Human pigmentation characteristics play an important role in the effects of sun exposure, skin cancer induction and disease outcomes. Several of the genes most important for this diversity are involved in the regulation and distribution of melanin pigmentation or enzymes involved in melanogenesis itself within the melanocyte cell present in the skin, hair and eyes. The single nucleotide polymorphisms and extended haplotypes within or surrounding these genes have been identified as risk factors for skin cancer, in particular, melanoma. These same polymorphisms have been under selective pressure leading towards lighter pigmentation in Europeans in the last 5,000-20,000 years that have driven the increase in frequency in modern populations. Although pigmentation is a polygenic trait, due to interactive and quantitative gene effects, strong phenotypic associations are readily apparent for these major genes. However, predictive value and utility are increased when considering gene polymorphism interactions. In melanoma, an increased penetrance is found in cases when pigmentation gene risk alleles such as MC1R variants are coincident with mutation of higher-risk melanoma genes including CDKN2A, CDK4 and MITF E318K, demonstrating an interface between the pathways for pigmentation, naevogenesis and melanoma. The clinical phenotypes associated with germline changes in pigmentation and naevogenic genes must be understood by clinicians, and will be of increasing relevance to dermatologists, as genomics is incorporated into the delivery of personalised medicine.

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