We recently saw a social media comment saying, “There’s a difference between having red hair and being a redhead”. While at face value this may seem untrue, we wanted to unpack it a little more and dive into why redheads, specifically natural redheads, may feel this way.
If a person dyes their brunette or blonde hair red, does it instantly make them “a redhead”? The situation is much like those who dye their hair blonde and call themselves “a blonde”? Those same blondes may have dark roots and their natural color is not blonde.
Let’s dig into it.
It’s about the redhead gene
A “redhead” typically refers to a person who has red hair as a defining feature of their appearance or identity. So, while there isn’t a strict difference, “redhead” often implies that red hair is a more prominent aspect of the individual’s overall look or identity. So, realistically, “a redhead” could be dyed or natural. Right?
Many natural redheads would say no and a true redhead has the “redhead gene”. The redhead gene is often associated with a specific genetic variant known as MC1R (melanocortin 1 receptor). Variations in the MC1R gene are responsible for determining hair, skin, and eye color. In particular, certain MC1R gene variants can lead to the production of a pigment called pheomelanin, which results in red hair.
People with two copies of these MC1R gene variants (one inherited from each parent) typically have red hair, while those with just one copy may have red hair or carry the genetic trait without displaying red hair themselves. This gene variant also affects the skin’s response to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, making redheads more susceptible to sunburn.
It’s important to note that red hair is a complex genetic trait influenced by multiple genes, but MC1R is one of the key genes associated with its expression.
All hair color is determined by the MC1R/DNA, but unlike brown or blonde hair, red hair is a gene mutation. In order for red hair to occur, there has to be a very specific set of genes that form in a certain way, that’s why red hair is so uncommon. With that gene mutation, comes other changes to our DNA. Redheads experience things like a higher risk of skin cancer and a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease. We also have more sensitive skin and often need more anesthesia at the dentist or doctor’s office. These things may not be fun or even wanted, but the reality is they are part of having natural red hair.
Red hair and being a redhead are literally in our genes and it’s apparent in more ways than just our hair color.
Outside of our DNA, most redheads, unfortunately, have a shared experience of some sort of bullying, teasing, or name-calling because of their hair color. We also have similar experiences with having a hard time finding makeup, never finding toys and dolls that look like us (especially if you’re an 80’s or 90’s baby) and at times, may of us felt like outsiders.
But let’s still welcome those who dye their hair red
“Red hair” refers to the physical characteristic of having hair that is red in color, dyed or natural.
With over 75% of adult American women coloring their hair in some capacity, it’s normalized that the color on most women’s heads may not be natural. We welcome those with dyed red hair into our community with open arms, but there will always be some aspects of being a redhead that can only be understood by those who were born this way (baby).
When someone dyes their hair red, they may have red hair, but they don’t have the redhead experience. The terms “red hair” and “redhead” are often used interchangeably, but there can be a subtle distinction. That’s why we think it’s fair to say that there is a difference between having red hair and being a redhead.
What do you think?
Rock it like a Redhead!