Where Does Red Hair Come From? The Curious Case Of The Color Red Solved!

Height, Age, Net Worth, Biography & More

Oluwatosin Michael
Oct 12, 2023 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Oct 26, 2021
Red-haired child in a yellow T-shirt on a blue background.

Red hair in modern humans is attributed to the MC1R gene; this is in fact, a recessive gene, found commonly in people across northern and western Europe.

People are dyeing their hair every color of the rainbow these days, abandoning their natural hair color. However, because roots always grow back out, there is no way to avoid revealing your natural hair color.

While it's becoming increasingly more difficult to identify what someone's original hair color is, hair color is generally divided into four categories: black, brown, blonde (blond), and red. There are many shades of each of these primary hair hues, making data on hair color distribution in the worldwide population, difficult to come by.

Black hair is the most common, while red hair is least frequent. Brown and blonde hair are somewhere in the middle. The amount of a pigment called, melanin, in hair, determines its color. Pheomelanin is the predominant pigment in red hair.

Another pigment called, eumelanin, a form of melanin, causes hair to be black. Similarly, in brown hair, only a moderate amount of eumelanin is found. This leaves blonde hair and light skin, which have very little eumelanin.

Did you know that 75-85% of the world has black or brown hair? Geographically, black and brown hair is most commonly found in Africa, Asia, eastern Europe, Latin America, southern Europe, and the Americas.

As humans grow older, they continue to generate eumelanin, the pigment responsible for black hair and dark skin, but they cease generating other kinds of melanin, which results in gray hair.

Only 3% of the world’s population have blonde hair. Blonde is most commonly found in populations of northern and western European descent and among some central Asians. Melanesians of New Guinea are also known to have a high percentage of blonde hair. However, the gene that is responsible for causing blonde hair in Melanesians, differs from that of Caucasians.

Only about 1-2% of the world's population has true ‘red hair'. This ginger colored hair is most prevalent in Europe's northern and western outskirts, particularly in the British Isles, primarily Ireland and Scotland; it is also found in lesser quantities, in eastern and southern Europe.

Natural red hair is the rarest hair color on the planet, only occurring in about 1-2% of the population. Because red hair is a recessive genetic characteristic, both parents must carry this gene, regardless if they are redheads themselves. As a result, there are more persons with ginger (red) colored hair, than those who possess the red-headed gene.

While red haired people may be found all over the world (including Africa and central Asia), they are most common in Europe's northern and western regions, particularly Ireland and Scotland. Among redheads, people tend to have fair skin that is significantly lighter than the complexion of non-redheads, regardless of their ethnicity.

Because the genetic mutation that creates red hair also impairs pain perception, redheads are more sensitive to pain and require more anesthesia than those with other hair colors. This can be explained by a genetic variation.

A genetic variation causes the body's skin cells and hair cells to generate more of one kind of melanin and less of another, resulting in red hair. The melanocortin one receptor gene, is mutated in the majority of redheads (MC1R).

Freckles are also a result of this genetic mutation. Both red hair, and freckles are considered recessive genes.

Where does the red hair gene come from?

Did you know that if both parents of a child are carriers of the recessive gene, MC1R, there is a high probability of a child being born with red hair? The 'ginger gene', or 'V6OL allele', is thought to have appeared about 50,000 years ago, when humans fled from Africa to cooler regions.

As a result of less exposure to vitamin D from the sun, human skin became lighter. Fully red hair is found in roughly 10% of Irish people.

Although, there are 20 million people with the recessive gene that causes red hair in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This new study indicates that it is still a dominant recessive gene among southern Europeans today.

The hair color of someone with ginger hair can range anywhere from a deep burgundy or a brilliant copper, to a dark auburn, a burnt orange ginger, a red-orange, and even a beautiful strawberry blonde color. The color spectrum of red hair is based on a range of genetics.

Red hair is often linked with pale skin, lighter eye color, freckles, and a susceptibility to UV light. All of which occur as a result of high levels of the pigment, pheomelanin, and comparatively, low levels of the pigment, eumelanin.

With many prevalent preconceptions about ginger haired people, cultural attitudes towards red hair have ranged from derision to adoration. Historically, since at least 1510, the word 'red head' has been used and some research shows that red hair is found most frequently in distinct European nations.

