Are Redheads Going Extinct?

Written by Rebecca Mathews
Published: July 20, 2022
© Dean Drobot/
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Over recent years there have been reports that redheads are going extinct and there will be none left in a few decades. Is this really the case?

Let’s find out if redheads are going extinct!

Are Redheads Going Extinct?

No, redheads are not going extinct, despite an article that suggested otherwise.

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A 2007 study by unnamed geneticists claimed red hair would die out in the near future, but the majority of scientists dispute this. Here’s why.

Red hair is caused by a recessive gene and it’s not possible for this gene to simply die out. Even if there were no more redheads, people would still carry the recessive gene and that gene can appear at any time.

Redheads may become rarer in the future, but they aren’t going anywhere.

A red-haired woman and her beagle with a platter of ham and cheese between them on a table
Red hair is caused by the recessive MC1R gene


How Many Redheads Are There?

No one knows for sure. Estimates vary from 1-2% to 0.09% of the world’s population. That’s around 6.3 million from 7 billion people. It’s the rarest hair type but it isn’t going to disappear.

What Makes Hair Red?

Red hair is caused by the pheomelanin pigment. Redheads have much more pheomelanin than the dark pigment called eumelanin which ranges from brown to black.

Both parents need to carry the MC1R gene for their child to have red hair. If they both have this recessive gene there’s about a 25% chance their child will be a redhaired king or queen.

But that’s not all! This gene can skip generations, so a child born to parents without the recessive gene might surprise with red hair if a grandparent had it.

Red hair isn’t just one shade. It varies from bright copper to orange, burgundy, and strawberry blonde.

Why Are Redheads Pale?

Not all redheads are pale, there are afro-carribean red-heads, but ginger hair is usually associated with pale skin, freckles, and pale eye colors like blue or green.

It’s due to a lower melanin concentration and is thought to be an advantage in lower light conditions, which is why more redheads live in northern Europe such as Scotland and Ireland. It’s so enough vitamin D can be produced when there isn’t much sun. Redheads often find it difficult to tan, which is another response to vitamin D absorption.

Vitamin D is produced by the action of sunlight on skin. When skin is exposed, 7-dehydrocholesterol absorbs its UVB light. Our bodies convert that into vitamin D3.

how long will the sun last?
Redheads are often pale in skin tone so that more sunlight can be absorbed by their skin.


Were the Vikings Redheads?

Some researchers think Vikings brought the redhead gene to Scotland during their years of raids and conquests. However, the Greek philosopher Aristotle writes about northern fishermens’ red hair and how the cold and moisture must have made it that way. That was at least 1000 years before the Vikings started raiding Scotland. The ancient Romans also wrote about redheaded Gauls and Celts. The descriptions were not flattering!

Genetic tests on Viking remains have for the most part shown they were blonde from the north (modern-day Sweden) and red from the west (modern-day Denmark). So we can say that some Vikings were redheads and some were not!

Do Redheads Feel More Pain?

There are studies that show redheads cope with pain differently. For example, they need more anaesthesia and more local topical anaesthetics. An article in Anaesthesiology explains how lidocaine was less effective in red-haired women.

Researchers think it’s because redheads have altered melanocyte-stimulating hormones (MSH) that interacts differently with pain-relieving endorphins than in dark-haired people with more eumelanin. It’s not certain though, and there’s lots of debate.

The same research also shows ginger-haired folk are more sensitive to cold sensations. They felt discomfort at 43 degrees fahrenheit, but darker-haired people were unaffected until freezing temperatures were reached.

Again, researchers think it’s the MC1R gene interacting with pain receptors and temperature detecting genes.

But wait there’s more medical research!

Redheads are potentially more likely to bruise, despite their blood coagulating at the same rate as darker haired subjects. Some experts claim that’s because redheads tend to have paler skin, so bruises show more readily. There’s lots of debate on that topic too.

Which Country Has The Most Redheads?

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
Ireland has the most redheads per capita, at about 10% of the population.


The country with the most redheads per capita is Ireland where around 10% of the population has red hair. Ginger hair is predominately centered around the northern and western edges of Europe, and has historical associations with the Celts. Scotland has a 6% redhead population and its capital Edinburgh has the honor of ‘city with the most ginger people’.

However, it’s not only the fringes of Europe that carry the MC1R gene. There are Afro-Caribbeans with light skin, freckles and red hair too.

It’s not prevalent in hot countries because the amount of sunlight there can lead to burning and cancer in redheads, but the red gene does exist due to exchanges between Europeans and Africans during the formation of the Caribbean.

For example, Treasure Beach in Jamaica is known for its prevalence of ginger-haired blue and green-eyed locals that use Scottish words like aye. It’s thought shipwrecked Scottish sailors landed on this remote beach and stayed, sharing their MC1R genes with the local population.

Are There Any RedHeaded Animals?

There are lots of redheaded animals!

Redhaired animals include orangutans, red foxes, orange cats, hens, red pandas, goldfish, clownfish, red squirrels, orioles, golden lion tamarins, tigers, strawberry poison dart frogs, and monarch butterflies. The red color turns up in mammals, birds, fish, insects, and amphibians – all the genera of animals on earth.

Extinct woolly mammoths were probably a reddish color too – so perhaps we can say some redheads are extinct!

Red Animals - Red Squirrel
Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) are one of the many redheaded animals on Earth


Are Redheads Left-Handed?

A few studies suggest that redheads are more likely to be left-handed than other hair types. Being left-handed is a recessive gene and recessive genes often pop up in pairs!

What Is The Rarest Eye Colour For A Redhead?

It’s thought the rarest eye color for a redhead is blue.

That’s because blue eye color is also a recessive gene. So for a blue-eyed redhead, both parents have to carry the MC1R recessive gene for red hair AND the recessive blue eye gene. It’s thought only 17% of the world’s population have blue eyes.

So, the answer to our question ‘are redheads going extinct?’ is no.

Redheads are less common and blue-eyed-left-handed-redheads are particularly rare, but they’re not endangered and they won’t die out due to that MC1R recessive gene.   

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About the Author

Rebecca is a professional researcher from England's south coast with special interests in the environment, particularly archaeology and plant species. She spends a lot of time rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to enjoy the company of cats.

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