The Emerald Isle: Ruby Hair–trivia, facts, Q&A

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By Leslie Lindsay

Ever since they were born, I got looks and questions.  “Where did she get her red hair?!” they would muse.  I would shrug and say something like, “It runs in the family.”  (But there were parts of me that wondered if that was indeed true).  Yet there were other times I wanted to say, “Why are you asking such a nosey question?!”  Of course, in the big scheme of things, I was probably just intended to be polite conversation.  Yes, my two girls have red hair.  They have had it since they were born (nope, I didn’t dye it–as one meddlesome woman wondered).

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Rewind about 25-30 years.  I received a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas.  At the time, I was completely disappointed that I had gotten one with red hair.  I viewed red hair as less desirable, unattractive even.  A carrot top.  I didn’t want any doll of mine to have red hair.  I was equally surprised when my own real-life “dolls” popped out sporting a tuft a red hair.  Where on earth did that come from?  Maybe it was my ill-fated comments and thought about Amy Margaret, the Cabbage Patch Doll coming back to haunt me?

But in reality, I love that my girls have red hair.  It’s different, it’s unique.  It’s beautiful.  And they wear it will; it suits them, if you will.

About a year ago, I received a book from my in-laws about redheads.  (They had read about this book in the St. Louis Post Dispatch).  I just have to share some trivia from the book.  Appropriately titled, “Little Redheads Across America,” by Nicole Giladi this book goes on a journey through the U.S. state-by-state documenting and photographing children with ginger-hued hair.  Here are some tid-bits from the book:

  • Red hair is the rarest hair color in humans
  • Only 2%-6% of the world’s population has red hair (14% live in Scotland, 10% live in Ireland, and 10$ in Wales)
  • Famous Folks with red hair:  Axl Rose, Conan O’Brien, Carol Burnett, Danny Bonaduce, Bette Midler, Marilyn Monroe, Vincent Van Gogh, Christopher Columbus, Alexander the Great, King Henry VIII, and Sarah Ferguson, J.K. Rowling, William Shakespeare, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
  • Redheads have been the inspiration for many artists.  In Renaissance Era paintings, red-haired subjects were more common than blonde, brunette, or black-haired models.

Questions about red hair:

Q: Where did I get my red hair? 

A:  Red hair is a recessive trait.  That means, both your mom and dad carried the red hair gene and passed it down to you (the kids).  Your parents may or may not have red hair for you to have it.  Your grandparents are also responsible for this gene…and some say red hair skips a generation.  (True in our family).

Q:  Where does red hair come from?

A:  Nobody really knows for sure why or how red hair evolved.  There are several theories–unproven–which originated in various European historical tales.  Some believe the red hair gene is carried from the Picts, the original inhabitants of Scotland and Ireland in the first century AD.  It is said the first encounter the Romans had with the redheaded Picts was when the Romans cam to Scotland and fought in a war with what they call “an army of tall read haired men who fought bravely with long swords and round shields.”  Scientifically, researchers have uncovered the genetic code that results in the production of red hair; however the answers as to why and how red hair still remains a mystery.

Q:  How Can I Track down the red hair in my family?

A:  Well, someone in your family may have been born with red hair, but as they got older, it may have turned to more of a brown or blonde.  Redheads also tend to go white faster and more “pure” than those with other shades.  You may want to talk with some more “distinguished” members of your family about their hair color when they were say…younger/your age.  Check, too for red hairs in beards or mustaches of some of the men in your family.  Red hair is so cool in that someone can have a red beard, but brown hair!

Q:  Why, then am I the only redhead in my family?

A:  In some families, it’s because you are the only one currently living with red hair.  Your siblings must have inherited their hair color from some other gene; they may have brown or blonde hair.  But the cool thing is that they may end up being a gene carrier for red hair and your nieces or nephews may have red hair someday!

Q:  Wait a minute!  My sister and I both have red hair…is that a coincidence?

A:  Yes and no.  Your sister may have red hair, but is it the same shade as yours?  See how many different shades of red there are…strawberry blonde…orange-red…auburn…firey red…copper red.  Even twins can have a different shade of red hair!

Q:  I have heard that redheads have the least amount of hair.  Is that true?

A:  Another trick question!  Adults typically have 120,000 hairs on their head.  Redheads have fewer.  Blondes have more.  Brunettes have the most.  Redheads have the least amount of hair, but of all of the hair colors, it’s the thickest! 

Q:  Will redheads become extinct?

A:  Some news organizations reported that redhair would become extinct by the year 2060.  Turns out they are wrong.  Redheads are hair here to stay!  Even if all redheads stopped having babies (unlikely), the redhair gene will still live on in those folks who carry the gene.

Q:  Do redheads have the same color eyebrows and eyelashes? 

A:  Yep.  A true redhead, typically has the same shade of red on both eyelashes and eye brows.

Q:  What’s the deal with my skin?  It’s so fair!!

A:  Well, that’s because redheads have less melanin than their other-colored counterparts.  Which means, you can get sunburned more easily.  Protect it with a high SPF sunscreen.  If you get freckles, it’s because you have a genetic predisposition to them.  You get them from sun exposure.  They may fade in the winter.  Freckles are unique, too like snowflakes.   Some folks even refer to them as “angel kisses.”

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