Red hair is also notably linked with Celtic nations and encompasses the genetics of inhabitants of the British Isles.

What colored eyes do red haired people have?

Only 1-2% of the human population has red hair. Typically the eye color of most redhead people are brown, hazel, or green.

However, the rarest combination on the planet are blue eyes and red hair. Brown eyes are the most widespread combination of red hair and eye color. This is followed by hazel or green eye color variations.

Because red hair and blue eye color are both recessive genes, both parents must possess the gene for a child to have it. Having both red hair and blue eyes, in a genetic sense, is extremely rare.

Several Greek writers portray redheaded individuals in their tales. In a passage by Greek poet, Xenophanes, the Thracians are described as red-haired and blue-eyed.

As per other Greek texts, even Samaritans and Budini were also known to be red-haired and blue-eyed. Tocharians, who historically, occupied the Tarim basin are also recognized as having red hair. Red hair has historically been considered as an indication of ancestry from high-ranking ancestors, and a signal of rulership in Polynesian society.

Do Swedes have red hair?

Vikings is the contemporary term for a group of maritime people predominantly from Scandinavia (modern-day Denmark, Norway, and Sweden). Ancient Vikings raided, plundered, traded and settled throughout Europe between the late eighth to late 11th centuries.

The Vikings also visited Constantinople, Iran, and Arabia. During their heyday, the Vikings had a tremendous impact on ancient social and cultural circumstances.

Many aspects of life in northern Europe are credited to them. For instance, it is commonly assumed that the Vikings are responsible for the existence, and in certain cases, preponderance, of red-haired individuals in places where they ruled.

The MC1R mutation, is thought to have been carried to the European continent by Vikings from Norway into northern Europe. Scotland and Ireland have the largest proportion of red hair, and the coastal territories where Vikings occupied, continue to have the highest redhead population.

The problem is that the MC1R mutation did not begin in Norway.

'Red: A History Of The Redhead', by Jacky Colliss Harvey, traces it back to central Asian steppes 3,000-4,000 years ago. When the early redheads migrated north, their pale skin produced more vitamin D as an effect of limited sunshine, giving them a genetic edge.

What is the rarest type of red hair?

Natural auburn and red hair are popular hair colors these days. But, natural red hair prevails as the world's rarest hair color. Auburn hair is only found in 1-2% of the population. Red hair in humans exists exceptionally rarely considering the world’s population.

Because most redheads, also have a lighter skin pigmentation, it prevents rickets in colder areas by stimulating more vitamin D synthesis. However, because this does not occur in northern Europe, redheads may grow more frequently as a result of genetic drift.

Is red hair from Scotland, or Ireland?

Redheads did not originate in Scandinavia, Scotland, or Ireland, as many people believe, but rather in central Asia. Their coloration is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene, which results in pale skin, freckles, and red hair, due to pheomelanin, instead of the sun-protective, skin-darkening, eumelanin.

Although Scotland and Ireland have the largest populations of redheads by proportion, in general, redheads would have all primarily originated from northern Europe (including but not limited to Scotland & Ireland).

The melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), which is located on chromosome 16, discovered in 1997, appears to be linked directly to the genetics of red hair.

Low quantities of eumelanin throughout the body of people with red hair produced by the MC1R mutation can cause both, pale skin and red hair. Because of the reduced melanin content in the skin, adequate amounts of essential vitamin D can be generated even under low-light settings.

When UV light is intense (as it is at the equator), the reduced concentration of melanin has numerous medical consequences, including an increased risk of skin cancer.

Was anyone in the Bible red haired?

At least two redheads are mentioned in the Bible, and they couldn't have been more different.

Esau, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, is the first person in Scripture who had red hair. Redheaded Esau gave up his birthright in exchange for a dish of stew.

Esau had an impetuous, reckless disposition, when he subsequently tried to slay his deceitful brother, despite his red hair (which of course, had nothing to do with it). However, as he grew older, he appeared to forgive his brother in an attempt to live in peace.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for where does red hair come from? The curious case of red hair solved, then why not take a look at what are truffle mushrooms?

And where do truffles come from? Or where do tomato horn worms come from? And how to get rid of tomato horn worms.

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

Oluwatosin Michael picture

Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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