Why redheads feel less pain, according to scientists

They may be ginger — but their skin isn’t.

In a seemingly paradoxical study, US researchers found that redheads have a preternaturally high pain tolerance — wait for it — due to a mechanism that ups their susceptibility to sunburns.



The research found that the cells that determine skin color — called melanocytes — play a large role in deciding how people experience pain.


The research found that the cells that determine skin color — called melanocytes — play a large role in deciding how people experience pain. (iStock)




"These findings describe the mechanistic basis behind earlier evidence suggesting varied pain thresholds in different pigmentation backgrounds," said Dr. David Fisher of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Massachusetts. He led the fiery study published in the journal Science Advances.

The research found that the cells that determine skin color — called melanocytes — play a large role in deciding how people experience pain.

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As fire-haired folks boast a faulty melanocyte, they can’t process enough dark pigment to tan, which has the added effect of elevating their threshold for hurt.


Not to worry, no Ron Weasleys were harmed in the name of science. An examination of red-furred mice revealed that their melanocytes functioned similarly to that of rust-headed humans.

Like all people, those with crimson curls — the rarest hair color — boast a melanocyte receptor called melanocortin 1, whose primary directive is determining when the body produces dark brown and black coloration, the Daily Mail reported.


However, in redheads, the receptor doesn’t function, which makes their pallid skin virtually unable to bronze as well as more vulnerable to sunburn.

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Fortunately, despite their increased sun sensitivity, these "vermillionhairs" are also less likely to feel the burn.


The aforementioned screwy receptors reduce the production of a chemical called POMC, causing lower levels of various hormones. This in turn, brings about equilibrium between pain-inhibiting and pain-enhancing receptors, boosting the function of the pain-dulling opioid sensors not manufactured by the skin color cells.


As a result, redheads have a higher pain tolerance than their blond and brunette brethren.

The goal of the research is not to confirm the "South Park" stereotype that gingers have freaky superpowers (even if they’re scientifically proven to smell sexier, among other special abilities).


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Rather, "understanding this mechanism provides validation of this earlier evidence and a valuable recognition for medical personnel when caring for patients whose pain sensitivities may vary," said Dr. Fisher.

The Scut Farkuses of the world aren’t the only ones who can endure abnormal levels of abuse. A 2019 study found that women are the superior sex when it comes to processing agony that occurred in the past.