There are many myths about people with naturally red hair. They bruise easily, some say. They are sometimes stereotyped as being bad tempered. But one myth is not a myth at all: redheads really do seem to be more susceptible to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads need, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark or blond hair. And in 2005, another study found that redheads are more resistant than others to local anesthesia, such as the numbing agents used in dentistry.
The pain of having red hair:
- People with brown, black and blond hair carry an MC1R gene that produces melanin. A mutation in the MC1R gene results in the production of pheomelanin, resulting in red hair and fair skin.
- The MC1R gene is part of a network of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain. The MC1R gene mutation also appears to influence the body’s sensitivity to pain, scientists say.
- It’s estimated that only about 1-2% of the world’s population has naturally red hair. Redheads are most prevalent in Scotland, at 13 percent of the population, followed by Ireland at 10 percent.