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Redheads: The Genetics of Hair Color

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My husband and son carry MC1R polymorphisms and display the red hair phenotype.

My husband and son carry MC1R polymorphisms and display the red hair phenotype.

Genetics of Red Hair

What do Napoleon Bonaparte, Oliver Cromwell, and Thomas Jefferson have in common? Besides the obvious similarity as heads-of-state, all three had red hair.

Hair color ranges from platinum blond to ebony due to levels of pigments produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. Those with dark hair have cells that produce a pigment called eumelanin, and those with blond or red hair have cells that produce pheomelanin. The relative ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin determines a person’s hair color. A complete absence of both pigments leads to white hair color.

The gene responsible for determining hair color is called the Melanocortin 1 Receptor, or MC1R. If the MC1R gene is active, it produces eumelanin, and a person will have darker skin and hair. If the MC1R gene does not function (i.e., it is blocked or inactivated), the melanocytes will produce pheomelanin instead of eumelanin. A person with a malfunctioning MC1R gene will have blond or red hair, due to the lack of eumelanin, along with freckles. MC1R gene mutations are seen in all ethnicities.

MC1R Gene Location

The MC1R gene is located on the long arm of chromosome 16. Its official location is 16q24.3 and is 3,098 base pairs in length. Depending on the specific mutation (known as a polymorphism in the language of genetics), hair color will range from strawberry blond to auburn. The MC1R gene encodes a protein made up of 317 amino acids. Over 35 sites on the gene have been identified with polymorphisms, and only a small number of these mutations cause red hair shades.

Red Hair Mutations and Hair Color



red hair, increased melanoma risk


red hair, pale skin, increased melanoma risk


red hair, pale skin, increased melanoma risk


red hair, pale skin, increased melanoma risk


red hair, increased melanoma risk


Weak red hair gene, increased melanoma risk


Weak red hair gene, increased melanoma risk


Weak red hair gene, increased melanoma risk

How Likely Am I to Have a Child With Red Hair?

Red hair is recessive, which means a person may have brown hair and carry the “red gene” without expressing the hair color. A person must have two copies of the recessive gene to express the trait. The chances of having a child with red hair depend on the genes of the parents. For simplicity’s sake, the various polymorphisms in the MC1R gene will be called the “red hair gene.” The red hair gene will be labeled as a lowercase r in the charts below, and brown hair will be labeled with an upper case R.

At-Home Test for Red Hair Genes

Case 1: Parents With Brown Hair

In the first scenario, two parents have brown hair and do not carry any polymorphisms on the MC1R gene. In other words, neither of the parents is a carrier of the red hair gene. None of their children will have red hair unless a new mutation arises spontaneously. These parents have almost no chance of having a child with red hair unless a de novo mutation were to arise.

Punnett square

Punnett square

Case 2: Brown-Haired Carriers

In the second scenario, both parents have brown hair, but carry a red-hair causing gene. These parents are both called “carriers” of the gene. In this case, the parents will have a 25% chance of having a child with brown hair who does not carry the red gene. They have a 50% chance of having a child with brown hair who carries the red gene. There is a 25% chance that the parents will have a child with red hair.

Another example

Another example

Case 3: Parents With Brown and Red Hair

A third possibility involves a parent with red hair and a parent with brown hair. The parent with brown hair, in this case, is not a carrier of the red gene. Each of the children will have one allele for the red hair gene and will be carriers of the gene. None of the children, however, will display the physical trait of having red hair.


Case 4: Parents With Brown Hair (Carrier) and Red Hair

In a fourth scenario, one parent has red hair, and the other has brown hair but is a carrier of the red gene. There is a 50% chance that the children will have red hair and a 50% chance that the children will be brown-haired carriers of the red gene.

This is the scenario in my own family: I have brown hair and probably do not carry red-causing MC1R polymorphisms. My husband, however, has the classic red hair phenotype. One of my sons is blond, and the other has strawberry blond hair.


Case 5: Parents With Red Hair

The last case includes two parents with red hair: in this situation, all of the children would have the same phenotype as the parents. The children will all have red hair since neither parent has the dominant "brown hair" MC1R genotype. In some cases, different polymorphisms (alleles) may be inherited from each parent. This scenario is common in locations where red hair is a common occurrence: primarily in Scotland and Ireland.


Genetic Mutation MC1R: Beyond Hair Color

The MC1R gene is expressed in many cells and is responsible for more than hair color. MC1R plays a role in the inflammatory response, pain sensitivity, and the immune system. The far-reaching effects of the MC1R gene are listed below:

Cancer Risk

Redheads have an increased risk for melanoma, as the melanocytes in people with red hair do not produce the protective eumelanin pigment. Unfortunately, the risk of cancer is increased even when there is no exposure to sunlight, so those with red hair should have regular check-ups with a dermatologist to monitor any skin changes. It is important to note that people who have dark skin and MC1R mutations are also at risk for skin cancer.

Increased Pain Sensation

People who have red hair are more sensitive to pain caused by burns and freezing than people with brown hair. Studies performed by Edwin B. Liem at the National Institutes of Health demonstrated an increased sensation of pain caused by thermal changes, and an increased need for anesthetic. Redheads required 19% more anesthetic than their brown-haired counterparts. Interestingly, those with red hair demonstrate a reduced sensitivity to stinging pain (the type of pain encountered when receiving an injection). The MC1R gene affects the binding of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.

A map showing the density of light-eyed people in Western Europe. Melanoma risk increases for those who produce less eumelanin.

A map showing the density of light-eyed people in Western Europe. Melanoma risk increases for those who produce less eumelanin.

Famous Redheads

  • Emily Dickinson, the American poet
  • Antonio Vivaldi, the Italian composer
  • Mark Twain, the American author
  • Malcolm X, civil rights activist
  • Cleopatra, Egyptian ruler
  • Vladimir Lenin, Russian revolutionary

Red Hair Stereotypes and Beliefs

The most common modern stereotype about redheads is that red hair comes with a fiery, feisty personality. Earlier in history, redheads faced more dangerous beliefs about their red hair. In ancient Egypt, redheads were burned alive as a sacrifice to the god Osiris. Their ashes were blown over agricultural fields by winnowing fans and used as fertilizer for the season’s crops. Early Egyptians regarded red hair as an unlucky trait.

In the middle ages, those with red hair could be labeled as witches or vampires. The Malleus Maleficarum (a report on witches in the Middle Ages) states, “Those whose hair is red, of a certain peculiar shade, are unmistakably vampires.”

Other Causes of Red Hair

Some people do not come by their red hair via the MC1R gene. One type of albinism (type 3, or rufous albinism) demonstrates a phenotype of red hair and ruddy skin. This form of albinism is most common in New Guinea and Africa.

Severe malnutrition can lead to a condition known as kwashiorkor – the deprivation of protein and calories from an individual’s diet will lead to failure to thrive, edema, excessive hair growth, and depigmentation, along with the development of red hair. The Biblical story of Esau is fascinating in this regard, because the Bible describes Esau as covered in red hair. As the story goes, Esau sold his birthright as the first-born son to his younger twin in exchange for a bowl of soup. While the story is intended to demonstrate the hazards of placing material desires over a spiritual blessing, one has to wonder if Esau was simply suffering from the effects of kwashiorkor.

Proopiomelanocortin deficiency (POMC) is a genetic disease resulting in obesity, adrenal insufficiency, and red hair. Children with this genetic disorder exhibit early-onset severe obesity and striking red hair due to the effects the POMC gene has on ACTH production and the influence this gene has on the phaeomelanin:eumelanin ratio in cells.

Redhead Nicknames

There are various nicknames used around the world for those who have red hair. Sometimes the nicknames are affectionate, but many of the nicknames are used as insults.

Ranga: An Australian nickname for people with red hair. The word is a shortened version of the word orangutan.

Ginger: A name used for redheads, most commonly used in the U.K. The cartoon series South Park satirized the persecution of redheads with a genocidal campaign against "ginger people."

Carrot Top: A nickname often used in the United States, comparing red hair to the color of carrots.

Koakage: The Japanese word for redheads - the word "akage" indicates the red hair and the prefix "ko" for something small or cute.

The Myth of Redhead Extinction

News reports reported on the imminent extinction of redheads in August 2007. Like many other myths circulating on the internet, the reports were incorrect. Based on the incorrect assumption that recessive genes will "die out" over time, the news reports stated that the gene for red hair would be gone by the year 2060. The reports supposedly came from the Oxford Hair Foundation, but no such scientific entity exists. The Oxford Hair Foundation manufactures beauty products and is not an academic facility. The claim that redheads are going extinct is completely false: recessive genes may become rare but will not disappear from the human genome. Red hair will exist well beyond the year 2060!

Questions & Answers

Question: I have strawberry blonde hair. Are the genetic characteristics of a redhead and a strawberry blonde the same?

Answer: The same gene is responsible for strawberry blonde hair and for red hair. The MC1R genetic mutations allow for the expression of pheomelanin, which causes the red color. Different alleles and other hair color genes will determine how dark this red color appears, so some people will appear to have strawberry blonde hair, some will have red-orange hair, and others may be auburn. There are over 30 variants on the MC1R gene known to result in red hair, and differing combinations of these alleles will result in different levels of expression.

