Hair Color: What Determines It?

Hair Color: What Determines It?

Rhonda M. Davis - Published January 22, 2022

Red, black, auburn, blonde, strawberry blonde…..

Our hair comes in a multitude of natural shades. Over the years it may naturally darken or lighten, but how is our natural hair determined?

Let’s go back in time, when we were still in the womb. As you can imagine, there were a plethora of developmental processes happening. The formation of our eyes, heart, brain, even our hair color. We know our hair color is determined by genetics but how does this happen?

Deep within our hair fibers, our natural hair color is determined by the melanocortin 1 receptor gene. This gene is found in the melanocyte cells that produce melanin in the cortex of our hair.

There are two types of melanin found in our hair fibers: eumelanin and pheomelanin. The melanocortin 1 receptor gene controls whether eumelanin or pheomelanin will be produced. The amount of eumelanin in the hair determines how dark the hair will appear. Black hair has a high amount of eumelanin, brown hair has a moderate amount and blonde hair has little to no eumelanin present. If the melanocortin 1 receptors are blocked or not activated, pheomelanin is created. This can cause the hair to appear strawberry blonde, auburn or red.

When the hair follicle loses its ability to produce melanin, the hair color turns gray.


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