Monday, March 30, 2009

do reds need more meds?

A common belief dictates that redheads possess a higher pain threshold than the majority. I’m convinced I do; I managed to break my left big toe and not realize for two days that it was bent at an awkward angle. Pain tolerance, after all, seems to suit the family of stereotypical characteristics (temperamental, sharp-tongued and stubborn). But I’d always wondered if my assumption had been scientifically explored.

Turns out that would be a yes.

Researchers at Louisville University in 2002 determined that redheads are more sensitive to pain, and therefore require more anesthetic during operations than other patients. In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment possess a dysfunctional melanocortin-1 receptor. This dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a receptor in the brain linked to pain sensitivity.

Oh, but I’m not finished yet.

Researchers at Edinburgh University in 2005 determined that redheaded women have a higher pain tolerance and therefore require less anesthetic. Normally, the melanocortin-1 gene produces a protein that reduces the efficacy of opiate drugs. However, without a functional gene, natural and artificial painkillers appear to induce an effect that is three times stronger in redheaded women.

So there you are: all that scientific jargon translates to the fact that redheads feel pain more than other people. Or less.

I’m really glad we cleared that up.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

the fire-haired fashionista

As of a week and a half ago it’s officially spring: season of daffodils, sweeping and sunshine (except in BC; we get rain instead). Now, spring carries a lot of connotations. You’ve gotta exude a cheery and exuberant persona, turn over a new leaf, etcetera. So on the morning of the 20th I opened the creaky slatted door of my closet, surveyed my choices, and realized with dismay that all it seemed to host was funeral attire.

Okay, so I need to go shopping; my wan wardrobe could definitely use some colour. But I have a small problem. I am instinctively attracted to racks of red: red sweaters, red tops, red handbags and hair-bands. However, the approach of said hue to within ten feet of my hair sends the fire department rushing to douse me. It’s very sad.

If you’re a redhead in a similar fashion rut, you must have realized by now that certain colours are just… not… flattering. So, I’ve compiled some basic colour tips to help you avoid the above fire hydrant fiasco. This goes for non-natural gingers too (we welcome you into the fold).

If your hair is a true red, auburn or copper… you probably have an ivory, yellowish or golden undertone to your skin; brown, green, hazel or blue eyes; and possibly freckles. Natural, earthy tones, such as beige, brown, camel, olive green and gold look best on you. Grey, taupe, purple, navy, pink or bright red… not so much.

If you have strawberry blonde or light auburn hair… you probably have peach or golden undertones to your skin, and green or blue eyes. You can wear most spring colors: apricot, beige, golden yellows and peachy pinks. Marine and violet blues or aqua can also look great. Warm greys work, but bluish and dark grey, plum and wine will look stark and cold against your complexion.

Now, down to some particularly noteworthy shades.

Black – the “universal colour” – isn’t so universal if you’re a redhead. It drowns the life out of your hair and skin and makes you look distinctly sallow. You can get away with it, but in black skirts, pants and accessories rather than close to your face. To pull off your trusty LBD (little black dress) or black top, a jacket or scarf worn overtop in a flattering colour can soften the severity.

Green, on the other hand, is a redhead’s dream. There’s at least one complementing green shade for every shade of red. Just two simple tips: the lighter the shade of your hair, the lighter the green you should go for, and warmer greens suit warmer complexions.

To clash or not to clash… ah, some tricky ones. I've found that pale pinks can look good on darker redheads whose color is not too coppery, but otherwise pink is a no-go. Very dark, muted purple and lilac can also work, though they suit the strawberry blonde or light auburn redhead type best. And please, for the love of all that is good (unless you're Marcia Cross), avoid orange.
The cardinal rule is this: if you’re addicted to a colour that clashes horribly with your hair, wear it as far away from the face as possible or accessorize instead with shoes, handbags or belts.

My work is done. Now go forth, my kinsmen, in lovely complementary hues!

endangered species

Maybe all those strange looks I’ve been getting lately are indicative of a general concern for my survival. Apparently, most people think redheads are going the way of the dinosaurs by 2060 – as hapless victims of our own recessive genes.

In August and September 2007, several news organizations reported that redheads are headed for extinction in the foreseeable future. Other news outlets and blogs picked up the story, citing the “Oxford Hair Foundation” or a conveniently vague category of “genetic scientists” who had set a specific date for this Armageddon: apparently, there would be no more redheads by 2060. Some news outlets lent credibility to the argument by pointing the finger at National Geographic’s September 2007 issue as being the source of the extinction claims. Others cited that issue of National Geographic for the numerical statistics it presented in a short piece on redheads.

The reasoning behind this theory? The articles employ the assumption that recessive genes, like the one for red hair, can “die out.” Dominant dark-haired and dark-skinned genes, spread far and wide by the inevitable racial intermingling of the future, will simply override the recessive ginger gene until it ceases to exist. Apparently, in order to save ourselves, we redheads must retreat to a secret isolated location and breed furiously to keep our poor besieged genomes in high concentration. I vote Maui! Let’s kick everyone else off and plant a carnivorous hedge to protect our borders!

So, now that you’re shaking under your carrot-top, here comes the truth. The National Geographic story provided statistical data on red hair in the world population. However, it only said that “news reports” have claimed the possibility of redhead extinction, and did not explicitly back that claim. On the contrary, the article noted that “while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn't going away.” Phew.

On the scientific side of things… Red hair is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene. Since it’s a recessive trait, it takes both parents passing on a mutated version of the MC1R gene to produce a redheaded child. Because of this, red hair can easily skip a generation, hidden behind dominant traits that have overridden it. It can then reappear in subsequent generations if both parents, no matter their hair color, carry the ginger gene.

Basically, recessive genes can become rare but can't disappear completely unless every single individual carrying that gene dies or fails to reproduce. So while red hair may appear infrequently, enough people carry the gene that – barring global catastrophe (or an invasion of giant killer guinea pigs à la South Park) – redheads should keep on kickin’ for a long time to come.

If you're still not convinced, experts agree that the redhead extinction claim is bogus. David Pearce from the University of Rochester Medical Center told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 2005 (after a previous round of redhead extinction rumours) that the scientists behind the claim should “check their calculator”. Rick Sturm, a researcher in hair and skin genetics at the University of Queensland, told the Australian Broadcasting Company that “there's no shortage of red-heads” and that the Oxford Hair Foundation failed to back its findings with sufficient scientific evidence.

Speaking of the Oxford Hair Foundation… the articles citing it as a respectable source pass it off as an “independent” institute or research foundation, but a simple Google search indicates that the Foundation is funded by… Procter & Gamble. Yeah, that Procter and Gamble – manufacturer of beauty products galore, including red hair dye. What a sneaky ploy! Hey, everyone, hurry up and become a redhead before they go extinct and everyone knows your colour’s not real!

So fear not: though I might have gone grey by then, I will still be around in 2060, and hopefully so will you.

Damn, I was sort of excited about Maui.