Flegr J., Sýkorová K. 2019: Skin fairness is a better predictor for impaired physical and mental health than hair redness. Scientific Reports, 9: 18138. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-54662-5
About 1–2% of people of European origin have red hair. Especially female redheads are known to suffer higher pain sensitivity and higher incidence of some disorders, including skin cancer, Parkinson’s disease and endometriosis. Recently, an explorative study performed on 7,000 subjects showed that both male and female redheads score worse on many health-related variables and express a higher incidence of cancer. Here, we ran the preregistered study on a population of 4,117 subjects who took part in an anonymous electronic survey. We confirmed that the intensity of hair redness negatively correlated with physical health, mental health, fecundity and sexual desire, and positively with the number of kinds of drugs prescribed by a doctor currently taken, and with reported symptoms of impaired mental health. It also positively correlated with certain neuropsychiatric disorders, most strongly with learning disabilities disorder and phobic disorder in men and general anxiety disorder in women. However, most of these associations disappeared when the darkness of skin was included in the models, suggesting that skin fairness, not hair redness, is responsible for the associations. We discussed two possible explanations for the observed pattern, the first based on vitamin D deficiency due to the avoidance of sunbathing by subjects with sensitive skin, including some redheads, and second based on folic acid depletion in fair skinned subjects, again including some (a different subpopulation of) redheads. It must be emphasized, however, that both of these explanations are only hypothetical as no data on the concentration of vitamin D or folic acid are available for our subjects. Our results, as well as the conclusions of current reviews, suggest that the new empirical studies on the concentration of vitamin D and folic acids in relation to skin and hair pigmentation are urgently needed.