Fiery Facts About Redheads

If you’re a natural-born redhead, you’ve probably put up with a fair share of harassment. You’ve been called carrot top countless times, you're constantly defending your freckly complexion — and if someone asks you if “the carpet matches the drapes” one more time, you’ll scream.

And now this: The world’s largest sperm bank, Cryos International, has announced that it no longer accepts donations from red-haired men — there’s simply more supply than demand, according to agency director Ole Schou. Ouch!

So we can’t help but wonder: What’s with all the ragging on redheads? Perhaps we pick on Pippi Longstockings because of the minority factor (redheads only make up about 2 to 6 percent of the U.S. population). So in honor of all the tormented Lucile Balls and Conan O’Briens out there, we’ve combed through the latest research to find out what your red locks means for your health and happiness — and some of it makes us, well, green with envy.

Melanoma Risk for Redheads

An analysis of both mice and cells led scientists to identify that those with red hair lack another gene, PTEN, that usually goes hand-in-hand with MC1R and is known to suppress tumors. According to Dr. Wei, UV exposure can further break down the PTEN gene. Additionally, the mutated MC1R gene interacts with another mutated gene, BRAF, that is more widely known to promote cancer development.

Redheads Have More Sex

Next time someone calls you Little Orphan Annie, you can fire back with this no-fail comeback: “At least I’m having more sex than you.” According to recent research, redheads get it on more often than their blonde and brunette peers. The study, which was conducted by researcher Werner Habermehl, PhD, from the Hamburg Research Institute in Germany, looked at the sex lives and hair color of hundreds of German women. “The sex lives of women with red hair were clearly more active than those with other hair color,” Dr. Habermehl said in a press release. “The research shows that the fiery redhead certainly lives up to her reputation.”

Why are redheads having all the fun? There could be a number of explanations, cognitive scientist and personality psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, wrote on Red hair is attention-grabbing, rare (we want what we can’t have), and an “indicator of youth and fertility” (it’s the anti-gray). Color psychologists also say that red provokes and arouses people more than any other color. Perhaps redheads just know how to get our blood boiling.

Red Hair May Be Good for Your Bones

Redheads may curse the pale complexion that often accompanies their cherry tresses, but scientists have found that fair skin has an important anti-disease property. It soaks up more vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Some researchers believe it may also boost immunity and help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Throughout history, the “ginger gene” likely protected many redheads against rickets, a disorder that softens and weakens bones due to vitamin D deficiency, according to Professor Jonathon Rees of the University of Edinburgh. “Vitamin D may have played a big role here,” he said at a seminar on hair color in London. “There's also good data that we need vitamin D to fight against infections like tuberculosis. This sort of thing could have a very big evolutionary impact.”

Redheads May Be at Higher Risk for Skin Cancer and Parkinson's

Redheads’ pale complexion may also mean sunburns, which increases the risk of skin cancer. Researchers at Duke University compared the reaction of melanin (the skin pigment that darkens in the sun) to UV light exposure in both redheads and people with darker hair, and they found that it took less energy to create potentially cancer-causing free radicals in people with red locks (meaning a higher cancer risk).

Redheads may also be more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease. According to a Harvard study, people with red hair have a nearly 90 percent higher risk for the neurological disorder, which causes progressive difficulties with balance and coordination. Scientists aren’t completely sure why there’s a connection, but they believe it may have to do with a mutation in a red hair-related gene that also spells a higher risk for Parkinson’s.

Redheads Are Not Going Extinct

Despite a long-running rumor that redheads deserve a spot on the endangered species list, gingers are here to stay. While only 4 percent of the world’s population carries the recessive redhead gene, according to the Oxford Hair Foundation, that number will probably only decrease as redheads reproduce with non-redheads. So over time, red hair may become more rare, but “they’ll be here forever,” Barry Star, PhD, a genetics professor at Stanford University, told The Boston Globe. That’s because 4 percent of the population is still a pretty huge number — too large to be wiped out completely anytime soon. So rest easy, redheads — you and your crimson manes, active sex lives, and bad teeth aren’t going anywhere.

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