What's a Ginger?
Up until four years ago, when I thought of the word ginger, I thought of Tina Louise's character on my favorite TV show Gilligan's Island. I had no idea redheads are also known as "gingers." A redheaded waitress said to me “Hey, a fellow Ginger…nice to meet you.” I felt so ignorant. Maybe I never really considered myself a true redhead because my hair is a reddish brown and my mom always called it “auburn.” Full disclosure: I tweaked my photo above so my hair looks really orangie-red ;-) Plus most redheads have very fair skin that doesn’t tan, whereas, I was always able to tan. Maybe because of my Italian heritage? My type of tan wasn’t a nice dark savage tan but more of an orangie tan. Or maybe it was because the sun brings more freckles and as they collide it forms a “tan.” I never felt pretty though because when my skin wasn’t “tan”, my complexion was a pale-ish orange, pale lips and dark circles under my eyes! I look dead...as my mother told me. Which means I start my day with eye concealer and lipstick, even if I'm just staying home so my family doesn't mistake me for a corpse.
I’m writing this blog post just for fun because I just recently learned of some interesting facts about redheads that I had never heard before. I can totally relate to most of these facts, but I haven't checked with my blonde and brunette friends to see if they experience the same things.
A little secret: I was born blonde but my mom said within a year my hair had turned auburn. I can’t really prove this because as the fourth born in my family, by the time I came along my mom didn’t have time to take pictures. There aren’t a ton of pictures of me as a baby, (none as a newborn) and most of the ones I have are black and white. Yes, I’m old, there I said it.
I was the only redhead in my family and I always felt different. I can remember, as a small child, all the attention I got from strangers pointing and commenting on my ‘beautiful’ hair color. Unfortunately, I think the attention may have caused a riff between me and my older sister. Her and I never really got along, even into adulthood. I didn’t realize it until later in my life that possibly my sister felt sad that I was getting all of the attention and maybe, at times, she felt invisible. As soon as she was old enough to start coloring her hair though, she became a redhead as well and whenever we were out together, she was the one getting all of the compliments about her beautiful hair color.
I liked that I was different (most of the time) but I think many people weren’t sure how to approach me because I looked different. I noticed people didn’t seem as comfortable around me as they did the friends I was with. I always felt the need to put people at ease…so much so, that it actually became a fundamental part of my personality well into adulthood. Not any more though because now (at almost 50) I realize I really don’t care and I no longer take responsibility for other people’s issues. But that’s a whole other blog post, see the link below for my “People Pleasers” post.
Names and comments in my youth were; ‘Jack-o-Lantern’, ‘Jackie Longstocking’, ‘Hey Lucy, where’s Ricky?’, ‘freckle face’, etc. Some men even asked “Do the drapes match the carpet?” Of course, I just roll my eyes and replied “You will never be lucky enough to find out!”
Gingers are rare. About 2% of the world’s population has natural red hair. Western Europe has more redheads than anywhere else. Scotland having the most at 13%, Ireland at 10%, and the US at 2%. I was curious about the mutations I read about so I did a little research. Skip to the list if you’re not interested in this part.
MC1R (melanocortin 1 receptor) make two forms of melanin; eumelanin and pheomelanin. The relative amounts of these two pigments help determine the color of a person’s hair and skin. People who produce mostly eumelanin tend to have brown or black hair and dark skin that easily tans and is more protected by UV radiation in sunlight. People who produce mostly pheomelanin tend to have red or blond hair, freckles, and light-colored skin that tans poorly and is less protected from UV rays. If the melanocortin 1 receptor is not activated or blocked at the time of the chemical reaction, the melanocytes make pheomelanin instead of eumelanin which is where the mutation occurs I suppose. I got this info from NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine (link below). I never did well in science so I’m not 100% sure how to interpret the findings.
The ‘ginger-facts’ (discovered only 15 years ago) are truly enlightening because I have so many sensitivities to cold, pain, emotions, etc that I now feel sort of justified – if you will. Since I’m always learning in order to improve, learning about these things helped me to understand a lot about myself and why I am the way I am.
1. Gingers experience pain more intensely.
Yes I can attest to this. I have had pain of some sort almost every day of my life. Sometimes even my hair hurts! I’ve just learned to “deal” because I don’t know anything else. Interesting fact: Studies have found that we need more anesthesia (like 20% more?)for dental or medical procedures than other hair colors. Also, one study used heat-related pain as its litmus of overall sensitivity and showed that redheads indeed felt things more acutely and unpleasantly.
2. Redheads are more sensitive to painkillers.
We have a hormone that mimics endorphins. One primary role of endorphins is to provide pain relief, therefore, we can get the same effect from a smaller dose of painkillers, specifically opioids. Not sure why we need more anesthesia but less painkillers? I can say that I had a bad reaction to oxycodone after surgery one time. I had horrible hallucinations and couldn’t sleep so I stopped taking them. Switched to Valium and Tylenol and that worked just fine.
3. Redheads are more sensitive to temperature changes.
Yes, I can attest to this. I always dress in layers because I’m hyper-aware of temperature changes. I’m almost always cold. And now I sometimes experience the other extreme (HOT) thanks to peri-menopause.
4. Redheads have less hair on their heads but each strand is thicker than other colors.
I’m not sure if it’s the thickness of a strand of hair, or my skin sensitivities but I can’t sit still if I have a stray hair on any part of my body. I can feel it instantly and have to remove it immediately. Fun fact (from gingerparrot.co.uk): Redheads have 90,000 strands, compared to blondes with 110,000 and brunettes with 140,000.
5. Redheads don’t turn grey.
Well, I must not be a true redhead because I do have some grey hairs. My mom spotted my first grey hair when I was about 12. They didn't start coming in more noticeably until recently (I'm almost 50) and it’s only a smattering of grey so luckily I only have to cover the grey about every 6 weeks at home. But some things I read state that redheads only get lighter but never actually turn grey...uh well, not true for me...definitely grey!
6. Redheads produce their own Vitamin D.
This one is rather strange. I read we can’t sufficiently absorb Vitamin D so our body produces it naturally when we are exposed to low-light conditions. Not sure if this applies but I can attest to the fact that when I take Vitamin D supplements, I get pain in my urethra...of all places. So maybe that means it’s not getting properly absorbed…? Not sure but I thought this was interesting. I’ve asked my doctors about this and they can’t give me an explanation as to why this happens.
Of course, we should probably take most of this with a grain of salt as I'm not sure if there are actual numbers to back up the so called "facts." But for sure redheads are rare and especially redhead with blue eyes.
Let me know if you are a ginger (or know a ginger) and if you have any stories to share.
My resources for this post:
Image of Tina Louise as Ginger from Gilligan's Island is from www.carboncostume.com