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A reader explains why redheads are here to stay. Photo by: Thinkstock

Redheads are not going extinct – stop perpetuating this myth

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A reader explains why redheads are here to stay. Photo by: Thinkstock

Letter to the Editors:

An article posted on July 8 asserted that redheads are an endangered species thanks to global climate change. The idea is that since red hair is thought to be a response to cloudy weather, a reduction in cloudy weather will lead to a reduction in redheads. Fortunately, there are several reasons to take this whole simplistic hypothesis with a grain of salt.

First, the article quotes Dr Alistair Moffat. An easy Google search reveals he has not studied science in university. He is a history expert. He does run a company that is supposed to analyze your DNA, but he has also made claims people with PhDs in science do not agree with.

Second, the reason the article gives for the red hair gene going away is that people with red hair have skin cells that are more sensitive to skin cancer. It is true that all pale people with any hair color are more sensitive to skin cancer, but skin cancer generally comes after you have already had children and passed on your genes. According to Cancer Research UK, 2.6 people out of every 100,000 die of malignant melanoma (the skin cancer most likely to be lethal) each year and only 5% of malignant melanoma deaths in the UK were in the 15-39 age group. In order for any trait to go extinct, people with that gene must not reproduce. Redheads as well as people with hair of other hues with the potential to have red-haired children will continue to reproduce.

Third, other parts of the article have misrepresented our current understanding of the evolution of hair and skin color. The theory of how hair color and skin color evolved is still up for debate. Scientists do not know when the red hair gene came into existence. It may have begun before people lived in Europe. Vitamin D is produced in the skin, not the hair, when the skin is exposed to light.

For years, scientists theorized people evolved lighter skin in colder climates so we could make more vitamin D, and people in hotter climates evolved darker skin so they would be less prone to skin cancer. However, recently studies have made scientists doubt whether paler people are better at vitamin D production. It is possible that before the industrial revolution people of all skin colors produced adequate vitamin D because we were outside more. There are many ideas and not a lot of evidence for why humans evolved with lighter skin in northern climates.

For more information on why redheads are here to stay, click here.

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