Ed Sheeran, Prince Harry, Donald Trump, and Emma Stone are some of the famous ginger people today. Some people characterized them as ginger or redhead because of their unique red hair color, pale skin, and abounding freckles. In the past, the Egyptians wiped out maidens with red hair because they consider them luckless. Contrary to the Egyptian’s belief, Greeks appreciated the ginger hair because it signified honor and courage. The human population consists of less than 2% of ginger people or approximately 140 million people. Scotland holds the record of most natural ginger with 13%, and Ireland follows with 10% of the population.
According to the study of Kevin O’Regan from the University of College Cork, bullies subject gingers to Gingerism or the abuse of redheads. He recorded 1,742 survey answers from 20 countries, and he arrived at a conclusion that 60.6% males and 47.3% of females had experienced discrimination solely because of their red hair color. The numerous misconceptions, falsehoods, and stereotypes aimed at gingers started way back, and it is but necessary to point out facts about them now.
Genetically speaking, the red hair gene is a recessive characteristic that comes with a mutant gene called MC1R or melanocyte-stimulating hormone receptor in chromosome 16. Since the trait is passive, there is barely a 25% probability that an offspring is redhead provided that both parents carry the gene. The red hair color of ginger people does not turn gray when they aged, unlike different hair colors. The red hair only fades to blonde or white, but it does not wear out its natural pigment. Dr. Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist, explained that gingers have red hair and freckles due to the abundant presence of pheomelanin, a type of melanin pigment.
Moreover, the mutation in MC1R came with several drawbacks such as more pain sensitivity and high skin cancer risk. Redheads are more sensitive to pain compared to other individuals since the mutation affected their pain receptor as well. A study by the group of Dr. Edwin Liem from the University of Louisville showed that redheads are more sensitive to temperature and may experience pain when the temperature reaches -11 degrees Celcius. They also initiated research about the sensitivity of redheads to the dental and medical anaesthetic. However, a different group of scientists from McGill University contradicted Liem’s claim. They found that redheads are less sensitive to pain from electric shock and more sensitive to the effects of specific pills such as analgesic and painkillers.
Another disadvantage that arose from the gene mutation was the risk of skin cancer or melanoma. In a recent study from 2016, scientists conducted an experiment on mice to study melanoma on pale-skinned individuals when highly exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays. They compared the different skin samples of mice and found that pheomelanin damaged the skin of the redheaded mice three times due to stress. Their analysis concluded that redheads are more sensitive to the sun due to the less production of eumelanin, another kind of melanin pigment, in their skin.
The MC1R gene — the carrier of red hair — also controls the division of cancer cells in men. In 2013, researchers from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Medicine proved that ginger males only have 46% probability to develop prostate cancer compared to individuals with different hair tone.
Ginger people were subjected to several puns and name-calling in the past and even at present, but it is evident that their “imperfections” have benefits rather than disabilities.