Red hair is one of the most alluring, fascinating features in human biology – it’s the reason for a million dye jobs and touch-ups. Red hair is a genetic trait that has always been shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
While it’s often associated with a fiery personality or Celtic heritage, many people wonder whether it’s possible for someone to have naturally red hair.
Can someone be born with red hair?
Yes, about 1-2% of the world’s population naturally has red hair.
But how does this come about, and what causes this unique hair color?
In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind red hair and explore what makes it such a fascinating trait.
Can You Have Naturally Red Hair?
Yes, some people can be born with naturally red hair.
Red hair is a genetic trait that is caused by one or multiple mutations of the MC1R gene. When both parents carry this gene, there is a chance that their child will inherit red hair. Only 1-2% of the world’s population is estimated to have natural red hair, making it a relatively rare trait.
DNA determines human hair color based on two pigments: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is the pigment that causes brown and black hair color, and pheomelanin is the pigment that causes yellow and red coloring.
In short, when someone has a high level of pheomelanin, their hair will take on a red tint. However, most people have little pheomelanin and far more eumelanin. It causes their hair to take on a dark color rather than red or blonde.
Some people carry a genetic mutation that flips everything on its head. Those with the mutation in question produce very little eumelanin and a high amount of pheomelanin.
This results in vibrant, crimson-red hair – but can also produce hair that is more rust-colored depending on gene expression.
What Causes Hair to Be Naturally Red?
While geneticists have determined why hair appears red, it’s less clear why red hair happens.
For much of the history of hair science, researchers believed that the only factor separating redheads from the rest of the world was the MC1R gene.
For decades, scientists believed that this gene was the sole factor that caused the body to produce very little or no eumelanin and a high amount of pheomelanin.
In a way, this theory is intuitive. Red hair is a recessive trait, which means that a child can only manifest a trait if they receive the corresponding gene.
However, if a child receives a dominant gene from one of the parents, such as the gene for brown or black hair, then this overrides the recessive gene and produces the trait associated with the dominant gene.
Since MC1R is a recessive gene and the genes for pheomelanin are dominant, it would stand to reason that MC1R was the sole gene for red hair.
Recent research has revealed that the genetics of red hair is more complicated. While all redheads have two MC1R genes, not all people with two MC1R genes are redheads! Scientists determined that eight other genes help determine red hair.
Many of these genes work indirectly. In other words, they do not produce red hair per se, but determine whether the MC1R gene activates.
While scientists are not precisely sure about the contributing factors behind hair coloration, it’s clearly a matter of genetics and hormones.
Is red hair recessive to blonde?
Red hair is a recessive trait, while blonde hair is dominant. If a person inherits one gene for red hair and one gene for blonde hair, the blonde hair gene will be expressed. However, if both parents carry the recessive gene for red hair, their child may inherit red hair.
So even though it’s less common than blonde hair, naturally red hair is definitely possible!
Frequently Asked Questions
Below, you can find frequently asked questions about red hair.
Yes, a Black person – or a person of any ethnicity – can have natural red hair. This crimson coloration may result from the MC1R gene or conditions like albinism.
Recessive genetic traits are not inherently rare, but red hair does happen to be quite uncommon. Only around one to two percent of the world population sports red-colored follicles.
All human hair loses its pigmentation over time, but red hair is a special case. Rather than fading to a grayish color, which happens when the body slows down its eumelanin production, redheads simply produce red hair in duller and duller colors. Eventually, this hair turns white.
So, Can Someone Be Born With Red Hair?
In short, yes. People can be born with naturally red hair.
Although most red hair people we see got that red via dyeing, many people are born with red hair. They acquire their scarlet locks when they inherit the genes associated with red hair, which include the MC1R gene and a handful of others.