Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

The Science of Beauty

The Science of Red Hair

The most remarkable feature of me is most definitely my hair. I have a lot of curly red hair on the top of my head. It has been a feature that has shaped who I am as a person in a lot of ways. You become pretty outgoing when strangers come up to you to complement or insult you because of your hair.

When I was little people used to call me ‘Annie’ and ask me where I got my hair from. Being a smart ass kid I responded with ‘I was born with it mate!’

In this blog I will discuss the genetic background of red hair, the specific gene and the mutations that come from it. I will also hopefully teach you how to care for curly hair, there is a special science and technique to making it as curly as possible.

Thanks to the practical classes of HMM202 I know that a mutation in my melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene causes my red hair. The MC1R is responsible for melanocyte pigment switching, affecting human pigment, skin phenotypes and skins response to UV radiation.

MC1R is located on chromosome 16 at position 16q24.3 which doesn’t mean a lot of the average Joe but to us scientist we can look at the chromosomes as a useful tool for determine genetic mutations.

The specific mutation I carry causes the loss of function of MC1R. The ability for the MC1R gene to bind to the α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone and produce dark eumelanin is lost, therefore hair color must be light pheomelanin. It is called the Arg151Cs mutation.

The red hair is a recessive mutation and can vary in shades of red, skin type and freckling if heterozygote. These trait of inheritance is why red hair is becoming less and less common.

So now for the 101 of caring for curly hair! Do not brush it unless it is wet, litres of conditioner are required and no silicone in any products!

Brushes it when it is not wet literally just rips the knots and curls out. Using conditioner and having wet hair is the easiest way to actually remove some knots but curly hair is never truly knot free.

A person with curly hair has less hair follicles on their head than a normal person. Because of this less oil is released and the scalp can be dry. A solution for this is to use handfuls of conditioner to add moister and not to use shampoo. Shampoo is a detergent agent and will strip to hair of its natural and healthy oils.

Lastly silicone, a plastic that will sit in the pore of hair follicles making them smooth and soft. Curly hair is actually bumpy and rough, the bumps cause the curls. With silicone blocking the pores the hair cannot naturally curl.

Hopefully from this blog you have learnt about the genetics of red hair and all the trouble I have to go through to make it not look like a birds nest!


  • Strum, R.A. 2002, Skin colour and skin cancer-MC1R, the genetic link. Melanoma Research, 12:405-414
  • Kennedy C., etal. 2001, Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R) Gene Variants are Associated with an Increase Risk for Cutaneous Melanoma Which is Largely Independent of Skin Type and Hair Color. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 117:294-300
  • Flanagan, Healy, Ray, Philips, Todd, Jackson, Birch-Machin, Rees. 2000, Pleiotropic effects of the melanocortion 1 receptor (MC1R) gene on human pigmentation. Oxford Journals, 9: 2531-2537
  • School of Medicine. HMM202 molecular diagnostics practical manual. Geelong: Deakin University; 2015

One comment on “The Science of Beauty

  1. mtsipnis
    May 11, 2016

    Hi Paige! I really enjoyed your series of blog posts, and I feel like you covered all of your points really well.
    One thing I think you could’ve mentioned would be how other hair colours might be expressed genetically through the MCR1 Gene. I looked into it a bit more and found that the MCR1 gene actually codes for a protein that results in dark hair, so the more protein that is produced the darker the hair phenotype will be!
    I got my info from here:


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This entry was posted on May 5, 2016 by in Geelong - Wednesday 3pm, Uncategorized.

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