Thursday, May 13, 2021

Red Headed and Blue - Dorothy Dare

Just a short post today. Yesterday I came across this quaint little video. It shows the American actress Dorothy Dare singing the song 'Red Headed and Blue'.

We already had Dorothy Dare down on our list of famous redheads. So it's nice to see some footage of her singing about her red hair too.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Melting Pots - Part III - Eumelanin and Pheomelanin

This is a slightly speculative post, and follows on from two previous articles which discussed the idea that red hair is the product of genetically diverse 'melting pot' cultures.

Those two articles can be found here;

In this post I'll add some further points. Particularly in regard the natural pigments responsible for hair and skin colour.

My general theory is that red hair occurs when people inherit high levels of pheomelanin from darker skinned/haired relatives (who have high levels of both eumelanin and pheomelanin), but low levels of eumelanin thanks to other lighter haired/skinned forebears.

i.e. that red hair is an imbalance that sometimes crops up when there is potential for very high and very low levels of these pigments in the gene pool

Eumelanin and Pheomelanin

Firstly, to give a brief overview I'll quote a few little passages from Wikipedia.

Eumelanin: There are two types of eumelanin, which are brown eumelanin and black eumelanin [..] A small amount of black eumelanin in the absence of other pigments causes grey hair. A small amount of brown eumelanin in the absence of other pigments causes yellow (blond) hair.

Pheomelanin: Pheomelanins impart a range of yellowish to reddish colors. Pheomelanins are particularly concentrated in the lips, nipples, glans of the penis, and vagina. When a small amount of brown eumelanin in hair, which would otherwise cause blond hair, is mixed with red pheomelanin, the result is orange hair, which is typically called "red" or "ginger" hair. Pheomelanin is also present in the skin, and redheads consequently often have a more pinkish hue to their skin as well.

Blond-haired people have low levels of both melanin types.

Again, Wikipedia; Blond hair can have almost any proportion of pheomelanin and eumelanin, but has only small amounts of both.

Another interesting fact I came across in my travels that may be worth remembering is that people with two variants of the famous MC1R gene are more likely to be blonde or fair-haired than ginger.
"MC1R only explains 73% of the SNP heritability for red hair in UK Biobank, and in fact most individuals with two MC1R variants have blonde or light brown hair."

So much for the much repeated "MC1R variant = redhead" then.

Bleaching The Hair

Something that adds to my view is what happens to hair when it's bleached. Apparently bleaching destroys the eumelanin more readily than it destroys pheomelanin, meaning the pheomelanin is left behind. Consequently dark hair is often left an orange colour after bleaching. Whereas fairer or blonder hair is left much whiter, as there's less pheomelanin to begin with.

The following article explains this point in a very easy to understand way.

If we assume that a dark hair strand has 10,000 "molecules" of total melanin, then by the ratios above, 9900 “molecules” (99%) of these would be eumelanin and 100 "molecules" (1%) would be pheomelanin. In comparison, a blond hair strand of equal size may have only 100 "molecules" of total melanin. Of these, 95 "molecules" are eumelanin (95%) and 5 "molecules" are pheomelanin (5%).
So though the blond hair has a higher percentage of pheomelanin, the dark hair still has more overall. Continuing;
When both dark and blond hair types are bleached, most of the accessible eumelanin in the two types of hair would be broken down and discolored, and only very little of the pheomelanin would do so. The reason why pheomelanin is harder to bleach is because it has sulfur linkages (or ties) that make the molecule more tightly packed and inaccessible to the bleach.

The end result is that dark hair lifts to a brassy undertone because of the significant amount of pheomelanin left behind (let’s say 90 molecules), while blonde hair reaches the palest yellow stage because only very few pheomelanins were there to start with, and they get even less after the bleach (Let’s say 3 or 4 molecules).
I'm sure this is an oversimplification, as the article itself admits, but still, it nevertheles tallies well with my thoughts. Namely that redheads - through their genetics - have "naturally-bleached" dark hair in essence. They don't have the eumelanin, but are still left with a high amount of pheomelanin, which light-haired people wouldn't naturally have.