Question: My mom said that I was born with fire engine red hair. Now it’s brown with red highlights in the sun. Am I still considered a redhead?

Answer: This is a common hair coloration pattern in red-heads. Many red-heads have both copies of a mutation in the MC1R gene and express little eumelanin (blond hair), allowing the red hair to be obvious. As some people age, the amount of eumelanin increases, causing the "blond" hair to become brown, which masks the redness of the hair. My husband is very similar - he had bright red hair as a child, but as he aged his hair darkened.

Question: My sister has natural red hair and my husband has blond hair with a red beard. His aunts have red hair. Is there a good possibility that our future children could have red hair?

Answer: It sounds like your husband has some mutations on the MC1R gene, though the probability of red hair as a phenotype in your children is dependent upon the genotype you both carry. If you do not have red hair or carry mutations on the MC1R gene, it is unlikely your children will have red hair. If you carry some mutations on the gene, then it is possible your children will have red hair if they inherit a combination of alleles from both of you to produce enough pheomelanin to create a reddish hue.

Question: Can a woman with blonde hair and a man with red hair have red-haired children?

Answer: Yes, this is possible if a woman with blonde hair carries mutations on the MC1R gene. The combination of her (carried) mutations and her husband's mutations may result in a child who has two copies of the same allele (or a compound heterozygote) that displays the red hair trait.

Question: Are redheads born with red hair?

Answer: In general, most people who have red hair would show the trait at birth. Some people have the genotype for red hair in addition to genes coding for dark hair (more eumelanin production). In this case, the red hair would be "masked" by the dark hair and the person would appear to have auburn or brown/black hair.

Question: My dad was a typical red head with ginger skin and freckles. My mom has dark brown hair but red hair does run on her side of the family, and her brother has red hair.Why do I have black hair and brown eyes, but ginger skin with so many freckles? I am 1 of 4 kids and none of us have red hair, but my sister's daughter does.

Answer: Genetics is a complicated issue! With black hair, you may very well be a redhead and not know it. Dark hair "masks" the ability to show red hair (true redheads are blondes with the mutations on the MC1R gene). Eye color is located on separate genes entirely and not connected to the presence or absence of the red hair gene. It is very likely that, at the least, you carry a mutation on the MC1R gene. Even with two mutations, the fact that you have dark hair may prevent the phenotype from being shown.

Question: I have brown hair with a lot of red highlights. Both of both my grandfathers were copper top redheads and I've noticed i need more anesthetic at the dentist's office. Do I have the MC1R gene?

Answer: You may or may not carry mutations on the MC1R gene. The only way to know for sure would be to have your gene sequenced. There are online, over the counter tests (such as 23 & Me) that will test for some of the most common variants on the MC1R gene. These OTC tests do not sequence the entire gene, however, so the results are not definitive.

Question: My daughter is 4 months and in some lights shows a tinge of orange/red to her hair. Does this mean it could change to red/orange (her hair is a honey color at the moment)? We have no ginger/red heads on either side of the family.

Answer: Your daughter likely carries at least one recessive allele on the MC1R gene, causing the reddish tinge you observe. Since she is only four months old, it remains to be seen what her final hair color will be. As with all recessive genes, traits can be carried through families for generations without being shown, particularly since both parents would need to carry the recessive genes to have a child with red hair. My own son had light red hair until he was about four years old, and now his hair color is light brown. We can see red highlights in the sun, but since his hair has darkened the red hue is not as obvious now.

Question: My kids were all born with dark hair but all also have dark red hairs on their head. Any idea why?

Answer: The gene that controls the presence or absence of red hair is separate from the gene that controls whether you will have black, brown, or blonde hair. It is likely your children have mutations on the gene that controls for red hair, but the presence of dark hair "masks" the physical ability to see the red hair. For the hair follicles that produce a slightly lighter shade of brown, you are able to see the red shine through.

Question: Everyone in my family is a redhead except for me. I don't tan, and I blister and burn in the sun. I color my hair red because it looks good. People have never seen me as a brunette, and think I am a natural redhead or blonde. Do I get dark hair from my grandmother, who is also dark-headed like me?

Answer: There are several genes that control hair color, so the unique combination of genes you obtained from your family lineage led to your dark hair. It is possible that you carry some alleles on the MC1R gene, since you come from a family with red hair, but your dark hair may be masking the red trait.

Question: A man and a woman are having a baby. If the man is blonde and the woman has fire engine red hair, what hair color will the baby have?

Answer: We can only speak to the probabilities of hair color since the phenotype displayed by the baby will depend on the genetics of the parents. If the mother is homozygous for the same allele on the MC1R gene causing her red hair and the father of the baby carries one copy of the same allele, there is a 25% chance the baby will have red hair. If the father does not carry any mutations on the MC1R gene, then the baby would have blond hair unless a spontaneous mutation occurs (rare). If the mother is a compound heterozygote for mutations on the gene and the father is also a heterozygote, then the chances depend on the penetration of each of the genes. This is a trickier situation for probability, as the loss-of-function genes and compound heterozygote status may lead to varying shades of red (or no red at all) in the offspring.

Question: I'm strawberry blonde with blue eyes, am I really a ginger? So many people call me a ginger, but as soon as I started calling myself that name, people disagreed. What am I if redhead doesn't define me?

Answer: The term "ginger" is often used to describe people with red or light red hair. The etymology of the word does come from the ginger plant. While the root is the most commonly used portion of the plant in the west, the plant has a brilliant red flower. In the late 18th century to the early 19th century, roosters with red combs and people with red hair were called "ginger." Since the degree of redness in your hair is a subjective determination, people might agree or disagree with whether you fit the description of someone with red hair.

The red ginger plant, however, was not common in Europe at the time the term originated, so it is also possible that the term initially referred to a sandy blonde or strawberry blonde individual (similar to the ginger root). We cannot be certain as to the origin of the term "ginger," and since hair color lies on a gradient, you should call yourself what you are most comfortable with. Some people may find the term offensive.

Question: I have Auburn hair. After taking a DNA test, I was given the result that my phenotype was blonde. Confused, I looked closer and found that I have one copy of red hair (my dad was a redhead) and a copy of blonde (presumably from my mother). How is it then possible that my phenotype and genotype are so different? How can I have red hair if I'm not a dual gene carrier?

Answer: The DNA tests currently offered for the consumer market only test for three alleles of the MC1R gene, and over 30 alleles are known to geneticists. Since the over-the-counter tests do not test for all known variants, the "DNA test" can only tell you that you didn't test positive for both variants of the three most common alleles. It is quite possible you have a variant to one of the other 27+ alleles currently known, but the family tree, ancestry, and heritage DNA kits do not test for all of these. In other words, they really can't tell you your genotype because they only test for a limited number of alleles.

Question: My hair is platinum blond, my boyfriend's hair is strawberry blond. What would our children's hair color be?

Answer: If your children only receive one copy of a mutation for the MC1R gene, they will likely have blond hair. You would both need to be carriers for a mutation on the MC1R gene for your children to have red hair. If you are a carrier and your boyfriend has red hair, your children would have an approximately 50% chance of having red hair.

Question: My husband and I were both born with blonde hair and our second born has red hair. How does that work when we would both have recessive blonde genes?

Answer: The genes that code for blonde or dark hair are completely separate from the gene that codes for the appearance of red hair. One set of genes codes for the amount of eumelanin produced (which determines if your hair is dark or light) and the MC1R gene codes for how much pheomelanin you produce (which determines if your hair is red or not). You can both carry one recessive allele for red hair on the MC1R gene, but not display the red hair trait since you only are a heterozygote. If your son inherits both copies on the red hair gene, he will display red hair.

Question: I don't know what kind of color hair I have. I know my hair is red, but it also has lots of other highlights. The highlights are all natural or done by the sun - is this normal?

Answer: Red hair comes in a variety of shades depending on the specific mutations you have, so highlights and varying shades are completely normal. The sun often bleaches hair, and may alter the perceived color.

Question: Could a black haired couple produce a red haired child?

Answer: It is theoretically possible for a black haired couple to have a child with red hair, though not likely as dark hair color is dominant and generally masks the appearance of red hair. In this case, the child often has auburn hair. If each parent with dark hair contributes recessive genes for blonde hair color in addition to genes on the MC1R gene, they could have a child with red hair.

Question: How can you tell if you're a carrier of the gene using "23 and Me"?

Answer: Genetic tests like "23 and Me" and "Ancestry" often offer to test for some physical genetic traits, like variances on the MC1R gene that can cause red hair. These tests are limited, however, as these commercially available tests typically the only test for three different alleles on the gene. There are more than 30 known variances that can cause red hair, so testing for the three most common variants may show a "negative" for having red hair, even in a person that physically has red hair! In short, these tests may be able to show you if you are a carrier of the most common alleles on the gene that causes red hair, but they do not test for all possible genetic variants.

Question: My red hair turned brown in my 40's. While my hair turned brown, there are maybe 5% of the strands that are still totally copper and even a few in the front that looks gold. Now in my 60's, I have found a few gray in the mix as well. Is that odd to have so many different genes turning off or on independently? Why is this happening?

