Health And Hair: The Color Connection

Do blondes have more fun? Maybe, but they face a greater risk for eye diseases than brunettes. And redheads? Get ready for pain! Here’s what your natural hair color says about your health…

Does your dentist, ophthalmologist or dermatologist ask, ‘Is that your natural hair color?’

They’re not being nosy. They’re thinking about your health.

In fact, your health and hair are more interconnected than you may realize. There’s a strong link between a woman’s natural hair color and her chances of developing diseases and disorders, a decade’s worth of clinical studies show.

The reason: The genes that give your hair a charcoal, chestnut, honey or amber hue also affect health conditions like Parkinson’s multiple sclerosis and endometriosis, says Cleveland Clinic geneticist Rocio More, M.D.

That’s because ‘the melanocytes, or DNA, that produce hair pigment are controlled by genes that have roles in other processes in the body’, she says.

What does your natural hue say about your health?


More sensitive to pain

Before plopping down in the dentist’s chair, you might want to pop an ibuprofen. And make sure you remind the hygienist and dentist you’re a natural redhead.

Ginger – haired people tend to be particularly resistant to local anesthetics used in dentistry, according to a 2009 Cleveland Clinic study. Besides making for a painful cleaning – not to mention root canal – they hypersensitivity to pain may lead to anxiety about dental procedures.

Redheads may require up to 20% more local anesthesia than other colors, says the study’s lead researcher, Cleveland Clinic anesthesiologist Daniel Sessler, M.D.

That’s because redheads’ melanocortin – 1 receptors (the DNA responsible for hair color) are malfunctioning. In fapt, red hair itself is the result of a gene mutation.

Painful procedures can lead women to avoid going to the dentist, says Dr. Sessler, who adds that this sensitivity also applies to surgical procedures. Redheads often require more general anesthesia then too.

The best way to avoid unnecessary pain: Talk to your dentist before having any work done, says Dr. Sessler.

‘Establish a method [before the procedure], for example, raising a finger, to communicate discomfort, so additional pain – block – medicine can be administered’.

Higher Risk For Parkinson’s

Redheads have nearly a 50% greater chance of developing Parkinson’s that people with other hair colors, according to a 2009 Harvard Medical School study. People with black hair have the lowest chance, followed by brunettes, then blondes, researchers found.

The gene responsible for fiery hair hues is headquartered close to a gene that, if mutates, can increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease. And proximity can be all it takes to make one gene affect another.

‘The lighter the hair, the stronger the likelihood of developing the ‘bad’ variant of the Parkinson’s gene’, says Svetlana Kogen, M.D., an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital – and a natural redhead.

‘We found that [people] with a family history of melanoma had an increased risk of Parkinson’s’ says one of the Harvard researchers, Xiang Geo, M.D., Ph.D., instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Because redheads face higher risk of melanoma, Parkinson’s and melanoma ‘may share genetic components, most likely the genes related to pigmentation’, Dr. Gao says.

High – strung

Reds are often more anxious than other colors. That because the same genetic factors that control melanin production (the DNA that gives hair its color) also affect how your body manages stress.

‘The genes responsible for the ability ro produce anti – stress hormones live close to melanocortin – 1 receptors’, says Margaret Lewin, M.D. a New York internist.

And sometimes the gene mutation that causes red hair can lead the anti – stress genes astray, too, and cause faulty production of anxiety – reducing hormones like pregnenolone. ‘The decreased production of anti – stress hormones leaves a redhead more likely to be stressed out’, Dr. Lewin says.


Prone to eye issues

Buy UV-blocking shades, if you haven’t already. Age – related macular degeneration, an eye disease that may cause blindness, strikes women more often than men, and blondes more than other natural hair colors.

‘The fairer your hair, the greater your risk’, Dr. Kogan says. And if you have blue eyes too, you’ve increased the odds.

‘Although the exact link isn’t fully understood, the lack of pigment to protect blondes’ eyes from the sun’s retina – damaging rays may be a cause’, Dr. Kogan says.

Greater chance of skin cancer

It’s not secret that fair skin increases your chances of melanoma, but light is a risk factor too.

Researchers at Harvard say that no matter your skin tone, blondes should never leave home without slathering on a full – spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen with at least 30 SPF.

‘Blondes produce less melanin, the cells that give your hair and skin its pigment. [It] can leave the especially sensitive to sunburns, sun damage and developing skin cancer’, says dermatologist Joel Schelessinger, M.D., president emeritus, American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery.

And just because the sun isn’t shining, that doesn’t mean you’re safe from its rays.

‘You can get a nasty sunburn when it’s partly claudy too’, Dr. Schlessinger says.

Most likely to shine

Blondes always get credit for having all the fun, but now there’s scientific proof that they’re living it up with some of the shiniest hair too.

Blonde hair has different characteristics than brunettes and reds, which allow it to reflect light better while still appearing to have a soft, warm tone, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science.


More likely to smoke

Dark – complected people are more susceptible to nicotine dependence, according to a 2009 Pennsylvania State University study.

The melanin that gives your hair its chocolately color also slows your liver’s ability to metabolize nicotine, making it say in your system longer. That makes you more likely to become dependent on cigarettes, Dr. Lewis says.

Lower risk of skin cancer

Many studies have linked brunettes with decreased odds of developing a host of health conditions, from melanoma to endometriosis.

And a 2008 Australian study found brunettes have less of a chance of developing multiple sclerosis.

‘In most cases, brunettes tend to have darker complexions than blondes and redheads, which seems to provide some protection from multiple sclerosis’, Dr. Schlessinger says.

More likely to get lymphoma

Unless it’s jet – black, the darker your hair, the greater your chances of developing non – Hodgin’s lymphoma (NHL), according to the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

‘Women with dark hair often have a certain DNA coding that not only affects pigment, it increases the risk for this disease’, says lead researcher Marit Bragelien Veierod, Ph.D., of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

But interestingly, black hair did not carry the increased risk like brunette hair did.

Damsels NOT in distress

Perhaps is she had black hair, Papunzel wouldn’t have needed rescuing. According to a study published in U.S. journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, women with black hair are least likely to be seen as needy or in distress.


Your genes don’t change when you hair grays.

The DNA that once made your locks red, blonde or brown is part of your chemical make – up, even if your hair color shifts toward silver.

‘If you’re a natural redhead, you’ve still got an increased risk of Parkinson’s’, Dr. Moran says.

Family history and age are the major factors that influence when hair color changes.

But if it goes gray before your peers or seems to change more quickly, that could be the sign of other health issues.

‘Stress, smoking – which has been linked to cell damage – vitamin B12 deficiency and thyroid disorders can cause the body to stop making pigment, leading to premature or sudden graying’, Dr. Moran adds.

What’s your hair color personality?

Is the redhead inside you just ‘dyeing’ to get out? Choosing hair color involves more than a simple trup down the beauty aisle of your favorite drugstore. While you may have the sense to select a hair color that matches your skin tone, do you have the skill to match it to your personality? Take this quiz and find out!

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