This Quora page asking "What does bleached black hair look like?" provides some handy illustrations. Likewise a quick Google Image search will bring up examples.

Freckles and Tanning

Another thing that perhaps links with this, though my thoughts here aren't as clearly delineated yet, is tanning and freckling.

It's not often noted, but freckling is in essence a type of tanning. Albeit sporadic. With freckles appearing on areas of the body exposed to the Sun. Such as the face, neck and forearms.

One difference with freckles though is that unlike normal tanning they appear to be permanent (though they may fade over many years). It makes me wonder if there are perhaps two types of tanning. A fixed permanent type, and a more flexible responsive type. Or perhaps simply two slightly difference types, loosely associated with the two types of melanin.

Both probably serve their purpose, and I would surmise that both are utilised by the human body, but that for people with a more standard balance between the two melanin types the tanning effects are much more seamless. Whereas for redheads the preponderance of one and near-complete lack of the other makes the visual impact of the first much more noticeable.

It would also perhaps make sense that permanent tanning would be more patchy (freckly) as with it being less reversible it would be overbearing if the entire skin changed colour permanently. Especially for people returning to a low sunlight climate after being exposed to the Sun.

Though it could also be the case that the small amount of pheomelanin in general means it can't go beyond freckly pinpricks of skin darkening. With the freckles of redheads being the body trying its hardest to produce a tanning response in the absence of the eumelanin which would normally do the largest share of the work.

I would guess that most people with darker hair/skin also have this capacity to "freckle tan", but that like with the hidden orange in the darker hair, only revealed by the bleaching, the effects are hugely overshadowed by the effects of the eumelanin.

So the pheomelanin is a minor supplementary factor in standard conditions. Seamless and blended in the palette of most, but starkly noticeable in redheads when it appears on its own. Or as more dominant than would be usual. In fact, the imbalance of pheomelanin to eumelanin relative to standard norms would also explain why you get darker and fairer redheads. Even redheads with dark skin. Such people have no doubt inherited high-end levels of pheomelanin, but more average or lesser levels of eumelanin. Leading to mid-range skin tone with freckles, or dark red hair, etc.

Whereas very fair redheads - who sometimes don't freckle at all - have relatively low levels of both pheomelanin and eumelanin, but still the pheomelanin is higher than average in relation to the eumelanin for what would be usual for people in that skin/hair tone band. Leading to bright, but light carroty red hair, or strawberry blonde perhaps. And fair skin with very little tanning at all - both as a consequence of eumelanin, or pheomelanin.

Domestication and Civilisation

Finally, one little point of speculation I feel is worth adding here is the role domestication or civilised living may play in hair variance.

In the animal kingdom we see that domesticated animals - cats, dogs, cattle, horses - often come in a multitude of fur/hair colours. In contrast to native species, where animals tend to look more fixed in type. It could be that the process of domestication - with humans largely deciding the breeding choices of the animals - means that sameness is less selected for.

Out in nature an animal born with an unusual colour pattern, or looking different in some other way, may be shunned by the wider group. Stopping its genes from passing on. Whereas in an environment where the selection pressures are different such unusual traits may be allowed to flourish - and things such as hair/fur colour may become less rigid and more liable to fluctuate.

I wonder if civilised living also has a similar effect on humans. In places where things are more dangerous and natural humans likewise may be killed or shunned by the wider group for looking different. Even today for example we sometimes hear tales of albinos being killed or persecuted in Africa for their appearance. However, when you're living somewhere with law and order, and a more peaceful way of living such persecutions becomes less frequent (though again, persecution for being different is not unknown, even in advanced places).

So perhaps peaceful civilisation allows variation in things like hair and eye colour to flourish and become less fixed and homogenous.