Answer: Many red-heads find that their hair darkens over time. The amount of "red" in the hair doesn't actually change from a genetic standpoint, as the pheomelanin is still produced. What happens in this situation is that the number of eumelanin increases in production over time, which causes hair to look darker and "masks" the red hair. This increase occurs in each hair follicle on an individual basis, which explains why some hairs remain red. As you continue to age, the production of both pigments will decline, leaving you with gray (and eventually white) hair. As with the increase in eumelanin production, the decrease in pigment occurs on a follicle-by-follicle basis so that some hair strands will turn gray earlier than other hair strands. About the increase in eumelanin (turning your hair brown), this is a common situation observed in people of all backgrounds. It is the most obvious in people who started with very light hair, as the darkening of the hair with age is very apparent.

The biochemical basis for this is due to the expression of two compounds: pyrrole-2,3,5-tricarboxylic acid (PTCA) and pyrrole-2,3-dicarboxylic acid (PDCA). The ratio of these two chemicals are altered as you age, and the melanocytes (pigment producing cells) in the hair follicles produce more eumelanin. An increase in the PDCA/PTCA ratio darkens hair as there is a decrease in the dopachrome tautomerase gene expression, which is completely unrelated to the MC1R gene that causes red hair.

Question: Does red hair signify a percentage of Neanderthal ancestry at all?

Answer: None of the alleles for red hair on the MC1R gene found in modern humans have been identified in fully sequenced genomes from Neanderthals. While approximately 2% of the Neanderthal genome is represented in modern humans outside of Africa, the changes on the gene causing red hair are not among them. For more reading on this issue, there is an excellent article in the American Journal of Human Genetics: Dannemann, M. & Kelso, J. (2017). The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Humans. Volume 101, pp. 578-589.

Question: My mum has red hair and so do both of my grandparents. I don’t have red hair. My partner has bright blonde hair and so does everyone in his family (they have no red hair at all). What are the chances my baby will have red hair?

Answer: We can only guess at the chances your child would have red hair, as we don't know your genotype (whether you carry any recessive alleles on the MC1R gene) or your husband's genotype. If you and your partner both carry recessive alleles for red hair, then there is a chance you could have a child with red hair. If you carry the recessive gene and your partner does not, it is very unlikely you will have a child with red hair. If neither of you carry any recessive alleles for red hair, then it would be extremely unlikely to have a child with red hair.

Question: My husband and I are both natural redheads and we have two children. Our first was born with light red hair similar to mine, but our second child was born with blonde hair. We assumed it would change to red as he got older, but he is three now and it looks to be turning a darker blonde without any hint of red. He is very fair skinned. Everything I have read says that our children have a 100% chance of having red hair. Is that false or do you think his hair will still turn red?

Answer: It is very unlikely that his hair will turn red. People with red hair generally display the phenotype at birth (it is more likely for a redhead to go from having red hair at birth to a darker hair color as they age because you naturally produce more eumelanin as you mature). Most people are familiar with simple Mendelian genetics, which states that two parents carrying a recessive gene have a 100% chance of passing both copies onto their progeny. In reality, genetics is a lot more complicated than this simplified model. There are over 30 different alleles (gene variants) known to cause red hair. It is likely that you and your husband carry different alleles for the gene. In this case, while you are likely to have children with reddish hair, it is by no means a guarantee (as you have observed). His hair will likely remain dark blonde and may even become brown as he ages.

Question: I have always had bright red hair, but recently found out through genetic testing that I only carry 1 allele for 1 variant making me heterozygous only for R142H. Is it possible to have true red hair and only be heterozygous for one variant?

Answer: Since you have red hair, then it appears it is possible for you to display the phenotype while having only one allele for R142H. In a study on the hair color of those carrying one or two copies of several different alleles for melanocortin one receptors, red hair was observed in some heterozygous people. In this particular study, conducted in the year 2000, 13% of those studied had pure red hair and were heterozygous for one variant (Flanagan, Niamh & Healy, Eugene & Ray, Amanda & Phillips, Sion & Todd, Carole & J. Jackson, Ian & Birch-Machin, Mark & Rees, Jonathan. (2000). Pleiotropic effects of the melanocortin one receptor (MC1R) gene on human pigmentation. Human molecular genetics. 9. 2531-7). The link to the full study may be found here:

Question: My cousin has parents with dark black hair, but she has red hair. How does this happen?

Answer: It is likely your aunt and uncle both have the red-hair gene, which is masked by the phenotype of having dark hair. Dark hair is dominant, but your aunt and uncle are likely heterozygous for dark hair (with one dominant "dark hair" gene and one recessive "light hair" gene). If your cousin received both recessive genes for light hair, then it would be possible for the effects of the red-hair gene to be visible.

Question: I am an African American with two full African American parents. Neither of them has red hair, but each has a redhead somewhere in their history. Would I be considered mutated, or were they both carriers? My kids have strands of red hair, as does my brother. We have the same mom, but a different dad. Would it come from my mom if it's being passed on?

Answer: It is highly likely that your parents both carried a mutation on the MC1R gene and passed it on to you. It is fascinating that your children also have red hair strands and your brother (who shares only one parent with you) have red hair, too. While it is impossible to guess at the exact genetics without having a full sequence of your MC1R gene, I wonder if you are a compound heterozygote, with one copy of several different alleles on the gene. It is also possible that both fathers carried a mutation on the MC1R gene.

Question: My fiery red hair has lightened greatly throughout my adolescence. So much so that most people consider me to be strawberry-blonde. How common is it for red hair to lighten? Or any hair color for that matter?

Answer: Your situation is very interesting! Most people have hair which darkens as they age, as the production of eumelanin often increases with age (until all melanin production ends, and hair turns gray). It is quite possible that your hair follicles are producing less pheomelanin as you age, causing the amount of red to diminish. Since your underlying hair color is blonde, as the amount of red pigment reduces, your hair will appear more "blonde" than "red" if the pheomelanin production is reducing over time.

Question: My mother and father have black hair and I am redhead. What hair color would my child have?

Answer: Your child would likely display the phenotype of the dark hair since dark hair is a dominant trait. It is possible that your child would have red highlights if your partner also carries a mutation on the MC1R gene, but the dark hair will likely mask the red phenotype, even if the mutation(s) are present.

Question: I have auburn hair; it was much more bright red as a child. My husband has bright red/orange hair. Will our children all have a variance of red hair--auburn, strawberry, red or orange? Is there any chance they won't have red hair?

Answer: There is always a small chance that your children won't have red hair if you each carry different alleles in different combinations on the MC1R gene and have a child who inherits only one copy of each allele. The probability, however, is that your child will have red hair - compound heterozygotes (those who inherit more than one heterozygous allele) often have auburn or strawberry blond hair - and some will have true red hair. Auburn is the most common hair color for those who are heterozygous for MC1R alleles. Further reading is available via a study performed in 2000: Flanagan, Niamh & Healy, Eugene & Ray, Amanda & Phillips, Sion & Todd, Carole & J. Jackson, Ian & Birch-Machin, Mark & Rees, Jonathan. (2000). Pleiotropic effects of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene on human pigmentation. Human molecular genetics. 9. 2531-7.

Question: I have looked over all the SNPs we currently associated with red hair and I'm only heterogeneous for rs1805007, but I had red hair as a teenager and now it's strawberry blonde. I'm presuming this is very rare as I'm only a carrier for R151C? Do you think the fact that the majority of my genes are for blonde hair predisposes me to red hair as blonde is recessive?

Answer: Do you have the rs1805007C -> T mutation? In this particular SNP, the heterozygous form typically does not render the MC1R gene ineffective. It would be very rare to demonstrate the red hair phenotype with only one copy of this mutation. You definitely have an interesting case if your entire MC1R gene has been sequenced and no other variants have been found.

Question: My daughter has had several bad experiences at the dentist because she could feel pain even though the dentist had numbed her. Could she have the MC1R mutation even though she is blonde? I have red hair, her father has dark hair, and our son has red hair.

Answer: It is quite possible she carries some mutations in the MC1R gene, even if she doesn't have both copies of the allele to give the red hair phenotype. My son had strawberry blond hair as a child (my husband is the redhead in our family), and he also has extreme sensitivity to pain. I was blond as a child and have brown hair now, but I also have difficulty getting numb. We see a pediatric dentist that uses nitrous oxide gas, which has been the only thing that really works for my kids.

Question: My daughter has strawberry blonde hair and turquoise eyes. Her husband is from Honduras and has black hair and brown eyes. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and my wife has brown hair and hazel eyes. Is there a chance my grandchild will have green eyes, hazel eyes or blue eyes? My daughter's sibling has blonde hair and hazel eyes.

Answer: There is a possibility your grandchild will have hazel eyes or blue eyes, though brown or hazel eyes are far more likely. There are at least 15 genes known to control eye color, so without knowing your son-in-law's genotype it is impossible to say if he carries any recessive genes for less pigment in the iris.

Question: I have strawberry blonde - red hair, and my partner has very dark brown hair though gets ginger dominantly throughout his beard. What are our odds of brown - red/strawberry?

