Scientists believe that the “ginger gene,” or “V6OL allele,” showed up 50,000 years ago after humans left Africa for colder climates. This gene made human’s skin lighter, as they were exposed to less vitamin D from the sun.
The scientists made this discovery having studied the gene evolution of 1,000 people from Spain.
Ten percent of Irish people have red hair. In total there are 20 million people in the United Kingdom and Ireland with the gene that can cause red hair and this new study shows that this remains a dominant gene in southern Europeans today.
However, this paler skin also brought health risks, such as melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer, but the study’s author Doctor Saioa Lopez says this is not necessarily due to the redhead gene itself.
He told the Daily Mail, “As a consequence of depigmentation there has been a collateral damage consequence to health.
“This can be reconciled if we assume that melanoma is typically a post-reproductive disease, and consequently should have little effect on the individual’s genetic contribution to the next generation.”
The study followed on the results of a ScotlandsDNA project in 2012 which found that the Celts flaming red hair can be put down to the weather. The experts believe that the gloomy climate in Scotland has seen a deliberate genetic adaptation. Essentially this means that red hair helps to take advantage of sunny days and allows the body to absorb more vitamin D.
Read more: What’s the best thing about being a redhead?
* Originally published in 2013.