Our hair is our most noticeable trait – and we obsess over it accordingly. But even though we spend lots of time enhancing and re-enhancing our tresses, we probably haven’t considered something pretty cool: what’s underneath all the gloss and highlights can be a barometer of your health. Match your natural shade (no cheating) to our guide and find out what your locks can tell you.
If you’re a blonde...
Protect your peepers
Women have a higher risk than men of developing age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition that can cause blindness. And fair-haired females are especially prone, says Dr Svetlana Kogan, founder of Doctors at Trump Place in New York. A diet rich in the natural compounds lutein and zeaxanthin – found in spinach and snow peas – can help fend it off. Dr Kogan suggests munching on one cup of the green vegies every day. Egg yolks are another good source of lutein – so forego the eggwhite omelettes (we know – tough call).
Melanin gives skin its colour and helps shield it from harmful UV rays, says dermatologist Dr Joel Schlessinger. Thing is, blondes produce less of the stuff, which leaves their skin (and especially their scalps) at a higher risk of melanoma. Buy a full-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen that shields against harmful UVA and UVB rays. And don’t neglect your head: “Blondes should always wear a hat when they’re in direct sunlight,” says Dr Schlessinger.
If you’re a brunette...
Hold on to your hair
The percentage of women suffering from genetic thinning is increasing, says trichologist Dr David Salinger, from the Sydney Trichology and Hair Loss Centre. Around one in five Australian women over 30 now experience hair loss. If your locks do start to thin, it’s more likely to show if you’re a brunette. That could be because they have less hair to begin with: “Brown tresses are generally coarser and thicker than blonde or red strands, and your body produces fewer of them,” Dr Schlessinger says. So when brown hair follicles die, they leave behind more noticeable thin patches. Stave off sparse coverage by eating right. Low iron can contribute to hair loss, so start swallowing 18 milligrams a day; one cup of fortified oats provides your daily fill.
Stub out that butt
Your chestnut mane is the result of lots of melanin, which could fast-track your dependency on nicotine. The reason: melanin prevents your liver from quickly metabolising the drug, and the longer it’s in your system, the faster you become hooked. Animal studies suggest that vitamin C helps keep your liver in top shape. Get your 75 milligrams a day in the form of half a cup of red capsicum or a medium-sized orange. Your best bet, though, is never to pick up a cancer stick.
Attract the opposite sex
Do gentlemen really prefer blondes? Nope, not when it comes to long-term relationships, according to research from Florida State University in the US. Plus, according to a survey of 3000 conducted by Andrew Collinge, men prefer brunettes as serious mates because they see them as more reliable and steady.
If you’re a redhead...
Watch your mouth
The next time Florence goes in for a cavity filling (with or without her Machine), she might want to ask for extra anaesthetic. Fiery locks, it turns out, stem from an inherited DNA mutation that also makes redheads resistant to general and local anaesthetics, says anaesthesiologist Dr Daniel Sessler. In fact, carrot-tops may need up to 20 per cent more numbing juice than blondes or brunettes. But don’t let a little hurt keep you from getting good oral care: talk to your dentist about pain management before climbing (reluctantly) into her chair, or take 400 milligrams of ibuprofen one hour before the appointment.
Look out for Parkinson’s
A recent Harvard study found that redheads have an almost 90 per cent greater chance of developing the disease. Why? Possibly because of that same gene mutation – it influences another type of gene that, when also mutated, can be associated with Parkinson’s. On the plus side, research shows that folic acid might delay the progression of the illness. Aim to get plenty of folate in your diet – good sources include lentils, beans, spinach
Stock up on condoms
Redheads make red-hot lovers, or so the stereotype goes. And according to one study, they get a lot more action. This might be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Dr Kogan. “Red is associated with fire, and fire is associated with passion,” she says.
“Often, you become what people expect of you.” Something others are eager to try: recent Clairol research shows nearly 40 per cent of people said they’d go scarlet for a day if they could.