Answer: The odds depend on the genotype you each carry. If you both have the double recessive mutations to express the red hair phenotype, then it is very likely that your children would have red hair. It is not guaranteed, as the alleles may not match up perfectly,and there are at least 30 alleles responsible for red hair on the MC1R gene. If you have red hair and your partner is merely a carrier of the mutation (but does not express it), the odds would be around 50%.

Question: I had blonde hair as a child, but brown hair as an adult (my grandfather has red hair). My husband's hair is black and his mother has red hair. Our child was born with brown hair, but at 4 months it’s starting to have a red tinge. Is it possible for our child's hair to go ginger?

Answer: It is very possible that your baby's hair will show a reddish tinge as her true hair begins to grow in. My son was born with dark hair, which fell out and grew in as a very strawberry/red color by the age of 1. Your daughter may be a carrier or have two copies of the required mutations on the MC1R gene, allowing the red to show through as her hair lightens.

Question: My husband is a redhead and I have brown hair. I am most likely a carrier of the redhead gene (lots of redheads on my dad's side). Do my husband and I have to carry the exact same mutation for our child to have a 50% chance of being a redhead? He has deep red hair with no freckles and my family's red hair is lighter and brighter with freckles. My husband is Jewish and I am Irish.

Answer: While carrying the exact same mutation on the MC1R gene makes having red hair more likely, it is possible to have a child with red hair when different alleles are affected. Compound heterozygotes are known to have red hair, so you could still have children with this phenotype even if you don't have the exact same mutations.

Question: My daughter (brown hair) and her husband (light brown/blonde) have four redheaded children in a row, what are the chances of that?

Answer: Your daughter and her husband likely carry recessive mutations on the MC1R gene (possibly on more than one allele) that have created a higher likelihood than the empirical 25% chance with the same mutated allele from each parent.

Question: I took a 23 and Me DNA rest and it said the likelihood of me being a redhead with my DNA structured was less than 6%? I am the only red head in my family so I am wondering what caused my hair color. I also have virtually no freckles.

Answer: Over the counter genetic tests similar to 23 & Me are not comprehensive genetic tests and only test for a small fraction of alleles on the MC1R gene. Specifically, the 23 & Me test evaluates for three alleles that may cause red hair when there are over thirty alleles known to cause red hair. Your answer is a relatively simple one: the 23 & Me test is not thorough enough and is not testing for several of the alleles causing your red hair.

Question: I have red hair but no red-headed children. I have a red-headed granddaughter! Did this come from me?

Answer: It is very likely that the mutations you have were passed down to your child, who carried the mutations but did not have a double copy to display the physical trait. In turn, your child passed on this copy to his or her own child, who received another copy from their other parent. In short, it is likely this trait was inherited from you.

Question: What would happen in a situation where 1 parent has red hair and one has blond hair? Would that pretty much be the same as 2 red-haired parents or would it just make a strawberry blonde more likely?

Answer: The answer to your question is dependent upon the actual genetic mutations found on the MC1R gene. If the blond-haired parent has no mutations on the MC1R gene, the child would only inherit any MC1R mutations from one parent. This would make the child a carrier, and more likely to be blond than have red hair. Genetics, however, is very complicated and if the blond parent is a carrier for mutations on the MC1R gene, then the child could obtain mutations from both parents and have red hair.

The only way to determine the exact probability of the child's hair color would be to know the parent's genotype.

Question: I purchased and tested myself with the 23 and Me over-the-counter test. I only have R151C gene T variant and the test says I don't have red hair. I was born with bright red hair and it’s a darker Auburn now. Why does the 23 and Me test say I don’t have the hair red hair gene?

Answer: Many of the over-the-counter tests (including Ancestry, 23 & Me, and Family Tree) will test for a few of the most common variants on the MC1R gene. The vast majority of these tests only include three of the most common variants. They do not test for all known variants and do not fully sequence the MC1R gene. These testing companies are attempting to infer a phenotype (what you look like) from a very limited data set. Since they do not test for all known variants, they are often wrong at determining whether someone has red hair.

Question: Does the MC1R gene originate from Ireland? if not, then where does it come from?

Answer: The MC1R gene did not originate from Ireland. Everyone has the MC1R gene, but some people carry mutations on the gene. There are more than 30 different mutations currently known to induce the red hair phenotype on this gene. Mutations in the gene are carried around the globe, but people who have dark hair cannot "show" the mutation as easily since the dark hair masks the redness in the hair. Those who have blonde hair and mutations on the MC1R gene will "show" the mutation (the phenotype) and have red hair. Many people in northern Europe have blonde hair, so those who carry the red hair genetic mutations show the phenotype better than those who have dark hair.

Question: I am a true brunette with brown eyes and my husband has light brown hair with hazel eyes. Our second daughter has red hair and brown eyes. How did she get the recessive red hair, but the dominant eye color?

Answer: The genes for eye color and hair color are not connected in any way. Since you have brown eyes and your husband has hazel eyes, the majority of your children are likely to have brown eyes. The recessive gene for red hair is completely independent of her eye color. You and your husband likely carry recessive genes on the MC1R gene for red hair, and she picked up two alleles allowing her to display the phenotype.

Question: When I was younger, I had dark brown hair, but very red highlights. The red was most noticeable when the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. My eyebrows are black. My mustache was auburn with deep red highlights. I had a few stray deep red hairs in my beard, but mostly it was black and dark brown with red highlights. My body hair is entirely dark brown with golden red hghlights. Is this pattern a form of being a redhead? Does it suggest the genetic mutation for red hair?

Answer: Mutations in the MC1R gene may occur with any hair color, and the red color may be harder to discern for people who have black or dark brown hair. It is quite likely you have the genetic mutation for red hair, which is harder to observe as the darker hair color masks the phenotype.

Question: How does a half Japanese child get flaming red hair? And how does a child whose mother believes herself to be 100% African and who is married to a white man have twins, one of whom has red hair? I can't see either of these women carrying a red gene.

Answer: You would not know if either of these women carried or had both copies of mutations on the MC1R gene, as they likely have dark hair. The presence of mutations on the red hair gene is entirely separate from the genes that control how dark or how light hair is. It is entirely possible for a person of Japanese or African descent to have a child with red hair, particularly if the child's hair color is lighter than the parent's. Lighter hair color allows for the mutations on the MC1R gene to be observed physically.

Question: My mother has black hair and my father has blonde hair. I am a redhead. What hair color would my child have?

Answer: It is impossible to determine what color hair your child would have without knowing the specific alleles you have on the MC1R gene, and what alleles your child's other parent would have on the same gene. If you married another redhead, it would be fairly likely that you would have children with red hair, though it's not a certainty.

Question: What would be the genotypes of parents that have both blonde and red-haired children? Rr or rr(blonde) and Rr or rr(red) - (not sure their phenotypes)? The children are obviously homogenous recessive, but is one more dominant in this case? Or is it incomplete or co-dominance? (I teach a 1st year Bio class and am constantly asked questions such as these).

Answer: If you are using simple Mendelian genetics to explain the genotypes, then the parents could have the following combinations to produce blond and red-haired children: Rr x Rr and Rr x rr. In the first case, the parents would both be blonde, but would carry a recessive gene for mutations on MC1R. In the second case, one parent would be blonde (but carry a recessive gene for redness) and the other parent would be a redhead.

In reality, there are over 30 different alleles known to produce red hair on MC1R, so the actual situation is a lot more complicated. In some cases, parents may be blonde and carry different alleles on each copy of the MC1R gene, with each parent contributing a different allele to the child. These may have an Rr phenotype, but may display red hair. Also, some genes cause loss-of-function, which affects MC1R differently than other genes.

An extremely good scientific journal article to present to your class is "MC1R variants, melanoma, and red hair color phenotype: a meta-analysis." - Int J Cancer. 2008 Jun 15;122(12):2753-60. doi: 10.1002/ijc.23396. This article explores the genetics in-depth and will give several examples of different genetic variants and the shade of hair produced.

Question: If two people have red hair, but each of their parents has other hair colors and only the red hair gene, is it possible that the children of the redheads will have hair color of varying shades? I guess to be more clear: One pair of parents have brown and red hair (strawberry blonde, really), have a red-headed kid; another pair of parents have black and red hair, have a red-haired kid. Will the children of the two redheaded kids be able to have black - blonde hair? Or can they only have red hair?

Answer: It is always possible for two red-headed parents to have a child that does not have red hair, particularly since there are at least 30 different alleles on the MC1R gene. If one parent has some alleles on the MC1R gene that do not match the alleles of the other parent with mutations on the MC1R gene, then the child could (theoretically) end up with blond or black hair without displaying the red hair phenotype. The child would still carry the genes for red hair, and if that child married another person who carried mutations on the MC1R gene, there would be a chance that their child could have red hair. The genes for black vs. blond hair are not related to the MC1R gene at all and are located on a separate gene. Also, most people with black hair are not able to display the red-hair phenotype as the red is not easily observed in those with very dark hair.

Question: Is it possible to tell which parent had red hair, or the recessive gene through my own DNA testing? Are any of the known mutations more dominant than others? Or do they have to match?

