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Red hair has never been so red hot

Redheads are having a moment, and famous flame-haired lookers include Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, actress Julianne Moore, model Lily Cole, singer Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman.

And yet if blondes are dumb, and brunettes are dull, well, redheads are stereotyped as scarily dangerous and not to be trusted. Ever since flame-haired Eve seduced Adam to chow down on an apple and got mankind thrown out of Paradise, redheads have been fairly maligned for their hair colouring down through the years.

In Greek mythology, it was believed that redheads turned into vampires when they died, while during the Spanish Inquisition, red hair was seen as evidence that its owner had stolen the fire of hell and had to be burned as a witch.

Yeah, who would want to be red, russet or auburn -- especially considering the teasing as children, with the relentless name-calling including "Ginger" and "Carrot Top".

And yet evidence strongly suggests that more women want it, with an increasing number of women now walking around with red hair. Ironically, it's at a time when genuine redheads are in fact a dying breed, thanks to more and more of us marrying outside our Celtic tribe.

The gene that causes red hair is recessive, so to have any chance of conceiving a red-headed child, both parents must share the same relatively rare genes.

And yet in the week that famous redhead Maureen O'Hara turned 90, there are more redheaded women than ever before -- and it's thanks to women dyeing their hair different shades of red.

Sales of red hair dye have rocketed by more than 20pc in the past year. Maybe it's because women feel a need to be defiant during the recession, but red hair is the choice of a growing number of young women.

So redheads are a dying breed. We asked some flame-haired beauties what lies behind the red hot veneer, and the fiery reputation?

>SOPHIE MERRY Sophie Merry is a Dublin-based animator/director whose Groovy Dancing Girl videos received more than six million views worldwide on sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion. The French clothing company Etam developed the videos into a global advertising campaign running in 51 countries.

She says: "Redheads usually stand out in a crowd, it is the most vibrant natural hair colour. It is far more rare in the US and in continental Europe.

"The artists I have sat for as a "muse" of sorts say it is one of the best colourings to have in a model, the translucent skin contrasts with the bright hair. Being ginger has been ridiculed to some degree by British tabloid culture. This has caught on in Ireland in the last few years, which is a bit sad and kind of ironic seeing as it is the quintessential Celtic colouring."

"My red hair also happens to be curly so I suppose it is more distinctive. I don't know if being a redhead makes a woman sexier (it's a constant struggle against frizz) but I do admire red hair on actresses like Julianne Moore or Nicole Kidman.

"I must admit to having a little help from my fabulous hairdresser, Sharon. Being blonde was something I experimented with when I was younger (who hasn't?) but I know that with my pale Celtic skin, it really was not a good look. And to think that we are only 2pc of the world's population -- yeah, it is a pretty cool club to be in!"

"It was definitely a lot tougher growing up as a redhead in my day than it is now. We were an easy target for names but for the most part is was harmless and playful teasing. My brother called me 'orangutan' and on trips to the zoo, he would declare that we were actually visiting my family.

"As a teenager, I definitely noticed that boys had less interest in girls with red hair, and it wasn't until I was about 22 that I really started appreciating my hair. I certainly think that the noughties has been the decade of the redhead. So many women are choosing to dye their hair red to spice their image up a bit. The likes of Nicole Kidman and Christina Hendricks have done wonders for us.

"Nowadays, I embrace being a redhead. I see it as being truly Irish and as part of our heritage, and I think it's really sad to see that natural redheads are a dying breed."

"My brother and sister were the main culprits for teasing me when I was growing up. They told me there was so much blood when I was born that some of it got stuck in my hair, and made me wear knickers on my head to cover it up.

"I embraced the colouring a few years ago, and now have it even further enhanced so that it's the brightest red it can be. I was at a friend's wedding recently and the photos showed a line-up of blondes and there I was popping out of them all. I have to say I like the individuality my colouring gives me.

"I'm not happy with the figures which suggest more women are going red. 'Go away' is my feeling, leave us redheads alone with our colouring because we've earned the right to enjoy it as adults having been the butt of jokes as children!"