AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits
Learning Hub

Skin Pigmentation

From pale to dark and everything in between, human skin colour covers a wide range. The Pantone company, a leading authority on standardised colour reproduction, has identified 110 different skin tones.

Have you ever wondered how you inherited your unique skin tone? An AncestryDNA® + Traits test can tell you more about your genes and your skin pigmentation.

More About Skin Pigmentation

Your skin pigmentation is determined mostly by melanin—the pigment that determines the colour of your skin, eyes, and hair. Melanin protects your DNA from the sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can cause wrinkles, sagging, dark spots (often called age spots), and even skin cancer.

There are two types of melanin: eumelanin (a brownish-black pigment) and pheomelanin (a reddish-yellow pigment). In general, the more melanin your skin cells make, the darker your skin.

Although people have a similar number of melanocytes—cells that can make melanin—the amount of melanin that these cells make varies from person to person. That's why there’s such variation in human skin colour.

Genetics of Skin Pigmentation

Like eye and hair colour, you get the DNA for skin colour from your parents. And like hair and eye colour, the genetics of skin colour inheritance are complex.

You have dozens of genes that influence melanin production—both how much and what types of melanin your body makes. And the proteins these genes code for can combine in many different ways, producing a spectrum of skin tones, even in the same family.

More specifically the pigmentation of your skin is the result of your particular version of each of these genes—and how the proteins from each version interact. Your particular set of genes work together to produce your unique shade.

How Environment, Diet, and Health Can Impact Skin Pigmentation

Your genes aren't the only thing that can affect your skin tone. Sunshine, diet, and overall health can also play a role.

In a limited sense, what you eat can also impact your skin tone. For instance, a relatively rare condition known as carotenemia involves skin turning yellow-orange due to high levels of carotene in the blood. It's often caused by eating a lot of fruits and vegetables high in carotene content, such as carrots.

Pregnancy or taking hormones or oral contraceptives can also affect your skin’s appearance. If you develop brownish discolourations on your face, you may have melasma, a common hyperpigmentation issue.

And some health problems may change your skin colour. For example, hepatitis, liver disease, gallstones, tumors, and other conditions can cause jaundice or yellowing of the skin.

Additional Facts About Skin Pigmentation

Humans make different amounts of melanin. Why? Melanin helps regulate the supply of certain vitamins. Too much sun exposure can lower your supply of folate, a B vitamin your body needs. Too little sun exposure can make it hard to make enough vitamin D. Melanin helps you strike a balance.

Sometimes the lack of melanin—or an increase in melanin production—can create patterns or discolourations on the skin. Hyperpigmentation happens when some areas of your skin become darker than normal, while hypopigmentation describes the reverse—it’s when some parts of your skin become lighter than normal.

Vitiligo is one condition that affects skin pigmentation, creating white patches. It happens because the cells that make melanin die or stop working. Despite records of people with vitiligo going back to ancient times, scientists still don't know exactly why this happens to cells.



Basu Mallick, Chandanu, Florin Mircea Iliescu, et al. “The Light Skin Allele of SLC24A5 in South Asians and Europeans Shares Identity by Descent.” PLoS Genetics. November 7, 2013.

Gibbons, Ann. “How Europeans Evolved White Skin.” Science. April 2, 2015

"Hyperpigmentation, Hypopigmentation, and Your Skin." WebMD. Accessed July 20, 2023.

“Skin pigmentation Is far more genetically complex than previously thought.” ScienceDaily. December 1, 2017.

Sturm, Richard A. and David L. Duffy. “Human Pigmentation Genes under Environmental Selection.” Genome Biology. September 26, 2012.

Sulem, Patrick, Daniel F. Gudbjartsson, et al. “Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans.” Nature Genetics. October 21, 2007.

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