Answer: You can have an over-the-counter test performed for variants of the MC1R gene. Some tests (such as 23 and Me) offer testing that includes three alleles from the MC1R gene. Unfortunately, this is not a comprehensive test and does not test for all possible alleles, but does test for the most common ones. Matching mutations from both parents typically produce the reddest hair, but there are people who have one copy of multiple alleles (compound heterozygotes) who have red hair, too.

Question: My hair color is red and brown. What could be the cause of the dual coloration?

Answer: Mutations on the MC1R gene will cause a red coloration and are separate from the hair color genes that determine if your hair will be black, brown, or blonde. If you have blonde hair and two copies of a mutation on the MC1R gene, you will have very red hair. If you have brown hair and two copies of a mutation of the red-hair gene, then your hair will appear auburn or may show red streaks as you describe. Those with black hair and mutations on the gene may not have any visible red hair because of the black hair "masks" the color.

Question: I had strawberry blonde hair in my younger years. Slowly it has become more red auburn. My husband has light brown hair. Our 2-year-old has his hair exactly so far. Do you think our toddler's hair could turn red?

Answer: It is unlikely that his hair will "turn red." He would have expressed the red hair as an infant if he had the gene and fair hair, and you would have likely been able to see this. If his hair is darker, the "redness" is sometimes masked. Hair tends to darken with age rather than lighten, however, so he will be unlikely to show the red hair as he ages. Some people will demonstrate red secondary hair (for example, a beard) with brown hair on their heads.

Question: My hair was super coppery as a child. My Mom and Dad's family are both mostly Irish. His hair was dirty blonde, her's auburn. She has red-headed siblings, but he does not. In the summer my hair becomes extremely copper, especially in the sunlight. Am I considered a redhead even if the sun helps to an extent?

Answer: It is very likely you carry some mutations on the MC1R gene, even if you don't have both copies or show frank red hair. If your hair appears blond or brown most of the time, then you would likely be identified as having that color hair. Some people would say, "blond with red highlights," "strawberry blond," or "auburn" when describing this hair color.


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

What a cool coincidence, Mag! You are one of the few redheads to have the perfect initials!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

The probabilities are impossible to predict unless we know the genotype of both parents. If your cousin does not have a recessive gene and her boyfriend also lacks the recessive gene, the probabilities are very low for a child with red hair. If each one carries a recessive gene, then the probability could be around 25% (if they carry the exact same allele). Unfortunately, it is impossible to guess without knowing their genotypes.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

You have the alleles for red hair, Willy, and the dark hair on your head "masks" it so that it appears auburn. Your secondary hair is actually blond, which is allowing the red hair to be more visible. The gene for red hair is completely separate from the genes for blonde/brown hair.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

I love the variation in red hair color, Amanda! My husband was a "classic red-head," and my son was strawberry blonde. I love my red-heads!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

My husband is a red-head and I was blonde as a child - our boys were born with blonde and red hair as babies, but now both have light brown hair. Hair color is very interesting, isn't it, Marley?

Mag on June 23, 2020:

What's slightly freaky is that I have redhair and my initials are MCR. Sound familiar? Oh yeah, MC1R Genetic mutation. Yippee!

Torn on June 12, 2020:

So my cousin and his girlfriend have having a baby he is blonde and she is dark brown what is the percent of having a redhead baby

i am a redhead so there might be a recessive Gene coz both of my parent are both darked haired. So what is the percentage of my cousin having a redhead

Willy on June 09, 2020:

I have auburn hair, dark skin, brown/black body hair, blonde armhair and a ginger beard. Is this very uncommon and how is this possible?

Amanda on June 04, 2020:

I was born with red mixed with Orange hair.

marley on May 13, 2020:

i was born with brown hair my mother was born with blonde hair and my father to.........thanks Leah Lefter

Bill on April 21, 2020:


I was born with black hair and a month later it fell out and came back as blonde orange. Then it faded to light red, medium red and now it's medium auburn/dark copper blonde.

I think it's clear that I have the red hair gene (unless parents and gr.parents are darkbrown haired).

But what is my other gene? Is it black (because of I was born black-haired), blonde (because then it turned blonde/orange) or brown (because it's now medium auburn/dark copper blonde)

Peter Wood on April 17, 2020:

What colors make up strawberry blonde hair

Peter Wood on April 16, 2020:

Dear Leah I have reddish brown hair what colors make up reddish. Brown


Barry on March 11, 2020:


How is it possible that my hair is darkbrown in the dark, but if it's exposed to (sun)light it's turning dark red?

Ann on February 27, 2020:

Dear Leah,

I am a woman with fair blonde hair (got darker by age) with some freckles, blue eyes and a light to medium skin. I have a brother with brown hair and my parents are darkblonde and brown. My greatparents were blond and brown-haired and I don't have family (aunts, uncles and cousins) with red hair.

Is there a chance that I carry the MC1R gene, because of the few freckles I have? Or is there another reason that I have freckles?

My boyfriend has a blend of red and brown hair, but no family with red hair (most darkbrown and a blonde sister). Also a grandma from the carribeans). He has some freckles but has the ability to get a dark bronze skin (omg, so lovely with his freckles). He has a gingerish beard, but black body hair.

Based on above, is there an opportunity to have children with red hair (so lovely) or is there a bigger chance to have children with brown hair (because of 90% of both families have brown hair) or blonde hair (because I have blonde hair and his sister.

I am looking for your reaction!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 15, 2020:

Hello, Eric:

If you display actual red hair, you are likely more than a carrier. Most carriers will not display the red hair at all (though some might). You probably have two copies of the same allele, and the dark hair prevents you from seeing it for some strands of hair (while other, lighter strands of hair allow the redness to be observed).

Since the gene for brown and blonde hair is completely and entirely unrelated to the gene for red hair, you could pass on both the brown haired gene AND the red haired gene to your children. Your children, however, will likely only get one copy of the red hair gene and will not display red hair. If your girlfriend is a carrier of a mutation for the red hair gene, then it is possible for your children to inherit it.

If you are both carriers of mutations on MC1R, it will depend on the specific mutations to calculate percentages. If you both carry a mutation (one copy of a mutation on the same allele), your children would have a 25% chance of having red hair.

Genetics is more complicated than this in real life. If you have a loss-of-function mutation, you can display red hair with only one copy of the gene in some cases (so you can display red hair as a carrier). Some people are "compound heterozygotes" - which means they do not carry two copies of the same mutation, but carry single copies of several mutations. Some compound heterozygotes will also display red hair.

In short, the only way to truly calculate the chances of having children with red hair is to have the MC1R gene sequenced for you and for your girlfriend. Due to the cost (and lack of benefit), this is not routinely done.

EJK on January 15, 2020:

Dear Leah,

Thank you for answering! Very nice you took time to answer my question. I really appreciate that! In regarding to you answer, I've got a few little questions.

1. I have a dark blend of red and brown hair, so I am carrier of the MC1R gene, isn't it?

2. And if I am a carrier of MC1R gene, is it still possible that brown is my specific genotype that I will pass to my children?

3. So, my girlfriend hasn't red hair (she has fair blonde hair), but has some freckles, blue eyes and light to normal skin. Despite the fact she hasn't red hair and no family with red hair, how likely is it that she is also a carrier of the MC1R gene based on that description?

4. And if we are both carriers of the MC1R gene, can we only get children with red hair or what is more likely, based on my description?

I hope you will find some time to answer my questions. We are very curious and will love all kind of hair colors of our children!

With regards!


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 13, 2020:

You may have children with any of the hair colors you mentioned, depending on your specific genotype. Brown hair would be the most likely, as this hair color is dominant, but blond hair is also possible. The gene that controls whether hair is blonde or brown is different from the gene that controls whether you will have red hair or not. The gene specific to controlling the presence of red hair is the MC1R gene and your children would typically need two copies of the same mutation to demonstrate red hair. You can do some testing via kits available on the internet, but be aware that most of these kits test only for a few permutations of the MC1R gene and will not be 100% accurate.

EJK on January 10, 2020:

I have (brown/darkred) auburn (facial)hair, dark chesthair, blue eyes, some freckles and no problems with tanning. Parents have darkbrown hair and sisters are darkbrown and blonde. Grandparents were all darkbrown haired. I think I have a very uncommon combination.

My girlfriend is blonde, blue eyes, with some facefreckles and a light to normal skin (no problems with tan). Sibbling with brown hair and parents are blonde and brown. Grandparents were darkbrown and blonde.

What will be more likely? Blonde, Brown or red children? And is it possible to test it?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 03, 2019:

Recessive genes are definitely interesting to see within a family line, Eileen! I love the fact that your siblings have such varied hair and eye color. My husband was born with bright red hair, but his hair color darkened in adulthood to a coppery brown. His beard is still bright red, though!

Eileen on November 30, 2019:

Deacon wiley,

Recessive genes show up in the oddest places. Are any of your grandparents blue eyed? I've a brother with blue eyes but another brother with gray eyes, mine are green hazel, but both my sisters had solid, rich brown eyes like our dad. Also, my dad had red hair, my mom had black and the 5 of us were in this haired, fire engine red, auburn, chestnut red-brown, and blond. All colors found on both sides, but since were were all different it was quite a picture when we were out together.

