Red hair can yield its owner a lifetime of extremes, from ridicule to adulation, embarrassment to pride. Just ask 34-year-old Tami Collins of Olympia, Wash. As a kid, she was teased and called Annie (as in the singing orphan), carrot top and a roster of other names redheads learn all too quickly.
"I was always the only one in my school who had red hair and I really stood out in a crowd," she says. "I can remember being at an assembly ... and I felt like out of the hundreds of kids packed in there, I could be spotted with no problem."
Yet she eventually learned to revel in her uniqueness. She discovered women were paying good money to turn their locks into a curly mane like hers, which she describes as dark orange. She shares her red tints with her 7-year-old son Cameron, though he's more of a strawberry blond.
"As an adult I really like my hair, wouldn't change it for anything and am worried about the day I have to start covering up my gray because I won't be able to find my color!" Collins says.
Strawberry blonde Rachelle Dudley, 45, of Olympia, explains what kindles the passion: "We redheads stand out in a crowd and know it. It's the first thing that is noticed, first thing that is commented on, and somehow becomes our complete identity to some as they can never see past it."
Author Nicole Giladi isn't surprised at the response. A brunette married to a brown-haired guy, Giladi gave birth in 2004 to twins, including one with copper-toned tresses. Curious as to how Sammy wound up with a different hair shade from his parents, Giladi started researching red hair and decided to write a children's book on the subject. Once word spread about the project, she was deluged with e-mails from families across the country hoping their young redheads could be included.
"It's a topic people love to talk about," Giladi says. "When red hair has touched a family's life, I've found it holds a very personal soft spot for those who've had a mother, grandmother, sister, brother, uncle, etc., with golden locks."
Ten-year-old Wyatt Gallagher of Federal Way is among the children spotlighted in Giladi's self-published "Little Redheads Across America." The 88-page book includes color photos of young redheads from all 50 states and facts about red hair in kid-friendly language.
Red is the rarest color of human hair, with just 2 percent to 6 percent of the U.S. population believed to be redheads, Giladi said.
Red hair is a recessive trait. To produce a redheaded baby, both parents need not have red hair themselves but must each carry the red hair gene. Auburn hair could easily skip a generation of offspring, but two completely red-haired parents always produce a redheaded child, Giladi said.
The unusual hair color ultimately reaps more praise than uninformed comments, say self-described "gingers."
"I was teased when I was younger for having red hair, but as I got older people envied it more and still do," wrote Erica Pybas, 26, of University Place, Wash. "I get tons of compliments on my hair daily. I love being a redhead because there's so few of us out there. We are truly unique and beautiful people."
Yet life isn't all roses for redheads; they can face real health hazards. Redheads' fair skin has less of the protective melanin, leading to a propensity to sunburn easily and a higher risk of skin damage, including cancer, according to Giladi.
Chuck Kleeberg of Tacoma says he must have precancerous growths frozen off his forehead once a year. He recalled a dermatologist's reaction when he needed a growth removed in the early 1980s after Kleeberg had just finished law school.
"It was an office procedure, the doc asked me to stay put, and he left. Soon I could hear him on the phone in the room next to mine yelling," says Kleeberg, now Pierce County planning and land use director.
"I want that biopsy stat! This guy is not only a lawyer, he's a (not suitable for family newspaper) REDHEAD!"
More about redheads
To learn about genetic testing for the red hair gene or see links about red hair in general, go to www.myredhairgene.com.
To purchase Nicole Giladi's book, "Little Redheads Across America," go to www.littleredheadsacrossamerica.com. It's $29.99.
20 famous redheads
1. Carol Burnett (1933-) American comedienne and actress.
2. Lucille Ball (1911-1989) American comedienne and actress.
3. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) She ushered in the modern age of women's liberation by fostering birth control.
4. Judas Iscariot (d. 29-33) The disciple of Jesus Christ who betrayed him to the Romans was supposedly a redhead.
5. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (1948-) One of Charles Manson's family members.
6. Geri Halliwell (1972-) Otherwise known as Ginger Spice, she is a former members of the Spice Girls.
7. L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) Science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology.
8. Bernadette Peters (1948-) American actress, singer, and Broadway star.
9. Napoleon Bonaparte (1761-1829) French military and political figure who had a significant hand in the French Revolution.
10. Lizzie Borden (1860-1927) Famous accused American hatchet murder suspect (she was acquitted) in the deaths of her father and step-mother in Massachusetts in 1892.
11. Cleopatra (69 B.C.-30 B.C.) Female Egyptian ruler who formed political liaisons and romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
12. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) He's known as either an English military and political genius, or the scourge of Ireland.
13. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet known for her reclusive behavior as well as her quietly prolific poetry.
14. Willie Nelson (1933-) Country singer/songwriter.
15. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) Italian composer of the late Baroque era.
16. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Third U.S. President from 1801 to 1809.
17. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch post-Impressionist painter.
18. James Joyce (1882-1941) Irish 20th century writer.
19. Mark Twain (1835-1910) Pen name of American humorist and author Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
20. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) Italian astronomer and physicist.
Fun redhead facts
From author Nicole Giladi:
1) Eye color: People with red hair often have light eyes, like blue or green, which are the most common eye colors for redheads. Breakdown: blue 45 percent, green 24 percent, brown 18 percent and hazel 12 percent.
2) Red hair is the rarest hair color in humans. Red heads make up only 2 percent of the United States. Where other redheads live in the world: Scotland, 14 percent; Ireland, 10 percent, Wales 10 percent.
It's estimated that only 1 to 2 percent of the world population are redheads. The United States has anywhere from 2 to 6 percent, which would give it the largest population of redheads in the world, with somewhere between 6 million and 18 million, compared to about 650,000 in Scotland and 420,000 in Ireland.
3) Redheads have the least amount of hair on their heads, but it's the thickest out of all the colors.
4) Redheads have more left-handed people than all other hair colors.
5) Red is the most requested hair color at beauty salons. It is very difficult to dye naturally red hair. Red hair holds its pigment more tightly than most other colors.
6) Because it's a recessive trait, red hair can easily skip a generation. It can reappear after skipping one or more generations if both parents (no matter their hair color) carry the red hair gene.
7) In 2007, many news organizations reported that redheads would eventually become extinct around 2060. It turns out that all those people were wrong. Redheads are here to stay and will be around well beyond 2060. Even if every redhead in the world stopped giving birth to children, the red hair gene would still live on through non-redheads who carry the gene.
8) Several studies have found that redheads are more sensitive to pain compared to non-redheads. For that reason, researchers have also found that redheads need more anesthetic during operations than other patients. However, these findings have not been proven with 100 percent accuracy; just make sure you discuss these recent findings with your doctor if you do have the need for any surgical procedures.
9) As a redhead, the color of your hair changes over time. This is because the amount in melanin in your hair changes with time. You might be a bright red today, however as you age you will notice the shade of your red hair change. Also, red heads don't really gray. Red heads tend to look blonder as they age.