The fact that redheads have reddish hair, fair skin and a face full of freckles is due to an alteration in the function of the melatonin receptor gene -1 or MC1R, which is located on human chromosome 16.
The origin of redheads: everything you need to know
This genetic mutation means that these people do not synthesize eumelanin, the dark pigment that colors the hair and complexion of brown people, but pheomelanin, the molecule that normally gives the lips and nipples their pink color and which, in redheads, also provides an unmistakable reddish color to the hair.
Having fair skin is good for health in the Nordic countries, where cloudy days abound and it is necessary to absorb all the available light in order for the body to produce vitamin D.
In fact, research conducted by the University of the Basque Country estimated that one of the most common MC1R gene mutations arose between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago, after the departure of Homo sapiens from Africa, as a result of natural selection.
And the fact is that, while the brown skin tone was beneficial for protection from the intense sun on the African continent, the depigmentation of redheads allowed them to take better advantage of the little ambient light available on the European continent.
Ireland and Scotland have the highest percentage of redheads, with more than 10% of the population. In contrast, in most of Spain, Italy and other Mediterranean countries, the proportion is below 1%.
What are the chances of having red-haired children?
Even if you do not have red hair and your partner does not have red hair, it is possible that your child will have red hair. People with freckles, even if they are not redheads, and even if their parents are not redheads either, have a high chance of having the MC1R gene mutation. Therefore, it is possible that one of your children may inherit the redhead gene.
On the other hand, there are other studies that indicate that redheads are more likely to develop the most aggressive type of skin cancer, melanoma.