Deacon wiley on November 29, 2019:

Is it possible to my mom have blonde hair and my dad have brown hair and I have red hair is that possible or very rare. Also I have blue eyes and they both have brown.

Tori on October 16, 2019:

My mom has blonde hair blue eyes Caucasian and my dad has black hair brown eyes Hispanic how is it I have freckles , brown eyes , Auburn hair , pale skin ?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 08, 2019:

The appearance of red highlights in your hair and red hair within your husband's beard means that you are both likely carriers for mutations on the MC1R gene (heterozygotes). Your children may or may not inherit both copies of the necessary genes to demonstrate red hair phenotype. If they inherit the darker hair color from your husband, they may not display the red hair color even if they inherit two copies of the same mutation, as the black hair will "mask" the redness.

Brandiedarlene on July 04, 2019:

I have dark brown hair with natural red highlights. I also have a 2 great aunts with red hair. My husband has black hair but can get random red hairs in his beard. Does that mean we are both for sure carrier's of the red hair gene? Or could it be something else?

Ashley Rodriguez on February 17, 2019:

Hi , I'm going to try and make this as short as possible . I am Puerto Rican and both of my parents have dark brown/black hair , dad has light brown eyes & mom has hazel . At birth , I came out with what my mom described as "strawberry blonde" hair and blue eyes (the only redhead we know on her side is her cousin who has bright red hair and we know of none of my dad's side) . When I turned 4 months old , the strawberry colored hair fell and platinum blonde replaced it . I was platinum blonde until about 5 years old where dark ash blonde came in . I am now 27 with dark ash blonde hair and blue eyes . Do I carry the red head Gene since I was at least "strawberry" at birth even though it changed ? Or can anyone express a reddish color at birth and not be a carrier of the redhead Gene ? You understand what I mean ?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 19, 2019:

You could definitely end up with a red-head, Amy! Genetics is a lot more complicated than a simple Punnet square explanation. There are compound heterozygotes, loss-of-function genes, etc. It is quite fun to see the amazing variation in phenotypes among sibling groups! You could have one child with dark hair, one child with blond hair, and the next with red hair. There is no way to tell until the child is born!

Amy on January 18, 2019:

I am one of ten kids and the only redhead. Every hair on my body has been fully red since birth, I have freckles and don't tan. My eyes are light green (with red streaks that match my hair!) My mom has very dark hair with some reddish highlights to it. My dad had red hair as a child, which turned to light brown with a red beard. My siblings have various shades of brown or blond, some with reddish highlights.

My husband has black hair, brown eyes, and olive skin that tans dark. (European ancestry, though.) His whole family has shades of brown hair. I only knew the simple Punnet squares model of genetics, so I expected our children to have dark hair like my husband. But to our surprise, our first son is blond! That's when I realized that genetics is a lot more complicated than "Rock, Paper, Scissors", and I really appreciate your detailed and accurate explanation of all the factors that contribute to red hair. I'm still pretty sure my husband isn't a carrier, but who knows? Maybe we'll have a redhead child after all!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 29, 2018:

Since the gene that causes red hair is completely independent of the genes responsible for having blond/brown/black hair, it is likely that you have genes producing enough eumelanin to create a striking gold color in addition to alleles on the MC1R gene that give it a reddish tinge. There are a number of different changes to the the gene that can cause red hair (over 30 alleles are known), and having 2 of the same allele or many different single allele changes can cause variations of red hair. It is likely you have a unique combination of alleles on the gene inherited from your family members.

That Red Head1 on December 29, 2018:

There were 5 of us, a black hair, 3 reds in a row and a tow head when he was very young.

I'm what my mom called a Titian Red Head from the painter Titian's gold red hair in his paintings. I have a brother who had fiery red hair as a little guy, a sister with dark chestnut red hair like our dad who had 2 sisters with the same. We were on both sides the only red heads in the cousins. One of my cousins (by one of my red haired aunts of on dad's side) produced a daughter with the same color as my dad and my sister. My black haired sister has a granddaughter with the same dark red chestnut, and my red haired brother has a fiery red haired grandson.

The red hair in my family seems to skip some generations and to show up in others depending upon whom they choose to marry.

My question is this: Since mine is the most different, none else have the gold that only grows stronger when I sun my locks, what is the influence that makes mine so different? Our mom was a brunette with one brother who was red haired as a very young person so I know it is genetic.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 03, 2018:

Hello, Bob - red hair is autosomal. The gene that causes red hair is located on the long arm of Chromosome 16 (the precise location is 16q24.3).

bob on December 03, 2018:

is red hair autosomal or x- linked?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 19, 2018:

It must have been such a fun surprise to see your little red-head for the first time, Nicole! Recessive genes are funny, as they can be carried for a long time within a family line and never be "seen," as the person carrying the mutation must find another carrier to have a chance of having a child with red hair (and in this case, only a 25% chance with each pregnancy). Beyond simple Mendelian genetics, there are more than 30 alleles on the MC1R gene known to cause red hair when combined with a similar allele, so the genetics gets a little bit more complicated (you can have a compound heterozygote producing a red phenotype, etc).

It sounds like you have a really fun family - have fun with your feisty son!

Nicole Harvey on November 18, 2018:

I have brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin and tan very dark. My husband has brown hair and blue eyes, with fair skin and sunburns easily. We have 3 sons, and the 1st two, have brown hair and blue eyes, but tan dark like me. And our youngest is a ginger... Red hair, blue eyes, pale skin and lots of freakles and his personality is fierce, not one to reckon with, but to be personality is, very fierce and feisty, as well.

Needless to say, we were shocked, when he was born, with his strawberry blondish/red faux hawk. During his 1st few months, it became more bright red. We obviously both carry the gene, but neither of our families ancestry, has yet to have a redhead.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 28, 2018:

It is really neat to see unique expressions of the MC1R gene, Laurie! My husband's hair has darkened with age, but his beard is extremely red. My son's hair is also darkening, but I have a feeling his facial hair will be red like his father's!

Laurie on August 27, 2018:

I love being strawberry blonde. I have always reveled in the fact that I was one of a few. My familial history is very Northern. However, my son's father is Mexican. It's beautiful seeing the recessive gene come out in his characteristics. He has super dark, thick hair, but with red highlights. He has hazel eyes and when his beard grows out, it's very red. The revessive is strong in that one. Im excited to see what his children will carry on.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 19, 2018:

Olive skin indicates a higher melanin presence in the sun, which helps protect against UV rays. I would definitely still use sunscreen, Amber, but melanin (in general) is helpful in protecting the skin from the sun. My youngest son and husband need higher levels of painkiller and have the pale skin/freckles. My husband's hair went from very red to darker as he aged. My son's hair has also darkened, but you can see the red highlights in it.

Amber on August 17, 2018:

My dad and mom have the ginger gene through dna testing although dad hair black and grey eyes with really pale skin (his cousins all redheads).mom dark brown-auburn red in sun hair with slightly darker olive skin and brown eyes. I had strawberry blonde when 6 yrs old then darker blond with red highlights in sun ..olive skin with dark green eyes. My baby bro very red hair and freckles with pale skin and hazel eyes. I need more painkillers then normal also. Having olive skin is it alittle safer in the sun?

petal on June 19, 2018:

Do you have a source for Malcolm X having red hair?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 02, 2018:

Does your father's family all have black hair, Miss Bananna? It would be difficult to determine carrier status in a family with very dark hair, as they could have mutations on MC1R but not demonstrate the red hair visually, as it is hard to see the red highlights in very dark hair. If your mother has red highlights, it is likely that she carries mutations for the gene. It is also possible that you have your own unique mutations that were not inherited from either parent (spontaneous mutations). It would definitely be a rarer event to have a spontaneous change in the gene than inheriting it from your parents!

Miss bananna on May 01, 2018:

I have red hair. But my dad has black hair and my mom has brown hair. My mom is a carrier of the gene but my dad has no family member who has/had red hair. I must be super rare then.

LoneTimberWolf on March 30, 2018:

Thank you Leah. Most are not as kind.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 30, 2018:

I would love to travel to Alaska one day, Lone Timberwolf. We also live in a low-sun location during the winter (Western NY), but our summers are sunny and typically are in the mid 80's. I have to stay on top of the sunscreen for my children, as their skin is very prone to sunburn. Your hair is beautiful!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 30, 2018:

Hair color for people with blonde or red hair often darkens with age, as certain genes are switched off and on throughout childhood and puberty. Eumelanin production typically increases with age.

LoneTimberWolf on March 29, 2018:

Aye, livin' in Alaska was a low sun environment during th' winter. but what most don't seem to realize is that it gets into the 90's during th' summer. And thank ye my friends also think My hair and eye combination is quite pretty as well. My profile picture is actually a picture of me, not something I found on the internet.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 29, 2018:

Shreyash, you could always have your hair dyed to a darker color if you would like to do so.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 26, 2018:

Shreyash11, it is impossible to say with certainty, but your baby will most likely demonstrate the phenotype of dark hair if you marry someone with dark hair. The child may or may not have the mutations responsible for red hair, but it is likely to be masked by the darker hair. Genetics is tricky to predict (due to crossing-over during meiosis and other intricacies), so you never really know until the child is born.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 26, 2018:

Your parents likely each carry MC1R genetic mutations, Madison - I bet your hair is beautiful! I have brown hair, my husband had very red hair (it is now much darker and appears brown) and my son has strawberry blonde hair that is getting darker with age.

