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Simple question: In a desert environment (Just assume the Sahel-Sahara border area in terms of environment), is white hair a detriment or benefit?

Please answer at your earliest convenience.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there a rush? Have you researched why the Bedouin prefer to wear black in the desert? Are you dying the hair white? If not, have you researched the nature of naturally white hair (it matters...)? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 17 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ What is the reason you're posting this here, and not on, say, Biology.SE? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented May 17 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ I think you mean a sunny or 'radiant' environment? the properties of white as a colour that you're thinking of will be worthless in a hot windowless lightless room sandwiched between two boilers ;p all pointless pedantry aside @JBH has a point, if it was more advantageous than dark hair we might expect sub-Saharan africans and australian aborigines would all have white hair, so we might conclude that seemingly absorption of all aspects the light spectrum is a more advantageous strategy than reflection of all aspects? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented May 17 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Joachim I am new here. How am I to know where to go if I do not have a map? Now that you have given me directions, I will consult that forum next time. I apologise. $\endgroup$
    – Rory 02
    Commented May 18 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Rory, no apologies necessary! I wasn't insinuating you should post there, but interested in the reason you posted this here. Why did you choose a site named Worldbuilding? It is often good to point out why you post a question where, especially here, so we can give more appropriate answers (and you don't have to deal with comments like mine :). $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented May 18 at 8:46

3 Answers 3

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In theory yes, but actually achieving this is another matter.

In the vast majority of cases, white hair comes with light skin tone (polar bears are a major exception). Low pigmentation in the skin poses much higher health risk in such an environment, than the benefits of high-albedo hair can outweigh.

For humans, and most mammals, it would be very difficult for a creature to have dark skin and white hair naturally, for any other reason than advanced age.

Similarly, genes for white/light hair often coincide with genes for low pigmentation of the eyes, which is also a disadvantage (though milder) in sunny environment.

Third reason it might be a problem, is that white hair are not actually white, they are semi-translucent. As such, white hair are not particularly better at protecting from the sun: they do not heat up as fast, but they let more radiation through, so it is a complicated trade-off, not straight up benefit.

So the only realistic option here is to have a human/creature with dark skin, dark eyes, but grey hair that are not completely white, but rather simply grey or platinum. The hair should also be kinky or curly: this way they provide more insulation from the heat without trapping heat next to the skin. A big grey/platinum afro is probably the best kind of hair to reduce the risk of sunstroke. Im not sure how this could be achieved genetically, but nature knows weirder combinations, so go ahead.

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    $\begingroup$ This was surprisingly comprehensive. You gave me an actual breakdown and reasons behind why it does/doesn't work, and gave me a real answer. I appreciate you, thank you for actually helping me. $\endgroup$
    – Rory 02
    Commented May 18 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, which makes the drow (Dungeons and Dragons) that much more absurd. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20 at 13:06
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If we look just at the empirical evidence, among the adaptions to the environment evolved by desert animals, white air doesn't seem to be prevalent. They have the usual nuances of brown/dark hair.

This can be interpreted as either that having white hair doesn't bring any advantage, or that the advantage it brings in term of thermal efficiency is outweighed by the disadvantage of standing out more on the background and therefore being more visible to predators. At the other end of the spectrum, arctic mammals are white.

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  • $\begingroup$ Cheers, L.Dutch. That's all I needed. $\endgroup$
    – Rory 02
    Commented May 17 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ Most desert nomads wear dark clothes. Dark clothes are better at absorving heat; not just from the sun, also from your body. As @Pica notes at their answer, a wide, loose dark piece of fabric that absorbs heat from outside and inside your body and lets air circulating inside is the proper way of keeping you cool. So dark, very curly, fluffy hair is the better option. Have you noticed that kind of hair being prevalent on some regions on Earth? $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented May 17 at 8:26
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From a purely isolation standpoint - yes. But you don't want isolation alone- you want a chimney effect to cool you in a hotplace. So you want a loose outer layer that heats up, suspended about a interior layer, that allows moist heated up air to constantly flow upward and outward, dragging a constant air stream in, that then moves away from you with the heat column. Think of it like a thermitemount but made out of cloth or hair..

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