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updated 7/6/2010 8:37:56 AM ET 2010-07-06T12:37:56

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 glosses and highlights can be a health barometer of sorts.

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If you're a blonde...
Protect your peepers.
Women have a higher risk than men of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye condition that can cause blindness. And fair-haired females are especially prone to AMD, says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., founder of Doctors at Trump Place in New York City. A diet rich in the natural compounds lutein and zeaxanthin — found in kale, spinach, and snow peas — can help fend it off. Kogan suggests munching on one cup of the green veggies every day.

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Cover up. Melanin gives skin its color and helps shield it from harmful UV rays, says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., president emeritus of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Thing is, blondes produce less of the stuff, which leaves their skin (and especially their scalps) at a higher risk for 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 Schlessinger.

If you're a brunette...
Hold on to your hair.
More than half of the 30 million American women with visible hair loss are brunettes. 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," 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 oatmeal will provide 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 metabolizing 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. Swallow 75 milligrams a day in the form of half a cup of red peppers or a medium-size orange. Your best bet, though, is never to pick up a cancer stick. Period.

Snag a boyfriend. Do gentlemen really prefer blondes? Nope, according to Florida State University research. Not when it comes to long-term relationships. Plus, according to a 3,000-person survey, men prefer brunettes as serious mates because they see them as more reliable and steady. If you're not looking for a long-term thing, try a little spontaneity: Make the first move by slipping that cute guy your digits.

If you're a redhead...
Watch your mouth.
The next time Lindsay Lohan goes in for a cavity filling, she might want to ask for extra Novocain. Fiery locks, it turns out, stem from an inherited DNA mutation that also makes redheads resistant to general and local anesthetics, says Daniel Sessler, M.D., an anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, carrot tops may need up to 20 percent 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 prior to plopping down in her chair, or take 500 milligrams of ibuprofen one hour before the appointment.

Look out for Parkinson's. A recent Harvard study found that redheads have an almost 90 percent 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. Margaret Lewin, M.D., medical director of Cinergy Health, advises taking 400 micrograms a day (more if you're pregnant). A multivitamin has all the folic acid most women need.

Stock up on condoms. Redheads make red-hot lovers, or so the stereotype goes. One thing's for sure: They get a lot more action, according to one study. This might be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy, says 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 percent of people said they'd go scarlet for a day if they could.

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

Photos: Famous redheads

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  1. Red hot

    Christina Hendricks, who plays office bombshell Joan Holloway on the hit AMC show "Mad Men," is known for her seductive curves and stunning red locks. Before captivating the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, the actress had a recurring role in "ER" and guest-starred in episodes of "Without a Trace."

    Here she arrives at the 18th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation's Oscar Viewing Party held at the Pacific Design Center on Mar. 7, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Beauty slayer

    Actress Alyson Hannigan, of "Buffy the Vampire" fame," got her start in showbiz by appearing in Duncan Hines cookie mix commercials at the age of four. She went on to star in the teen hit movies "American Pie" and "Date Movie," and today she can be seen in the TV show "How I Met Your Mother."

    Here she attends the panel discussion for "How I Met Your Mother" during the CBS 2005 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jul. 19, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Good import

    Damian Lewis is best known for starring in the popular HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." The English actor and producer currently stars as a police officer in the NBC drama "Life." (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ageless beauty

    Actress Susan Sarandon first won moviegoers' hearts when she appeared in the cult favorite musical "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." She's since appeared in countless films, including "Bull Durham," "Dead Man Walking," and "The Client."

    Sarandon received five Academy Award nominations for best actress, including for her role in "Thelma & Louise." She has three children and from 1988 to 2009, Sarandon was in a relationship with actor Tim Robbins. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Conan the conqueror

    Conan O'Brien got his comedy start by writing sketches for "Saturday Night Live." He then went on to write and produce for "The Simpsons" before ultimately landing a late-night gig. He hosted "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" from 1993-2009 before moving on to "The Tonight Show," which was cancelled in January 2010. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Electric red

    Singer and songwirter Tori Amos' resume includes a multitude of critically-acclaimed singles, including "Silent All These Years," "Cornflake Girl" and "Crucify."

    Amos has sold over 12 million albums worldwide and has devoted herself to charity work, most notably, co-founding RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) a toll-free help line in the U.S. connecting callers with their local rape crisis center.

    Here she performs during a segment of "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" at CBS Television City on Apr. 26, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Smirking Seth

    Actor Seth Green landed his first film gig in the 1984 movie "The Hotel New Hampshire" with Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe." He went on to star in many more flicks, including all three "Austin Powers" movies, "The Italian Job," and "Can't Hardly Wait."