Madison on March 25, 2018:

I have red hair and my parents have black and brown hair

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 05, 2018:

What a cool combination of rare eye and hair color, Lone Timberwolf! Living in Alaska would definitely be a low-sun environment. We live in Western NY and do not get very much sun, and my pale, red (now brown) haired child does well in the low-sun environment.

LoneTimberWolf on March 04, 2018:

I have bright red hair, as does my da, aunt, grandma, and great grandma. We all have the MC1R mutation, and my mother is a carrier, but she had blonde hair and brown eyes. I somehow got amber eyes, though my mom and sisters eyes are brown, and my da's are green. I can tan, with much effort and many sunburn, but I am most comfortable in cold climates with little sun, such as when I lives in alaska. So I got one of the rarest eye colors in the world, and the rarest hair color as well. ^-^

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 23, 2018:

Laura, I wanted to add the OTC 23 and Me test only tests for three variants on the MC1R gene. Well over 30 variants are known to cause the red-hair phenotype, so it is quite possible you have a variant not tested by the kit.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 23, 2018:

Hello, Laura - 23 and Me is an over the counter test. If you can buy it online, it is over-the-counter. To have full sequencing of the MC1R gene, you would need a prescription and the oversight of a geneticist. 23 and Me (along with other OTC genetics kits) only look for the most common allele or mutation in most genes.

Laura on January 23, 2018:

Thanks for the reply Leah. It wasnt an over the counter test, i used the 23 and me testing which covers all of them in detail.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 22, 2018:

Hi Laura - there are over 30 different alleles for MC1R, and it is likely that any over the counter genetic testing product only tests for the most common variants. The most likely explanation is that you do have a variant in the MC1R gene that wasn't detected by the test, as most OTC evaluations are produced to find the most common alleles. Another explanation would be that you carry another gene (other than MC1R) that is affecting hair color, though nearly all people with red hair carry a mutation in the MC1R gene. Other genes are suspected of playing a role in hair and skin pigmentation, however, so genetics is a bit more complicated than a Punnett square might suggest.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 22, 2018:

It is quite possible you either carry or have the gene, philessense. The only way to tell for sure would be genetic testing.

philessense on January 22, 2018:

Mother and 3 sibs are redheads. Father, dark brown w/ blue eyes, fair skin never tanned.

Eldest brother and I brown hair with red in it if I try to go blonde.

My redheaded sibs consider me dark, as I am able, with much effort, to build a bit of a tan and they can't. But I'm quite pale, burn and blister more easily than normal people. And when I am at my darkest, people tell me I am too pale.

I have always assumed I had the red hair gene.

Laura on January 22, 2018:

Hi. I’ve just had genetic testing done and i do not carry the red hair gene. I have dark brown hair. However my partner has red hair and so do both of my children. I thought both parents had to have the gene?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 03, 2018:

It is so interesting to see the variations in expression with the red-hair gene, Leslie! My children are similar (my husband is a red-head and my oldest is dark blond and my youngest is strawberry blond).

Leslie Yee on January 01, 2018:

My husband is a red head rr (2 recessive red), I am brunette Bb (1 dominant brown, 1 recessive blonde). We have 2 brunette daughters, and one dark blonde daughter. All daughters have one recessive red hair gene.

Catherine Dye on December 22, 2017:

What are the possible hair color types for a child born to one red haired parent and one brunette parent who carries a recessive blonde hair gene? Would it be 50% brunette with a recessive red and 50% strawberry blonde? or would the other 50% just turn out red? What happens when two different colored recessive genes pair up?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 25, 2017:

I wouldn't be scared, Bree, but I would be careful with regard to tanning and excessive sun exposure. My boys are very fair and we use sunscreen with them whenever they are outside for extended periods (my 11 year old had a scare with a dysplastic mole that showed up on his back at the age of 9 and recurred, so he had to have a wide excision to remove all chance that it could come back). Everyone is different and the only real worry with having both copies of MC1R would be repeated exposure to the sun, increasing the risk of skin cancer. I'm sure you'll be fine as long as you don't sunbathe on a regular basis!

Bree on November 25, 2017:

Im kinda scared after reading that redheads and blonde haired people are likely carriers of cancerous genes. Im the only red head in my blood related family and also the only girl who was born into my family, making me "special" so I hope there is nothing else different. Also, does anyone with medical knowledge know the percentage of red/blonde haired people that have came down with cancer is? Also, does anyone know what age it usually comes by if it is a Dominant gene?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 02, 2017:

The MC1R genetic mutation is carried by all races, tlew. It is also likely Cleopatra used henna as a beauty agent.

tlew on November 01, 2017:

how was malcom x a redhead? or cleopatra?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 26, 2017:

It is highly likely you carry the MC1R gene, RTaylor, though only genetic testing would be definitive. My husband has similar traits and we have one child with strawberry hair (which has darkened) and one child with blond hair. Your parents may or may not have red hair, as each one would only need to be a carrier to pass on the red trait, so you could have two parents who don't display the trait. My son and I both have issues with anesthesia, though we also have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (known for a difficulty with anesthesia), so it is hard to determine whether it is the EDS or the red hair gene causing the issues for us!

RTaylor on October 26, 2017:

Fascinating!! I'm curious and would like some feedback if anyone cares to assume the challenge?

I'm adopted, thus I have zero genetic history that I can share. However, after reading all the posts, I feel somewhat confident in proclaiming that I am a "True Red" based on the following: 1) red-headed since birth, (various degrees of darkness, but always red)

2) green eyes and sensitive to sunlight

3) heavy freckling but not necessarily "pale-skinned"

More "ruddy" looking. I do burn easily and my freckles seem to double if I forget sunscreen. Also have had 3 lesions removed...not melanoma, but did have some type of cancerous cells.

4) Dx'd with SLE (systemic Lupus) at age 40. It's an auto-immune disorder that causes an increased inflammatory response.

5) This one is the worst by far...on 2 seperate occasions, I woke up during surgery!! I didn't feel pain, but I remember opening my eyes through some kind of guppy lubricant they apply apparently, and thinking...Oh s#!:#! That's all I remember thank God...the anesthesiologist later explained to me that it was because of my "red-hair gene!"

6) For some weird reason, my body wont dissolve those "dissolvable stitches." Nobody seems to know why? I'm now wondering if this an isolated occurance, or could it be related to the gene?'s my question? Is it reasonable to assume that I'm a carrier of the MC1R gene? Husband- brown hair, light green eyes, tans easily.

Both my children have dark brown hair with heavy red tints in sunlight. Both light BLUE -eyed, scattered freckles to upper body only. Both O-neg blood type...same as me. Neither have shown evidence of problems with anesthesia thus far.

2nd question (sorry!)

Any ideas on what my bio-parents had in terms of hair/eye color??

Thanks for any insight you might be willing to share.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one with questions!!

Best to you all....

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 18, 2017:

My son is similar, Yadira - he was born with black hair, which fell out and he had red hair until it darkened to brown. We are much farther north than Florida - but his eyes are blue/gray.

Yadira on October 18, 2017:

Oh, I am a mess. I was born with black hair, then it turned lighter almost blond then copperish red, then red(er) and finally dark brown.

I got out in the sun and I turn red, earn freckles and go back to be white again. I never get a tan (Sighs) My eyes they can change from blue to gree all in one day or stay green for many years and change into different shades of green. If I travel a bit far up north in the state of Florida where I am and the weather is cold my eyes turn blue.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 04, 2017:

Hi Jim, is the "red spot" a patch of red hair, or is it a red spot on the skin? Red spots on the skin (macules, papules, and hemangiomas) are not indicative of carrying the recessive red hair gene. If you have a patch of red hair, then you may carry/express the recessive MC1R gene.

Jim on October 03, 2017:

If I have a red spot on the back of my head do I carry recessive red?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 17, 2017:

The red hair gene exists in many ethnicities, so it is not linked to "green eyes," though there are people who carry both traits at the same time. There is likely a founder effect as many of these traits (Rh negative blood type, green eyes, and red hair) are found at a higher rate in Europe and occur simultaneously in many individuals.

susan sanger on September 17, 2017:

Interesting. Have you cross-matched red hair, eye color, skin color? So far, the conclusions are very different: Red hair, green eyes, extreme sensitivity to hot- cold., and RH Negative blood type? grandma clara

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 29, 2017:

It is interesting, Matthew. We actually had a fertile mule in the Inland Empire of California where I spent my childhood. She had two foals - they named one of the foals "Blue Moon" due to the rarity of a fertile mule!

Matthew Grauel on August 27, 2017:

( )

I made a an ignorant claim that, Hybrid Species are "genetic dead ends", this is an article from Wire reprinted from Quanta Magazine, that illustrates the benefit of diversity, and that being a pseudo-scientist is being wrong a lot! lol. ( Im not sure if linking is allowed, article was found in a aggregator )

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 22, 2017:

I agree, Matthew, that people seem to have become polarized in recent times and we must reach out to our fellow humans to stop hate and to develop relationships that prevent the formation of stereotypes. Never stop learning - this should be the human motto.