This is all speculation of course, but still, the melting pot idea seems quite enticing.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Red-haired first and founders, 5th part (201 - 250)

While working at our partner blog Famous Redheads in History I couldn’t help but notice the great number of “first” and “founders” among our famous redheads. Here’s the list from 201 to 250.

First part.
Second part.
Third part.

Fourth part.  

201) Reginald Fessenden: he is best known for his pioneering work developing radio technology, including the foundations of amplitude modulation (AM) radio. His achievements included the first transmission of speech by radio and the first two-way radiotelegraphic communication across the Atlantic Ocean. 


202) Herman Frasch:  inventor of the Frasch process for petrochemistry and of the paraffin wax purification. 


203) Mary Anderson: first actress to appear onstage (in 1887) in the double role of Perdita and Hermione in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Popular Antipathy to Red Hair..

A very short post here. Just some commentary on the dislike of red hair from the late 19th century.
"The popular Antipathy to Red Hair arose from the tradition that Judas, the betrayer of Christ, had red hair. Hence the expression current in many languages, "Judas coloured hair." Cain, the first murderer, is also believed to have been a red-haired man. In England and the north of France the popular aversion was strengthened in no small degree by the repeated incursions of the Danes, who were all red-haired, and heartily detested. By the Danes themselves red hair was and is still looked upon as a sign of strength."

References to Red-Haired Tribes and Peoples

Redhead references from 19th century ethnographers has been a common theme on this blog over the years. I came across a few more in my recent searches around Google. I'll share them in random list form below.

1) On Tartar Women
"Red hair is considered beautiful among the Tartar women, who use a dye for the purpose of making it that colour. Their nails, also, are stained a brick colour"

2) Red Hair in the Caucasus
"Generally speaking, the people of Caucasus are large, well made, rather lean, of a tawney complexion, with strong features and a little nose; their eyes small and lively, thin eyebrows, and their hair is red or black."
"[..] In the provinces of Caucasus red hair is thought so great a beauty in the women, that such as have not received that advantage from nature use red pomatum."

3) Red Hair in the China Review

It was a little difficult to garner the correct context for these passages just from browsing the work. I think they're a retelling of Chinese reports of the peoples they had dealings with. With the writer relaying the descriptions attempting to equate the peoples to groups, nations or tribes known to western readers. I'll reproduce the quotes here as is. It might be worth coming back at some point in the future though to take a second look.
"The men are said to have been of tall stature, with red hair and greenish (?blue) eyes, and to have never before had intercourse with China. The Caliph's name was [Chinese characters]. This description would seem to apply (if necessary) to Magyers or Russians."
"The King of the Wusun we have shown was called K'un-mi, and we have also shown that they had blue eyes and red hair. The Wu-sun may therefore have been Hungarians."

4) Finns, Ostiaks, Turks and Franks

Quite a few passages from this work.

The Finns;
"The Finns are regarded as the remains of people once far more numerous, who have been conquered, repressed, carried off, or driven back by Slavonians, Turks, and Mongolians. They lead the life of hunters and husbandmen, rather than that of warriors and nomads. Reddish, or, frequently red hair, a scanty beard, a complexion marked with red patches, bluish or grey eyes, sunken cheeks [..]"
The Ostiaks;
"The Ostiaks who dwell upon the banks of the Obi appear to have preserved in much greater perfection the characteristics of the Finns. They are a people devoted to hunting and fishing, with red hair, very uncivilized, and partly idolatrous."
Now quite a curious quote about the Turkish peoples;
"The Turks had originally red hair, greenish-grey eyes, and a Mongolian cast of countenance. But these characteristics have disappeared."
The Franks;
"Before going to battle, the Frank dyed his hair red. The hair itself was frequently held together by a golden net, or a copper circlet; at other times he dressed himself with the spoils of wild beasts."

