Let's talk about Skin Pigmentation & Genetics
Whether your skin is brown, olive, or fair, you can thank pigment for the colour of your complexion. But there’s more to pigment than meets the eye. Pigment is the body’s first line of defense against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
How it works
People with darker skin generally make more eumelanin, a type of black or brown-coloured pigment. Lighter-skinned people tend to make less of this pigment. Scientists generally believe that eumelanin does a better job blocking the sun’s UV rays compared to the yellow-red pigment pheomelanin.
The genetic link
Two genes, called SLC45A2 and SLC24A5, are associated with variation in skin colour in people of European and African descent. But there are likely different genetic variants that help explain skin colour variation in people of Asian and Native American descent.
Did you know?
It’s important to protect your skin from the sun and to get adequate vitamin D. The lighter your skin is, the more important it is to protect your skin from sun exposure. If you have darker skin and live in areas where there is less sun, you may have more trouble getting enough vitamin D.
Eager to learn more about your own pigmentation? Go beyond skin-deep with 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry Service. Pick up a kit, spit, and explore the genetics of your skin pigmentation.
23andMe Blog (2010, March 23). “SNPwatch: Researchers Identify Genetic Variation That Contributes to Skin Colour Differences in East Asians.” Retrieved September 7, 2018, from https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/snpwatch/snpwatch-researchers-identify-genetic-variation-that-contributes-to-skin-colour-differences-in-east-asians/.
Beleza S et al. (2013). “Genetic architecture of skin and eye colour in an African-European admixed population.” PLoS Genet. 9(3):e1003372.
Khalid AT et al. (2017). “Utility of sun-reactive skin typing and melanin index for discerning vitamin D deficiency.” Pediatr Res. 82(3):444-451.
Lamason RL et al. (2005). “SLC24A5, a putative cation exchanger, affects pigmentation in zebrafish and humans.” Science. 310(5755):1782-6.
Norton HL et al. (2007). “Genetic evidence for the convergent evolution of light skin in Europeans and East Asians.” Mol Biol Evol. 24(3):710-22.
Parra EJ. (2007). “Human pigmentation variation: evolution, genetic basis, and implications for public health.” Am J Phys Anthropol. Suppl 45:85-105.
Quillen EE and Shriver MD. (2011). “Unpacking human evolution to find the genetic determinants of human skin pigmentation.” J Invest Dermatol. 131(E1):E5-7.
Roméro-Graillet C et al. (1996). “Ultraviolet B radiation acts through the nitric oxide and cGMP signal transduction pathway to stimulate melanogenesis in human melanocytes.” J Biol Chem. 271(45):28052-6.
Sulem P et al. (2007). “Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans.” Nat Genet. 39(12):1443-52.
Tsetskhladze ZR et al. (2012). “Functional assessment of human coding mutations affecting skin pigmentation using zebrafish.” PLoS One. 7(10):e47398.
Valenzuela RK et al. (2010). “Predicting phenotype from genotype: normal pigmentation.” J Forensic Sci. 55(2):315-22.