T., Montgomery, G. W., James, M. R., Sturm, R. A., & Martin, N. G. (2008). Spectrophotometric Methods for Quantifying Pigmentation in Human Hair-Influence of MC1R Genotype and Environment. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 84, 719-726.

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.