6 Facts About Redheads That You Didn’t Know (or Got Wrong)

Noël Duan
Assistant Editor

Lucille Ball was actually a natural brunette. (Photo: Getty Images)

America’s most famous redhead, Lucille Ball (a natural brunette, by the way), once said, “Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.” The mythology of redheads is well known: They are quirky, hot-tempered, wild in bed (if they’re women), asexual (if they’re men), and should avoid the sun at all costs. British author Jacky Colliss Harvey, a lifelong ginger and a museum publisher, decided to do something about these myths that have shaped her entire life.

Jacky Colliss Harvey’s debut book, Red: A History of the Redhead. (Photo: Hachette Books)

In her debut book, Red: A History of the Redhead, Harvey traces the history and geography of the redhead gene, from the Udmurt population on the River Volga in Russia to the possibility that Cleopatra herself was a redhead. She also examines the stereotypes and prejudices against copper-toned hair. “Through researching this book, I learned that there is an international community of redheads that I feel very much a part of,” Harvey tells Yahoo Beauty. “Every redhead is part of this special redhead moment in history. One of my redhead friends came up with this idea, that being redheaded is celebrating difference.” While we recommend picking up the book for its rich image inserts and breadth of detailed information, here are six facts about redheads that you probably didn’t know (or got wrong).

Cinnamon-colored hair on the Solomon Islands is due to a unique genetic mutation. (Photo: Getty Images)

1. Not all redheads look Celtic.
Think most redheads are in Ireland? Think again. In places like Morocco, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, northern India, Pakistan, and western China there are ancient populations of native redheads — and they don’t look like Celts. “In the Solomon Islands, there is a community with very dark skin where a proportion of the islanders are born with cinnamon-colored hair,” Harvey says. “For generations it was thought that it was the genes of European sailors who landed on the islands. Now a geneticist worked out that it was caused by a totally different genetic break unique to the Solomon Islands.”

A map of the dispersion of redheads. (Photo: Hachette Books)

2. Gingers are not descended from Neanderthals any more than anyone else.
In 1994, the remains of redheaded Neanderthals with pale skin, freckles, and red skin were discovered in the Sidrón caves in northern Spain. It was convenient to conclude that these are the ancestors of redheads. However, everyone possesses some DNA in common with Neanderthals — perhaps 1 percent to 4 percent — but that doesn’t mean being redheaded is a Neanderthal characteristic. “[G]iven the redhead’s reputation for violent bad temper, it’s a theory that has given amusement and much satisfaction to many non-redheads,” Harvey wrote. “[B]ut it is also completely wrong.” Turns out, the genetic mutation of the redheads in Sidrón is different from the genetic mutation found in redheads today.

Julianne Moore, well known for her red hair, green eyes, and freckles. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Redheads do smell different.
In the late 1800s, French doctor Augustin Galopin published a book about the scent of women, Le Parfum de la Femme, “a winning mix of folk wisdom and high-blown science, spiced with anecdotes and Galopin’s own observations and musings,” Harvey describes. Some of Galopin’s observations are questionable (he suggests quitting smoking by substituting a coffee and sugar addiction instead), but what is relevant to redheads is that he believed that each woman, based on her hair and skin color combination, has a unique scent. Women with chestnut hair, for example, supposedly smell like what professional perfumers would classify as amber: vanillin and labdanum, a plant resin. And women with red hair and pale skin “exhale a soft odor of violets from most of their sebaceous glands,” according to Galopin, who wrote his medical guidebook in a hilariously sensual manner. But the French doctor isn’t wrong — scents applied to redheads’ skin do smell differently because of the different biochemistry of the body, which scientists are still trying to understand. In her research, Harvey also found that scents don’t last as long on redhead skin, either.

Emma Stone epitomizes the redhead, but she’s actually a blonde. (Photo: Getty Images)

4. Synthetic redheads are welcome to the redhead club.
It’s a hotly debated subject, Harvey admits, but she’s hoping her book shows that being an adopted redhead is OK. “I think Emma Stone is a wonderful spokesperson for redheads!” Harvey says. Stone, as many people know, is a natural blonde, but being a quirky redhead is so integral to her personality. Old-Hollywood bombshell Rita Hayworth, whose hair was naturally black, was known for her fiery, sexy head of red hair. It was a beauty look that defined her career as the most glamorous screen siren of the 1940s. And recently, Sienna Miller dyed her hair red too. “It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out for her career,” Harvey muses. “People dyeing their head red is a sign of affirmation that they’re quirky and different and noticeable and that they have confidence to deal with that. In general, I think it’s good for women to draw attention to themselves and to deal with it.”

Prince Harry, a natural ginger from his mother’s side of the family. (Photo: Getty Images)

5. Redheaded men are attractive — you just need to pay attention.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Ed Sheeran, Prince Harry, Damian Lewis, and Michael Fassbender are all natural gingers that most of us can agree are conventionally attractive, but there’s been a longstanding historical stigma against redheaded men that Harvey is still trying to dispel today. One of the earliest examples of a prominently redheaded man in history is Judas, the follower who betrayed Jesus. In William Shakespeare’s As You like It, written in 1599, Orlando’s hair is described as “something browner than Judas’s,” alluding to the prejudice of redheads. In the infamous “Ginger Kids” episode of South Park, redheads are said to have no soul — like vampires — which actually alludes to an old Romanian belief that vampires, because they like blood, are predisposed to red hair. Unfortunately, for redheaded men, these old beliefs, even when passed down as jokes on television, have persisted. It’s not a surprise, Harvey notes, that Cumberbatch, supposedly one of the sexiest men alive, dyed his hair brunette. “It would have been a very good thing if he had kept his hair red because it would help change the stereotypes of redheaded men,” she says.

Christina Hendricks, a modern bombshell in the tradition of Rita Hayworth. (Photo: Getty Images)

6. Redheaded women are not wilder in bed.
“Red hair doesn’t predispose you to being wilder in bed,” Harvey says, hoping to shut down the conversation once and for all. While redheaded men are depicted as unattractive and repulsive in history, redheaded women have been placed on a pedestal for being both sensual and unattainable at the same time. Just look at Mary Magdalene; she has been depicted with flowing red locks for hundreds of years. True Blood’s Jessica Hamby, played by ginger Deborah Ann Woll, is a Christian schoolgirl turned man-eating vampire, and Mad Men’s femme fatale Joan Harris, played by bombshell Christina Hendricks, is business at the office and seduction … at the office. (She has a long relationship with her boss, Roger Sterling Jr., played by silver fox John Slattery.) “I like redheads; their mouths are like a drop of strawberry jam in a glass of milk,” Sterling says on the show. Proving that media is one of the many reasons stereotypes about redheads persist.

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