How Pheomelanin Determines Your Hair Color

Have you ever wondered what makes your hair color unique? Maybe you have a natural red hue or golden highlights, and you’re curious about the science behind it all. Well, wonder no more! In this article, we’ll be diving deep into the world of hair color and how pheomelanin plays a crucial role in determining your personal shade. From the basics to the nitty-gritty details, we’ve got you covered.

Understanding Melanin

To understand pheomelanin’s role in hair color, it’s essential to understand what melanin is in general. Melanin is a pigment found in the skin, eyes, and hair that gives color and protection from UV radiation. There are two primary types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for darker colors, like black and brown, while pheomelanin creates lighter tones, such as red and blonde.

The Production of Melanin

The production of melanin is a process that occurs in specialized cells known as melanocytes. These cells are located in the hair follicle, where they produce and distribute melanin throughout the hair shaft. The type and amount of melanin produced depend on genetics, hormones, and environmental factors.

Pheomelanin and Hair Color

Pheomelanin is primarily responsible for creating red and blonde hair colors. This pigment produces a reddish-brown color that’s less concentrated than eumelanin, resulting in lighter tones. The exact shade of hair depends on the ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin, which is determined by genetics, specifically the interaction between the MC1R gene and other genes.

MC1R Gene and Hair Color

The MC1R gene codes for the melanocortin 1 receptor, which is responsible for signaling the production of melanin. Variations in this gene can result in different shades of hair. Red and blonde hair are typically associated with variants of the MC1R gene, which causes the melanocortin 1 receptor to produce more pheomelanin and less eumelanin.

The Role of Environmental Factors

While genetics play a significant role in determining hair color, environmental factors can also influence the production of melanin. For example, exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause hair to lighten, while exposure to chemicals or heat can damage melanocytes and reduce the production of melanin, leading to lighter hair.

Diet and Vitamins

Diet and nutrition can also impact hair color. Some studies suggest that consuming foods rich in copper, zinc, and selenium can help maintain healthy melanin production and prevent premature graying. Additionally, vitamin D is needed for proper immune function, which can impact melanocytes’ health and the production of melanin.


In conclusion, hair color is determined by genetics and the production of melanin, specifically the ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin. Pheomelanin is primarily responsible for creating red and blonde hair colors by producing a lighter shade of pigment. Environmental factors can also play a role in the production of melanin, but genetics are the primary driving factor.

Common Questions About Pheomelanin

  • What is pheomelanin?
  • Pheomelanin is a type of pigment found in the skin, eyes, and hair that produces lighter colors like red and blonde.

  • How does pheomelanin determine hair color?
  • Pheomelanin produces a reddish-brown color that’s less concentrated than eumelanin, resulting in lighter tones that appear as red or blonde hair colors.

  • What factors impact pheomelanin production?
  • Genetics, hormones, and environmental factors, including UV radiation, chemicals, and diet, can impact the production of pheomelanin.


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  • Ellis, J. A., Stebbing, M., Harrap, S. B. (2001). Biology of human pigmentation: genetics of pigment formation, patterns and disorders. Pigment Cell Research, 14(2), 64-73.
  • Gould, L., Reddy, V. (2014). DNA damage and repair in melanocytes: Effects of UVA and UVB. Future Dermatology, 9(3), 369-374.
  • Keogh, E. V., Walsh, R. J. (1976). Control of melanogenesis in hair and follicle cells in vitro by copper, zinc, and selenium. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 67(2), 160-165.
  • Tobin, D. J. (2011). Biochemistry of human pigmentation. Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, 24(1), 80-88.

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