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Human hair comes in a wide range of colors. Though your natural hair color is largely determined by genetics, your hair color doesn’t always match exactly what your genes suggest. AncestryDNA can tell you if you’ve got some of the DNA for darker or lighter hair, based on six genetic markers—three markers associated with lighter or darker hair and three markers associated with red hair color.
Melanin and Hair Color
The same pigment that contributes to your eye color and skin color is involved in your hair color. It’s called melanin.
Your hair has two types of melanin in it: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin comes in black and brown. And pheomelanin is a spectrum of pinkish-red to orange and yellow. If you have dark hair, the eumelanin (the black and brown pigment) in your hair is high—and the pheomelanin in your hair is low. If you're blonde, you have low amounts of both pigments.
And if you have red hair, you have low eumelanin levels and lots of pheomelanin (the pigment that ranges from pinkish-red to orange and yellow).
Hair Color Genetics
While dark-haired parents tend to have dark-haired kids, hair color genetics is quite complex. Your hair color depends in part on how many gene variations you inherit from both of your parents.
If you have brown hair, your shade of brown depends on how many light and dark markers you inherit from your mom and dad.
If you have really blonde hair, you have lots of light markers—and you'll likely pass these on to your kids.
Environmental factors like sunlight and age can also influence your hair color. For example, one theory of why hair turns gray with age is that hair follicles eventually produce less melanin.
Science of Hair Color
Scientists have identified many of the genetic markers involved in hair color. But it's not always possible to tell how these genes will interact to produce your unique hue.
And they are almost certainly not the only DNA markers involved in determining your hair color.
AncestryDNA looks at six well-studied genetic markers. Blonde or light hair is associated with three markers: one each in the KITLG, OCA2, and SLC24A4 genes.
Some people only have test results linked to either dark or light hair color. Others have a combination.
But if you have more markers for light hair than dark hair, it's more likely that you have lighter hair.
Hair Color Fun Facts
Red hair color is the most rare color on any natural hair colors list. Scientists estimate that less than 2% of people across the world are redheads.
Blonde hair is another relatively rare hair color. It was once largely associated only with European heritage. But scientists discovered a mutation in the dark-skinned indigenous people of the Solomon Islands that causes blonde hair in about 10% of the population.
And it turns out the genes involved in their blonde hair are different from the genes involved in Europeans’ blonde hair. So blonde hair evolved independently in both populations, thousands of miles apart.