They may be ginger, but their skin is not.
In a seemingly paradoxical study, American researchers found that redheads have a preternaturally high pain tolerance – wait – due to a mechanism that increases your susceptibility to sunburn.
“These findings describe the mechanistic basis behind previous evidence suggesting varied pain thresholds in different pigmentation backgrounds,” said Dr. David Fisher of Massachusetts General Hospital in Massachusetts. He led the fiery study published in the journal Science Advances.
The research found that cells that determine skin color, called melanocytes, play an important role in deciding how people experience pain.
Because fire-haired people have a defective melanocyte, they cannot process enough dark pigment to tan, which has the additional effect of raising their threshold for damage.
Don’t worry, no Ron Weasley was hurt in the name of science. An examination of the red-haired mice revealed that their melanocytes functioned similarly to humans with rusty heads.
Like all people, people with crimson curls, the rarest hair color, have a melanocyte receptor called melanocortin 1, whose primary directive is to determine when the body produces dark brown and black coloration, the Daily Mail reported.
However, in redheads the receptor does not work, which makes their pale skin practically incapable of tanning and more vulnerable to sunburn.
Fortunately, despite their increased sensitivity to the sun, these “vermilion hairs” are also less likely to feel the burn.
The screw receptors mentioned above reduce the production of a chemical called POMC, which causes lower levels of various hormones. This, in turn, produces a balance between receptors that inhibit pain and those that increase pain, increasing the function of opioid sensors that attenuate pain and that are not manufactured by the colored cells of the skin.
As a result, redheads have a higher tolerance for pain than their blonde and brunette siblings.
The goal of the research is not to confirm the “South Park” stereotype that redheads have strange superpowers (even if they have been scientifically proven to smell sexier, among other special abilities).
Rather, “understanding this mechanism provides validation of this prior evidence and valuable acknowledgment to medical personnel when caring for patients whose sensitivity to pain may vary,” said Dr. Fisher.
The Scut Farkus of the world are not the only ones who can withstand abnormal levels of abuse. A 2019 study found that women are the superior sex when it comes to processing the agony that has occurred in the past.