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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Haircolor Changes After You Die

By February 27, 2013

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Mummy (Emmanuelm)If you've ever seen a mummy in a museum, you might have thought the ancients went a little overboard with henna and other red dyes. While people have colored their hair practically forever, it's more likely what you're seeing is the change in haircolor that occurs after a person dies. The color of hair comes from the mixture of two melanin pigments: eumelanin (yellow-brown-black) and pheomelanin (red). Pheomelanin is more stable, so over time the eumelanin oxidizes while most of the pheomelanin remains. This is reason most Egypian mummies appear to have reddish hair. The change occurs more slowly under dry oxidizing conditions, such as burials in ice or sand, than under wet reducing conditions, such as burials in wooden coffins or damp caves. Therefore, you would expect to see a more faster or more dramatic haircolor change in a body from the jungle, for example, than a corpse from the desert.

Photo: Pre-Columbian Peruvian mummy. (Emmanuelm, Creative Commons)

Learn More about Hair Chemistry

How Hair Color Works
How Hair Detangler Works
Why Hair Turns Gray
Why the Pool Turns Hair Green
Can Hair Turn White Overnight?


March 9, 2010 at 1:14 am
(1) Jyotirupa Deka says:

Nice topic to get discussed, why dont you put certain forum over the use of certain chemicals which are essential yet harmful to life on earth?

May 15, 2010 at 6:16 am
(2) zoyah says:

its fantastic chemical.

August 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm
(3) JUSTIN says:


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