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What are the rarest human hair colors? Are you one of the 1% – or even 2%?

Posted by mandyf on October 30, 2011

Did you ever think that your hair color could actually be very rare? We’re not talking about any hair colors that come out of a box, but rather the hair color that you got from mom and dad’s genes. After growing curious about how prevalent certain hair colors were after putting together a piece on the rarest eye colors, what we found is that the rarest hair colors will more than likely be a tremendous surprise. It is almost certain they will at least spark some debate. Before anyone goes nuts, here’s how we arrived at our conclusions.

After a somewhat exhaustive search to find any hard and fast percentages regarding how many people had what type of hair color, we found that there really isn’t that much data on it. We expected a quick Google would give us what we need, but instead we got a load of almost answers. We took all of those almost answers, weighted the results we could get from the most reputable sources a little extra, and tried to pin down a median for each hair color. Something else we discovered is that there are actually 8 different hair color categories on the Fischer-Saller scale which is a real scale used to determine hair color for the purposes of anthropological and medical studies.

We also learned that in some cases, hair colors are even broken down to subcategories. The subcategories are where even the researchers argue with each other – even as to whether subcategories are valid. This also takes into consideration that hair colors change with age and a host of issues regarding nutrition, sun exposure and illness. However it worked out, it worked out. Here, we at Mind Candy present the rarest hair colors on humans in the world – let the arguments begin!

typical black hair

Black hair is the most common hair color without any doubt. Most sources agree that black hair occurs at a ratio of about 2:1 against all other hair colors combined which we’ll accept and call 64% to strike a happy medium of all estimates. This not only has to do with the dominance of black hair over other colors from a genetic standpoint, but the prevalence of that gene in ethnic groups which are heavily populated. While there is a fair amount of diversity in the hair colors of Caucasians (which includes black hair), in the Asian, Black and Latino gene pools, black hair is nearly universal which helps keep this an overwhelmingly dominant color.

Brown hair is the second most common hair color. High levels of Eumelanin are present and dominant which creates brunettes. There’s really not much else to say about it other than it is estimated that 13% of the population has brown hair.

Auburn hair ranges from brown to dark red. Auburn hair is the product of Eumelanin (brown) and Pheomelanin (red). The presence of more  pheomelanin than what is found in average brown hair is what creates the touches of red that separate brown hair from auburn hair. Auburn hair is present in roughly 7% of the population.

Chestnut hair is very close to auburn hair in many respects, but the Fischer-Saller scale says they are very different at the genetic level. Chestnut hair is a more reddish  brown hair color than auburn. The best way to describe it is as a dark auburn. Auburn hair is present in about 6% of the world population. We can’t really tell the difference.

Gray hair

Gray hair sits at the middle of the list at about 4% give or take a couple tenths of a percentage. There are isolated cases of children that have been born with gray hair – this is usually due to the mother having certain deficiencies  which in turn caused a lack of Eumelanin or Pheomelanin. With proper care, the child’s naturally predisposed hair color will generally manifest. Gray hair is also experienced by almost every person that lives a normal lifespan regardless of what hair color they had most of their life. While it would seem that the percentage would be much higher, in actuality it remains fairly low because the largest pool of people with gray hair are the elderly and they are near the end of the road anyway.

Before going bonkers over this – hang on! Gray hair refers to a full head of gray hair. Not salt & pepper, not flecks of gray around the temples, not graying gracefully – a full head of gray hair.

White or "clear" hair -photo by chascar

Similar to gray hair is white hair. White hair occurs in more than albinos, and maintains a higher than expected percentage because many people that live very long lives will eventually have white hair. White hair is actually a misnomer because the hair that appears to be white is actually classified as clear – but who the hell would say they have clear hair? It’s not even an option at the DMV or any of the dating sites.  Maybe it should be…..Anyway, white hair fully lacks melanin and pigmentation which is why the geeks scream on and on it is actually clear. White hair is estimated to occur in about 2.5%-3% of the world population.

Now a word from the soon to be disgruntled…. Some classifications place gray and white hair together while others do not. Some researchers insist that gray hair has some trace melanin and pigmentation which makes it different from white hair. Imagine those arguments at the coffee shop. I can just see some dude going airborne off a table like Superfly Snuka trying to take down a guy that swears they are the same…

maybe a real blond, maybe not - we just like it!

Blonds come in at second place at about 2% of the population. While it seems hard to grasp, you have to remember that blonds seem more prevalent because blond hair dye is one of the most popular colors. Also, true blonds are not considered to be shades of ash, strawberry blond, or flaxen. These aren’t our rules, we’re just following them.

The rarest hair color will come as no shock – It’s the gingers! Red hair is actually classified as the rarest hair color in humans – at least on most scales according to a very specific set of parameters, but it is not hard to believe red hair is not the rarest hair color in humans. We here at Mind Candy are taking the word of a geneticist on this one. Red hair is said to occur in about 1.3% of the population. There are pockets of areas where red hair is fairly common like Scotland and Ireland, but not enough to sway the global numbers.

This figure mainly boils down to “true red hair” which is such a confusing definition and we’re still not sure what the hell we read – and we went to school and stuff. Pheomelanin is higher in red heads than any other hair color and Eumelanin at it’s lowest. A true ginger is described – in the most basic terms we can find – as having the recessive Mc1R gene.

Please be advised – these figures are hardly set in stone. They reflect  an averaging of several sources. What makes it problematic is that some studies neglect some hair colors. Some focus on only one. Others focus on specific geo-targetd areas and some are older than others. There hasn’t actually been any real scientific effort to come up with one concerted study covering all hair colors together. Not all researchers agree with and strictly follow the Fischer-Saller Scale. We came up with the best we could and this should be considered for entertainment purposes only – don’t go basing your term paper on any of this!

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One Response to “What are the rarest human hair colors? Are you one of the 1% – or even 2%?”

  1. [...] What are the rarest human hair colors? Are you one of the 1% – or even 2%? [...]

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