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TALK ABOUT KARMA (with no pun intended): I write about the Ferrari Testa Rossa and then read that “Redheaded People May Require More Anesthesia.” This in turn led to a bit more Internet sleuthing about gray-tops (me included).

The Interesting Facts website notes, “There are all sorts of (false) rumors and superstitions floating around about redheads: They bring bad luck. They have fiery tempers. They’re more susceptible to pain sometimes and hate going to the dentist. On that last account, at least, there’s a decent amount of research that might explain the anecdotal evidence.” 

More Pain Killer, Doctor, Please. As described in the National Library of Medicine, researchers tested the hypothesis that the requirement for the anesthetic desflurane is greater in natural redhead than in dark-haired women.

Indeed, red hair results from mutations of the melanocortin-1 receptor, one of the key proteins involved in regulating mammalian skin and hair color. And the researchers found that “The desflurane requirement in redheads (6.2 volume-percent [95% CI, 5.9 – 6.5]) was significantly greater than in dark-haired women (5.2 volume-percent [4.9 – 5.5], P = 0.0004). Nine of 10 redheads were either homozygous or compound heterozygotes for mutations on the melanocortin-1 receptor gene.”

“Ouch!” Said the Redhead. Interesting Facts reports, “…  another study found redheads to be more sensitive to thermal pain, and resistant to the effects of a different injected anesthetic (lidocaine).” 

“That said,” Interesting Facts observes, “it does seem wisest to offer redheads an extra novocaine boost at the dentist no matter what.”

I wonder if Rita Hayward or Red Skelton asked for extra novicaine? 

Do Redheads Go Gray? Interesting Facts says, “Although many reputable sites repeat the claim that red hair turns white instead of gray, it’s contradicted by the testimonials of gingers with gray locks.”

What About Us Gray-Tops? In The New York Times, April 19, 2023, Kate Golembieski describes “Your Hair is Going Gray. This Glitch May Explain Why.” 

“Our hair turns gray,” Golembieski writes, “when melanin-producing stem cells stop functioning properly. A new study in mice, but with implications for people and published Wednesday in the journal Nature, provides a clearer picture of the cellular glitches that turn us into silver foxes and vixens.”

Splitting Hairs. Researchers spent two years imaging individual cells in mouse fur. “To their amazement,” Golembieski says, “the stems traveled back and forth within the hair follicle, transitioning into their mature, pigment-producing state and then out of it again.”

“But as time wore on,” she notes, “the melanocyte cells couldn’t keep up the double act. A hair falling out and growing back takes a toll on the follicle, and eventually, the stem cells stopped making their journey, and thus, stopped receiving protein signals to make pigment. From then on, the new hair growth didn’t get its dose of melanin.”

Dame Helen Mirren DBE (London-born 1945, Helen Lydia Mironoff). Unique in having achieved the Triple Crown of Acting.

Curiously, a goodly number of the article’s Reader Comments addressed social aspects of gray hair, not this scientific achievement. The way I figure it, I earned my gray-top fair and square. Plus, I find gray-haired ladies particularly foxy. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 

One comment on “HEADS—RED AND GRAY

  1. sabresoftware
    April 27, 2023

    On the red hair front, my kid brother (not so much kid anymore at age 63) is red headed, and as kids I remember an incident at the dentist where he reacted to anesthesia. I was in the waiting room when I heard a great crash and excited voices from the other room. He had woken in a great panic and in the process of waking up was flailing arms and legs and had managed to kick the dentist’s tray of implements across the room.

    On the maturity hair front, my head here still maintains somewhat of a pretence of being brown, but my facial hair is basically white. I think that on top I may be totally bald before I go completely gray/white.

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