I'm making a genus of elves, native to an African-like continent and I want them to have green hair that they put together to make grass like dreadlocks.

Could they pull this off or are they going to have to grow gardens on their head?

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    They could always dye their hair. Or unless it's really, really important that the audience know the reason the hair is green, you could just say the hair is green and leave it at that. Most audiences will buy that without explanation. – sphennings Aug 22 '17 at 20:32
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    Possible duplicate of Human hair color boundary? – Secespitus Aug 22 '17 at 20:41
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    Camouflage would probably be enough to explain it. They can naturally have green hair or dye it green to blend into the trees. – A. C. A. C. Aug 22 '17 at 21:14
  • @Secespitus - the question is not a duplicate, but this answer would fit here. And the short answer is No. – Alexander Aug 22 '17 at 22:36
  • It's conventional to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer so that people from every time zone get a chance to weigh in. – sphennings Aug 23 '17 at 0:19
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Human hair color is based on two pigments: eumelanin and pheomelanin. The more eumelanin you have, the darker brown-to-black you get. The more pheomelanin you have, the more orange-to-red you get. Add the two together and you get auburn. So, based on "reality," there is no way to get green hair from brown, orange, and red.

But, you're dealing with elves. What's reality to an elf? Isn't life a dream with humans starring as the nightmares? Youbetcha! So, let's use reality to create a sensible-sounding reason why your elves have green hair. Let's suggest that their genome has a third pigment: jordalanin. Jordalanin creates green.

If Elves have all three pigments, it means they can be blond, brunette, ginger, green, and the mixing derivatives that would include a true gold and even a dark blue (a real blue, but only with all three pigments, methinks). Use a graphics tool to mix color between brown, red/orange, and green and see what you can come up with.

With just two pigments, you'd get:

Jordalanin + eumelanin = brown, black, and green with subcolors including emerald and dark forest green.

Jordalanin + pheomelanin = red, orange, and green with subcolors including gold and copper (in a way humans can't. Human copper hair is really just a dark red. Real copper has a yellow component humans can't create with just two pigments).

You could have a lot of fun with this!

EDIT: Note that my reference to a blue color is based on pigment color combinations... NOT computer color combinations. There is a substantial difference in the colors you get when you mix reflected-light pigments and dyes and when you mix emitted-light computer colors. Keep in mind, the primary colors for computers are Red/Green/Blue and mixing red+green gets you yellow. Primary reflected colors are Red/Yellow/Blue and mixing yellow and blue gets you green.

  • Why is there "no way" to get green hair? All you need is a genetic change that produces a different color molecule. Something similar is quite widely done in biological research, by insertion of the gene for green fluorescent protein: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC106425 – jamesqf Aug 23 '17 at 5:46
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    @jamesqf, what I specifically said is that it's impossible to obtain green from the two existing pigments. Curiously, what I proposed as a solution was exactly what you proposed: the creation of a third pigment. Cheers. – JBH Aug 23 '17 at 13:01
  1. Green hair could be a natural color variation for this particular race.
  2. Green hair could be caused by algae living on or inside the hair. Polar bears in captivity have been know to turn green from algae inside their hollow hairs.


Polar bears can get green fur.

polar bears with green fur from https://cornerofthecabinet.com/2014/02/10/polar-bear-fur-isnt-technically-white-its-translucent/

Polar bear hairs are hollow and clear. When circumstances are right, algae find the inside of the hair to be a nice place to live.

from The greening of polar bears in zoos. R A Lewin P T Robinson Nature , 1979, Vol.278(5703), p.445-447

We first supposed that the colour was due to green algae such as Chlorella or Scenedesmus on the surfaces of hairs, growth of such algae being promoted by the presence of nitrogenous wastes in the waters of the bears' pool. (The pool in the exhibit area, which contains 12,500 gallons of tap water, is drained and cleaned twice weekly.) However, microscopic examination of samples of hair taken from the three San Diego bears and from a similarly green polar bear in the zoo at Fresno, California, revealed that this was not so. The outer surfaces of the hairs appeared clean and smooth, except for the normal squamation. The coloration was clearly attributable to the presence of algae inside the hairs, specifically in the hollow medullae of many of the wider (50–200 µm), stiffer guard hairs of the outer coat. (The thinner (<20 µm) and more undulant hairs of the under coat, which were not hollow, were colourless.) Some of the lumina were apparently filled with air, but many of these hollow spaces were partly occupied by masses of small greenish cells, which we describe here.

So your green haired creatures could go about this the same way: clear, hollow hairs within which grow algae.

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