The genetic basis of melanoma is complex and has both inherited and acquired components. Different genomic approaches have been used to identify a number of inherited risk factors, which can be stratified by penetrance and prevalence. Rare high-penetrance factors are expressed in familial clustering of melanoma and include mutations in CDKN2A (encoding p16(INK4a) and p14(ARF)) and CDK4. These genes are involved in cell-cycle arrest and melanocyte senescence and are nearly invariably targeted by somatic mutations during melanoma progression. Low-penetrance factors are common in the general population and include single-nucleotide polymorphisms in or near MC1R, ASIP, TYR and TYRP1. These genes are major determinants of hair and skin pigmentation, but their role in melanoma development remains unclear. This review describes the efforts that have led to the current understanding of melanoma susceptibility as the result of complex gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. Despite the significant advances, the majority of familial cases remain unaccounted for.