Beautiful Human Unicorns: Some Sciencey Facts About Redheads

Our nurse practitioner, Jennifer, is a redhead and recently had lip injections with Gina. I went in to see how it was going and Jennifer said she didn’t think she could get through it. Gina had done about ONE injection! They had used both topical and injectable anesthetic and she was still in enough pain to cause her to shed some tears.

I had heard anecdotal talk about increased bruising and swelling with redheads when getting injections, but I didn’t know if there was any actual science behind it. And after having Jennifer on staff and saying redheads struggle with pain management, I knew I had to do some research.

Sure enough, the gene that keeps redheads from producing melanin (skin pigment) is the same gene that is involved in the brain function that determines pain response. (To be extra sciencey: They inherit mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor, or MC1R, on chromosome 16).

Redheads are like human unicorns! The redhead gene wasn't even identified until 2000, and only about 1-2 percent of the world’s population is redheaded. Turns out they have a lot of genetic uniqueness - some good, some more challenging.

Here are some facts I discovered about redheads:

  • They do not produce melanin.

  • They have less strands of hair, but the strands they do have are thicker.

  • They need approximately 20% more anesthetic than others (not just during surgery but in situations like dental visits, epidurals for child birth, and cosmetic injections).

  • They are able to produce their own Vitamin D.

  • They are more sensitive to changes in temperature.

  • They produce more endorphins than the general population (endorphins increase feelings of happiness). Endorphins can also help in pain management, so even though gingers need higher doses of anesthetics, they require lower doses of certain pain medications, like opioids.

  • Redheads have thinner skin.

  • They bruise more easily.

  • They are more susceptible to skin cancer due to their lack of melanin.

Several of these unique attributes could effect cosmetic injection outcomes, so here’s some advice for redheads on skincare and injections.

If you are having filler injections:

  • Talk to your nurse beforehand about the best anesthetic options: topical vs. injectable, or a combo of both.

  • Be sure to stay away from all blood thinners in the weeks leading up to your appointment (like NSAIDs, fish oil and alcohol - a full list is on the pre- and post- care instructions you will receive). We advise everyone to do this, but since redheads are more prone to bruising, follow these rules strictly!

  • Take Sinecch, starting the day of your appointment, to help reduce bruising and swelling. This is an oral form of Arnica and we have it available in office, or you can get it at People's Pharmacy.

Some general skincare advice for redheads:

Because redheads are more prone to developing skin cancer, ALWAYS use a physical sunscreen like Elta MD, the Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush, or Skin Better’s Tone Smart SPF compact, and be sure to reapply.

Redheads can tend to have drier, more sensitive skin so consider:

  • An equalizing toner (Skin Ceuticals)

  • A gentle face wash (Elta MD Foaming Wash or Skin Ceuticals Simply Clean or Replenishing Cleaner)

  • A moisturizer for nighttime, or even for morning AND night (Skin Ceuticals Triple Lipid, Skin Better’s Trio, or Elta MD’s Skin Barrier Repair).