    Green is also well-known for his TV roles, such as playing a werewolf in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and offering the voice of teenager Chris Griffin in animated series "The Family Guy."

    Here he arrives at the Fox Winter 2010 All-Star Party held at Villa Sorisso on Jan. 11, 2010 in Pasadena, California. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. No kidding around

    Academy Award-winner Nicole Kidman proved her skills as an actress with 1989's "Dead Calm”"and 1995's "To Die For," while later films like "Moulin Rouge!" and "The Hours" also earned her critical acclaim. Most recently, she showed off her music and dancing skills in the musical "Nine," alongside Sophia Loren and Penelope Cruz.

    Kidman is also well-known for her former high-profile marriage to Tom Cruise as well as her current marriage to singer Keith Urban. She adopted two kids while with Cruise and has a daughter, named Sunday Rose, with Urban. (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Goldilocks

    Olympic snowboarder Shaun White became a household name for performing his much-anticipated Double McTwist 1260 trick on a victory run after winning the gold medal in the halfpipe at the Vancouver Games.

    Because of his fiery locks, his nickname was “The Flying Tomato,” but just before the Games he declared that he wanted to be known as “Animal.” (Scott Halleran / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Messing's mane

    Redhead Debra Messing is best known for playing Grace Adler in the TV series "Will & Grace," a role that scored her an Emmy Award in 2003. She also starred in the TV series "The Starter Wife," in which she played a divorced Hollywood wife looking to start over.

    In 2002, she was named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People" by People magazine. In 2004 she had her first child, Roman, with her actor/screenwriter husband Daniel Zelman. (Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 'I Love Lucy'

    One of America's most beloved comediennes, Lucille Ball starred in sitcoms like "I Love Lucy," "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour," "The Lucy Show" and "Here’s Lucy." She won four Emmys and appeared on television for more than 30 years (from the 1930s to the 1970s). She died at 77 when her aorta ruptured after heart surgery. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mane squeeze

    Golden-Globe nominated actor Eric Stoltz is known for his roles in films like "Mask," "Pulp Fiction," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and "Some Kind of Wonderful," among others. More recently, he can be seen in the SyFy science fiction drama "Caprica" and he also directed episodes of the 20-something NBC drama "Quarterlife." (John M. Heller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Auburn Ambrose

    Lauren Ambrose is best known for her role as Claire Fisher in the critically-acclaimed HBO drama "Six Feet Under," for which she received two Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
    She recently lent her voice for the voice of monster KW in "Where the Wild Things Are." (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Brat Pack princess

    Best known for her starring roles in the 1980s films "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty in Pink," Molly Ringwald specialized in playing the awkward, angsty teen that many fans identified with all too well. She was a member of the Brat Pack, a collection of 1980s teen actors that also included young stars like Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore and Anthony Michael Hall. Ringwald had her first child in 2003 and had twins in 2009 with husband Panio Gianopoulos. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Freckleface Strawberry'

    Actress Julianne Moore has earned four Academy Award nominations and won one Emmy Award for her late-1980s role on daytime soap opera "As the World Turns." She began starring in feature films in the 1990s, appearing in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," and "The Fugitive," and later in films like "Boogie Nights," "The Hours" and "Hannibal." In October 2007, she published "Freckleface Strawberry," a children's picture book about a redheaded young girl learning to love the skin she's in.

    More recently, she appeared in "30 Rock" as Jack Donaghy's love interest. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Locks of love

    Australian actress Isla Fisher's breakout role in the U.S. came with "Wedding Crashers," in which she starred opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. (She got her start acting in Australian soap opera "Home and Away.")

    In October 2007, Fisher gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Olive, with her fiance, English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. She recently starred in the film adaptation of "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and the romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe." (Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Lord of the Sundance

    Actor/director Robert Redford got his start in television, but really got on the road to stardom after appearing in the 1969 film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" alongside Paul Newman.

    His directorial debut came with 1980's "Ordinary People," for which he won an Academy Award. After founding the Sundance Institute in 1981, Redford became very involved with independent film, and still serves as the nonprofit's president. (Stan Honda / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Marcia, Marcia

    Actress Marcia Cross is best known for her lead role as Bree Hodge on the TV series "Desperate Housewives." Prior to her "housewife" days, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress was best known for her role on "Melrose Place." In 2007, at the age of 44, she gave birth to her first children, twin girls, with husband Tom Mahoney, a financial advisor. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Arthouse breakout

    British actress Tilda Swinton, known for both arthouse and mainstream films, won an Oscar in 2008 for her supporting role in "Michael Clayton." Her past films include "The Beach," "Constantine" and "Vanilla Sky." She recently starred in "Burn After Reading" and "The Chronicles of Narnia."

    Born in London, the actress attended boarding school along with Princess Diana. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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