Have you been waiting anxiously to find out what hair color your newborn will have? It’s normal for any expectant mom, maybe even before the positive test, to wonder what their little one will look like.
We’ve studied the science to help you predict your baby’s hair color — or at least make an educated guess.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what determines our hair color and what factors can influence it. We’ll also examine why a baby’s hair color might change and when the color becomes permanent.
Can We Predict a Baby’s Hair Color?
Well, we can try to predict it, but our new arrivals tend to surprise us!
Although there are trillions of possible combinations, the chances your baby will have a completely different hair color from you or your partner are small.
Look at it this way. If you and your partner have brown hair, there’s a good chance your little one will too. But if one of you has a little darker hair or more eumelanin (the pigment responsible for dark hair, skin, and eye colors), then your baby might have darker locks (1).
The same goes for blond and red colors. For a long time, researchers thought that red was recessive and blond was dominant. However, now we know that it’s possible to be a redhead. The red hues are simply hidden beneath a light-brown tone.
Of course, we also have to consider our family’s history of hair color. If your mom, dad, or even a grandparent had red hair, your baby could turn out to be a redhead. This color may take a couple of generations to appear as the pigment waits to be activated.
What Determines Baby’s Hair Color?
This fact may surprise many, but a baby’s hair color is determined from the moment of fertilization. The sperm and egg both hold copies of the genetic makeup of each parent. That’s 23 chromosomes from each parent (2).
When the egg and sperm meet, they fuse and form a zygote. Zygote means “yoked” or “joined” in Greek, and it refers to the fertilization and formation of a new cell.
This microscopic new cell is like computer software — it holds the genetic information from the parents. It has 46 chromosome copies in total.
Each of these chromosomes has a role. Some genes determine sex. Others determine eye and hair color, personality traits, etc. All the things that make us unique are already locked and docked this early on.
Each set of genes is individualized. This means that your firstborn might look like a mini version of you, but your second baby may appear more like your partner. Or they could be a mix of you both!
But let’s go a bit deeper into the world of genes.
1. The Power of Genes
Our genes are the most dominant factor in determining our baby’s appearance. But to consider all the possible combinations, think about this:
Experts believe a human carries around 100,000 genes in their 46 chromosomes. This means that when two individuals get together, they have the potential to produce 64 trillion babies with different combinations of traits. Thankfully, it’s not possible to have that many children (3).
But it does mean each of your children is likely to look different from the others!
Your baby’s DNA comes in packages of alleles. These are either “dominant” or “recessive.” For hair color, the dominant alleles produce darker shades, whereas the recessive ones create lighter tones (4).
Moms who thought their babies would have dark hair like their partner are often surprised to find they inherited lighter locks from themselves.
In the past, research suggested that the dominant alleles determined hair color. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Most of our traits are polygenic — meaning many genes act together to create a unique individual.
So when it comes to hair color, our genetics can produce much more than red, blond, black, or brown hair. There are many shades, such as light brown, dark brown, or strawberry blonde.
The pigment gives color to our skin, eyes, and hair. The particular pigment found in our skin and hair is melanin, of which there are two types:
- Eumelanin: Brown and black tones.
- Pheomelanin: Red tones.
The quantity of each type your baby has and how genetics have distributed them through the hair will make up the shade.
Although many genes are responsible for producing and regulating melanin, researchers still know little about this. The gene we know the most about is MC1R (5). This gene handles the instructions needed to create a protein called melanocortin 1 receptor.
The melanocortin 1 receptor is the control panel. This decides which type of pigment the melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) should provide.
When this receptor is activated, a chain of chemical reactions occurs. These stimulate the melanocytes and produce eumelanin, giving the hair darker tones.
If this receptor does not activate, the melanocytes produce pheomelanin instead. In this case, your baby may get strawberry blonde, auburn, or red hair.
Sometimes, the receptor is blocked, forcing it only to produce pheomelanin. When this occurs, it generally results in fiery red hair.
The most interesting fact is that pigment can change over time.
Could My Baby’s Hair Color Change?
Yes! Although the amount and type of pigment are already locked into your baby’s DNA, your baby’s hair color is still developing. This may continue until they are six or seven years old.
A child’s hair color can change dramatically over several years. This is because the pigment, its density, and its distribution are still changing and “settling in.”
An interesting study revealed that people of European descent are particularly prone to hair color change. Scientists are not exactly sure as to why or how. But they believe it has to do with hormonal changes, activating the melanin in the hair follicles (6).
The example focused on blond-haired children. Most of them grew to have darker locks when they reached their teenage years or entered puberty.
Unique Hair Color
If you’ve ever searched the web for “unique baby hair color,” chances are you came across some pretty wild results. There are some conditions caused by what doctors call “loss of function” that cause color variation.
Poliosis or “white forelock” is a condition where a particular spot of hair is entirely white (7).
Doctors conclude that this happens because the hair follicles in that spot lack melanin. The rest of the hair remains a natural color, generally brown or black. This makes for a very distinctive appearance.
Generally, poliosis occurs when several genetic syndromes take place at the same time. These include tuberous sclerosis, piebaldism, and Waardenburg syndrome.
However, experts have also concluded that it can occur due to a series of acquired conditions or other triggers. These include inflammatory illnesses, medication reactions, or skin tumors.
Poliosis can also affect other parts of the body. Some babies have it in their eyebrows or eyelashes. Although it may sound serious, most people with it are perfectly healthy.
Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the absence of melanin in the hair, skin, and eyes. People who have it are often characterized by having very fair skin and white hair. However, there are different variations.
The condition is very common, especially in other parts of the world, where as many as one in 3,000 children are born with it. In the U.S., it affects about one in 18,000 to 20,000 people (8).
Albinism is not a condition your baby can acquire after birth since it occurs due to a gene mutation. The chances that your baby will have it are very slim.
Generally, for a baby to be born with albinism, both the mother and father must carry the mutated gene. However, further studies revealed another variation where the mom is the carrier. This type usually only affects boys.
Albinism is not a life-threatening condition, but it can cause poor vision. Fortunately, this can often be corrected.
Babies and children with albinism should be well protected from the sun at all times. Because their skin lacks pigmentation, they are extra sensitive and may easily become sunburned. Applying sunblock and dressing them in opaque clothing, including hats and loose shirts, is essential.
There is no absolute way of telling if your child will have albinism since DNA samples vary even for the same type of albinism. But you might be able to find out if there’s a slim chance.