Good genes can explain why some people age well. But researchers said they have identified a specific gene variant that can make people look about two years older than their actual age.
Scientists already know that the gene in question, known as MC1R, is responsible for producing red hair and pale skin, according to the report in the journal Current Biology. But now they have identified a variation in this gene that seems to age people faster.
"For the first time, a gene has been found that explains in part why some people look older and others younger for their age," said researcher Manfred Kayser of Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Perceived age is also important because it can be linked to a person's actual health and their risk of dying prematurely, other research has suggested.
For the current study, scientists examined the genomes of more than 2,600 elderly Dutch Europeans "for DNA variants associated with differences in perceived facial age and wrinkling as estimated from digital facial images," the report said.
"The strongest hits for perceived facial age were for DNA variants in the MC1R gene."
Researchers said they were able to confirm their finding in two other large European studies.
The influence of the MC1R gene variant was not swayed by age, sex, skin color, or sun damage.
MC1R is also known for its role in inflammation and DNA damage repair, processes that may influence how youthful a person appears, researchers said.