'Ginger Gene' Makes People Look Younger Than They Are

Amy Adams Actress
Actress Amy Adams attends the "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" premiere in New York, March 20. A gene that helps people stay looking young is the same one that produces red hair and fair skin. Jamie McCarthy/Getty

A gene that helps you stay looking young has been identified—and it's the same one that produces red hair and fair skin.

Those with the variant of the gene look on average two years younger than they actually are.

The study claims to be the first of its kind to identify genetic variants significantly associated with "perceived age."

The study into perceived age was organized by the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and Unilever.

The mutations, reported in the journal Current Biology, were in the genetic instructions for protecting the body from UV radiation. These genetic instructions can also lead to red hair.

Dr. Manfred Kayser at Erasmus University Rotterdam said: "For the first time, a gene has been found that explains in part why some people look older and others younger for their age.

"Looking young for one's age has been a desire since time immemorial. This desire is attributable to the belief that appearance reflects health and fecundity.

"Indeed, perceived age predicts survival and associates with molecular markers of aging, such as telomere length.

"Understanding the underlying molecular biology of perceived age is vital for identifying new aging therapies, among other purposes, but studies are lacking thus far.

"Our study uncovers the first genetic evidence explaining why some people look older for their age and provides new leads for further investigating the biological basis of how old or young people look."

Images of the make-up free "naked-face" of 2,693 people were judged to assess how old people thought the subjects in the images looked. This was compared with their true age.

The next stage of the research was to scour the 2,693 people's DNA to find any differences or mutations that were more common in those who looked younger than they really were.

All the evidence pointed to the MC1R gene—it is critical for making melanin, which affects skin pigmentation and protects against UV radiation from the sun.

But the gene comes in many different forms, or variants, one of which causes red hair—hence the nickname "the ginger gene."

Previous studies found age perception was influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors in roughly equal parts.

Scientists said follow-up work on how the MC1R compound affects aging is now required.