Susceptibility to sunburn, photoageing, and skin cancer is inversely related to an individual's ability to tan after sun exposure. We examined variants in the melanocortin-1-receptor (MC1R) gene in individuals from Ireland and the UK. We found evidence of an association between the degree of tanning after repeated sun exposure, and the number of variant alleles present. Heterozygotes were intermediate between wild-type individuals and those with two variant alleles. We suggest that MC1R gene status therefore determines sun sensitivity in people without red hair.