5) On the Russians

Finally we have this rather unflattering account of the Russians from the 14th century Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta.

The Russians are an "ugly and treacherous race of Christians, with red hair and blue eyes."

Some more redheads from history..

A short post reeling off some more redheads ..or at least possible redheads.

Firstly I came across the following quote about the English martyr John Rogers.
"Thus John Rogers, the martyr, had red hair, as appears from a painting of him now in Harvard College; and accordingly red or light hair and sandy whiskers will be found to prevail in his descendants in this country to the present day. So powerful was his constitution, that it stamped its own impress upon the great majority of his descendants. Compare the number of Rogerses who have more or less admixture of the red in the colour of their hair, with the community as a whole, and the force of this hereditary fact will be too apparent to be controverted."

(Illustration of the death of John Rogers,
from Foxe's Book of Martyrs)

At present I can't, with any certainty, find the painting referenced in the quote. There are a few images of the man online, but all those show hair either dark or greying. So we'll have to take the writer's word for it at the moment.

Next up I have a few quotes from a piece from 1884. It concerns a National Exhibition of Portraits which took place in South Kensington. A few red-haired portraits are mentioned.

One notes a painting of the English poet Leigh Hunt.
"Leigh Hunt, who is painted by Haydon, and who has a pouting mouth and a mop of reddish hair, and stares from the canvas like a vexed schoolboy"
The following painting portrays Hunt and is by Haydon, so I'm guessing this is the work - the pouting mouth certainly checks out. The hair looks somewhat dark in this image, but the colours in these paintings often deteriorate over time, or render slightly differently when photographed or reproduced.

(Leigh Hunt by Benjamin Hayden)

I guess you could say there is a slight red tinge to the image. Though it does look most definitely dark. So another where the jury's slightly out.

The other quote concerned the poet Abraham Cowley.
"Cowley, with red hair hanging over his shoulders, looking very like a handsome girl"
(Abraham Cowley
by the artist Peter Lely)

I guessing this is the work referenced 😅

Finally, I came across another portrait of Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Somerset (1667 - 1722). We've mentioned her red hair on this blog before, but I felt this portrait was worthy of a further mention.

(Elizabeth Seymour by Peter Lely)

I also came across a further reference to the satirist Jonathan Swift calling her "Carrots" too. Again, something we've mentioned on here before.

"And dear England if aught I understand,
Beware of carrots from Northumberland.
Carrots sown Thynn, a deep root may get,
If so they be in Somer - set:
Their Cunnings - mark thou; for I have been told,
They assassin when young and poison when old." 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Book Review: Breve storia dei capelli rossi - Giorgio Podestà

I've just finished reading Breve storia dei capelli rossi. It's an Italian work, and the title translates simply as; A brief history of red hair.

I can't read Italian properly, though I have been trying to learn. So it was a doubly worthwhile experience.

With lots of help from Google Translate I've finally made my way through it. Brief though it is.

(My now slightly battered
copy of the work)

The book explores the history, science and cultural impact of red hair. Along with the many myths and prejudices. Some of the studies referenced were particularly interesting.
"Already a 2017 study by Professor Werner Habermehl of Hamburg, an important German sexologist, had highlighted their [redheads] particular inclination to sex."

Further noting that redheads are more sought after by the opposite sex.

"For many, redheads represent, in short, the sexually perfect alter ego, the lover of their most hidden and unspeakable dreams."

This referenced the following article;

The work also touches upon some of the cherished topics we've mentioned on this blog. Such as the short story Rosso Malpelo, by the Italian writer Giovanni Verga.

Overall Breve storia dei capelli rossi was a really enjoyable read, and gives a great overview of the topic. Along with providing plenty of interesting information about red hair (and some very handy maps). All with a slight Italian lilt.

It also contained an extensive list of famous Italians with red hair at the back of the book.

I look forward to reading it again, this time without having to reach for Google Translate ..once my Italian improves.