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Golliwog and ghost-child: The genetics of being ginger

Updated: May 21, 2020

After recently reading an article in a well-established British fashion magazine, claiming people with ginger-hair are left-handed and we have more sex than other people. I wanted to write about the genetics of being ginger, avoiding common misconceptions.

Growing up with ginger-hair, pale skin and freckles had its challenges, but nothing unpleasant I couldn't handle. In fact quite the opposite, as I rather enjoyed being the only natural ginger-haired person in the room. Sure there were times when I cycled the long route home to avoid mocking, but no biggy-smalls as the older boys name-calling had problems of their own!

Growing up my best-friend had dark brown skin and hair and I had bright ginger-hair and extremely pale white skin, so we stood out together making us a target. It was the '80s and '90s when calling someone a 'golliwog' and 'ghost-child' was apparently okay! Whenever we were together, which was all the time, 'golliwog and ghost-child' was a common jeer.

Ginger, ginger-minge, collar and cuffs, red-head, ginger-nut, ginger-bread-women, ghost-child, carrot-top, ginger-snap, Riiiiiiiicky (an actor from Television soap series 'Eastenders', who went out with a ginger-haired girl who was always yelling his name "Ricky"). In the late '70s and '80s this type of verbal abuse was part and parcel growing up, and during the mid-'90s Ginger-spice was thrown into the mix. Being called 'Ginger-spice' was a compliment, but after ten years of it, it started to wear thin. I won't lie, my toes curled up when I heard about the Spice-Girls reunion.

I grow up in a village in Liverpool (north-west England), where like Essex (south-east of England, north-east of London) looking good and dressing well was as important as buying your first car or getting an education. Like many people in Liverpool in the '90s I spent my teenage years hammering the sun-bed, in fact, it was almost mandatory to grab 6-10 minutes prior to a night out, and it was commonplace to observe our comrades developing a deeper tan or a brighter shade of lobster as the night shifted into the following morning.

Upon reflection, my relentless visits to the sun-bed were categorically ignorant. My parents warned me about ultraviolet radiation, but I brushed-off the advise insisting "6 minutes on the tubes won't harm me". What can I say, it was my late teens and I was stupid.

Ultraviolet radiation is harmful, particularly if you have pale-skin or fair-skin, even more so if you have the ginger-gene. These two skin types are at high risk of skin cancer. People with the ginger-gene, should avoid sunbathing and habitually apply factor 30-50 SPF or sunblock throughout the year and most certainly during summer months.

If you or a family member have the ginger-gene it is important to understand the facts, because the genetics of being ginger is more complicated than you think. Here's why;

1. Ginger-hair only occurs in 1-2% of the population of the world

2. The ginger-gene is a mutation of the MC1R gene (when male and female genes mutate)

3. Ginger-people need 20% more anaesthesia for medical procedures

4. Ginger-hair retains its natural pigment longer than other shades. It fades with age through a spectrum of faded copper and rosy-blonde, then eventually it turns silvery-white.

5. Ginger-hair and blue eyes are the rarest of combinations on earth

6. Ginger-hair can occur in any ethnicity

7. Ginger-hair people are more likely to develop skin cancer due to lower melanin in the skin

8. Ginger-hair people have non-tanning skin and should not sunbath without applying 30-50 SPF

9. Ginger-hair people adapt to temperature more quickly, retaining heat better than other people

10. Ginger-hair people produce Vitamin D much more effectively under very low light conditions

11. Ginger-hair people will not become extinct because the ginger gene is a mutation of genes

12. Ginger-hair is found in people lacking pro-opiomelanocortin (241 amino-acid)

13. Ginger-hair people feel more pain which makes us more resilient and conditioned

14. Due to the lack of melanin - people with the ginger-gene and blue-eyes have better night vision.

That said, all blue-eyed people evolved from a genetic mutation, similar to the MC1R ginger-gene mutation, therefore all blue-eyed people are more susceptible to ultraviolet light and have better night vision. So there really is more to that blue sparkle than meets the eye.

If you enjoyed this article tune in to the video below: The truth about gingers. Notice how the narrator doesn't appear to emit a breath, then subscribe to my blog and never miss an update.


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