Matthew Grauel on August 22, 2017:

While trying to find evidence to my argument, i ran across "Christian Forums" really getting disgusting and it just highlighted how stupid today's world is because we as a society are okay with being fed information rather then winning that information for our own good. Ignorance is the bane of Civilization, once we are complacent enough to believe what sounds good we are ignorant enough to vote out our republic.

Matthew Grauel on August 22, 2017:

(Bio: I'm a US Army Infantryman, all outsides look the same when they are on the outside, and if we can eliminate hate,fear, and ignorance, then what is there left to fight over, If I can never see Death again due to misunderstandings I will die happy)Thank you, Preconceived Notions. that was what I was trying to say. Long story short My buddy was telling me he was attracted to Red's, even though he "was" and "we are" supposed to be "disgusted by them," thats when I forgot myself and yelled "conjecture!!!, that's not science nor is it fact, It!! is based on hate stereotypes", and Preconceived notions. In an attempt to try to correct, in what I believe a intellectual teachable moment and a literal chance to "kill" hate and ignorance, because he rebutted my argument in I believe her because she is in the medical field, even though she has not specialized nor is she a Phd. I'm like awesome, I can prove to you! or.. reference to the fact that is not common knowledge nor is it scientific. Not to mention He could talk to a Herpetologist about his hemorrhoids, but unless He has a cloaca his advice should be taken with understanding that Dr. Herp DVM. is not an expert in that field or discipline and neither is the "Expert".

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 22, 2017:

Matthew, I would first ask the question: is your initial supposition correct? Who finds red-heads unattractive? Apart from a satirical South Park episode, I haven't heard about hate groups regarding people with red hair, though I suppose there are people who will always find someone to hate. As with all physical characteristics, there are stereotypes applied - which are often inaccurate or serve to validate a preconceived notion. Prejudice is learned and not a genetic trait.

Matthew Grauel on August 22, 2017:

I'm, looking for information about how the "fear of gingers" propagates anecdotal conjecture. The argument: my friend said according to his Niece who purportedly works at John Hopkins for Kids, "We are genetically designed to find red-heads unattractive." My rebuttal: CONJECTURE, more specific Religious Allegory, most recently Vikings dominating Christians from the Dark Ages up until the Late Middle Ages, even surviving the renaissance as the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire. We were taught to Hate and Fear Red headed pagans, and those fears survive today as stereotypes. I have tried arguing that Hate is a subjective sociological skill, one learns to conform to to be accepted and not be cast out of the "Common People" with the "Common Idea". I tried to bring up Bears, and highlight the difference between biological response to environment and sociological response to society's common idea. Bears evolved white fur to better hunt on the Ice, those who lived long enough to pass that mutation now propagates the mutation as a dominant, and now the likelihoods of creating white furred hunters are more likely, and a probability. Where does Social come into play? Wolves adopt dogs, Cats adopt Birds. but because they cannot reproduce, in my mind it doesn't apply; Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear are probably close enough to get a mutant like Liger or a Walfin, or a mule, but that line stops as mutants are usually born sterile. Since all Humans possess the MC1R Gene and it can be expressed by any human, and if we are programmed to hate Ginger's, then why don't we hate ourselves for being carriers? Anyone? I'm open minded so critique that crap out of me.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 24, 2017:

There are a lot of variants, Mickie! Many people with the "red" gene don't display the phenotype if they also have dark hair, but may easily have children with lighter hair where the redness shows through. My husband was a true red-head, but became darker as an adult. He still has a red beard! My oldest boy was blond as a baby, but my youngest son had strawberry blond hair. Both boys are older now and have the same hair color (a dark blond/light brown). In the sunlight, there is still a red hint to my younger son's hair.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 24, 2017:

My uncle has red hair and has maintained a shade of red well into his 80's! It has lightened considerably, but is definitely still red.

val smith on July 21, 2017:

I am almost 81 years old and have never had to add dye to my hair, but over time the shade does change somewhat and I think this may be because health issues

Mickie Chaplin Boldt on July 10, 2017:

As you stated, there are always anomolies. My dad had very dark brown hair and light green eyes, almost black and my mom had a beautiful auburn color with brown eyes. I am the oldest of three -- I have Strawberry Blonde and green eyes, my two bothers were medium brown hair and brown eyes.

Not sure of my Dad's side way back, but the immediate family all had shades of brown hair and some with brown eyes and others blue or green. My mom's side however, had lots of red hair. My husband's hair is dark brown/black and brown eyes. My son had Strawberry Blonde when little, but it turned darker, and darker brown as he got older, but he has a reddish brown beard!

Justin Hall on June 21, 2017:

This is bizarre. I have the following alleles with regard to my MC1R gene R160W, D294H, V92M, D84E, V60L and yet I have brown hair. I had blond hair as a child and by the time I was in my mid teens it had darkened to the medium light to medium brown it is today. All I have ever found was an occasional red hair in my beard and even they were few and far in between.

Hernan on June 06, 2017:

Red hair, as any recessive mutation can be diluted (if they reproduce at slower speed than the other hair color populations) but not extinct unless there is a pressure to supress this mutation by selection (Suppression of these people from reproduction). Maybe the % of gingers can be reduced but not eliminated.

kayeff on May 07, 2017:

Did you just make up the "koakage" because I can't find evidence of it's truth anywhere. Akage = redhead and kawaii = cute. Where did you get the koakage idea?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

Blond hair may contain pheomelanin, Keep It Red - it does not have to contain this form of melanin, but it certainly can have it.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

It is very interesting to me how the beard color will remain red, even when the hair on someone's head has darkened, sbbhunt! My husband still has a very red beard, even though the hair on his head has turned a reddish brown color.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

My younger son had red hair as a toddler and it is now darker and nearly the same color as his older brother's hair (a very dark blond/light brown). It is interesting how hair color changes over time, Robert! My family ancestry is largely Irish and my husband's is British/German - my husband had very red hair. on February 15, 2017:

My fathers hair was white eyes blue when he was young , changing to nut brown later. we 3 childern all had very fair hair , changing later to brown . My mothers hair was black , green eyes . My sons hair was ginger changed to frizy black and angel blue eyes , my daughters hair is black deed green eyes changing to dark brown , her mother is half Welch and English black hair deep green eyes . My parents were Irish . one grand son half Greek has very dark hair and blue eyes , the other has light brown hair and blue eyes and an Irish mother with dark red hair and green eyes . Funny thing red haired women facinated me when I was young and I wasent surprised when my son said he was going to marry one , even though I said nothing about my younger days .

Sbbhunt on February 07, 2017:

Why did you not mention black and red, my father had blue black hair, so does my oldest brother, one of my brother has brown hair, 3 of us original blond, the men with red beard. My mother had red hair, my daughter was born red hair but turn into very blond

jhert on January 05, 2017:

I have a question hopefully someone can help me answer... My mom has red hair (not auburn) and my dad has brown hair. I have blonde hair and my brother has red hair (slightly more blonde than my moms). How is this possible? I understand how my brother would have gotten his red hair if my dad is carrying a mc1r gene but how would I have blonde hair then? Could my dad be carrying a brown hair, blonde hair and mc1r gene?

keep it red on November 04, 2016:

Okay. I've been reading and I'm not so sure what I typed a week ago is correct because now I'm finding publications that are saying that pheomelanin IS responsible for blonde hair as well. Some say yes, some say no. I would like to know the truth so I'll keep reading. My apologies to you and again, thanks for the article.

keep it red on October 27, 2016:

Enjoyed this article with the exception of one glaring mistake. Blonde hair does not cotain pheomelanin, only a bit of eumelanin. As you stated above, the abscence of any pigment results in white hair, so a little eumelanin makes blonde hair. It is this bit of eumelanin that gives it it's yellowish or blonde hue. Blonde hair actually derives from brown hair, not red hair. So eumelanin is responsible for black, brown, and blonde hair. Pheomelanin is responsible for all red hair only. Other than that, great article. I enjoyed it.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 14, 2015:

Isn't it interesting, Dolores? One of my children is blond and the other has red hair, and my red-head is very resistant to local anesthetics.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 14, 2015:

The resistance to anesthetics is a very interesting side effect to the MC1R gene, mbwalz! My boys also have Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which causes resistance to local anesthetics. They have a double whammy, and our trips to the dentist are usually rather difficult (as you can imagine)!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on May 23, 2015:

As the mother of two red headed children, I used to think they were just whiners when they complained of pain. Now I know that they actually are more sensitive! I feel like a hardhearted mama! There seems to be a problem with electricity as well. I never knew two people who complained of electrical shocks like the two of them. Of course, they were such gorgeous kids. There is nothing more adorable than a red-headed child!

MaryBeth Walz from Maine on May 22, 2015:

Thanks for the in depth info about us redheads! I just wrote a hub about our pain and the things that are being discovered through the mutation of the MC1R gene. It could lead, if there's enough interest and funding, in new classes of analgesics. In the mean time, we just get to ask for more lidacaine instead! Voted up and shared!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 23, 2014:

Perhaps people are jealous of your red hair, Jill?