Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene variants are associated with red hair and fair skin color. We assessed the associations of common MC1R genotypes with the risks of 3 types of skin cancer simultaneously in a nested case–control study within the Nurses' Health Study (219 melanoma, 286 squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and 300 basal cell carcinoma (BCC) cases, and 873 controls). We found that the 151Cys, 160Trp and 294His variants were significantly associated with red hair, fair skin color and childhood tanning tendency. The MC1R variants, especially the 151Cys variant, were associated with increased risks of the 3 types of skin cancer, after controlling for hair color, skin color and other skin cancer risk factors. Carriers of the 151Cys variant had an OR of 1.65 (95% CI, 1.04–2.59) for melanoma, 1.67 (1.12–2.49) for SCC and 1.56 (1.03–2.34) for BCC. Women with medium or olive skin color carrying 1 nonred hair color allele and 1 red hair color allele had the highest risk of melanoma. A similar interaction pattern was observed for red hair and carrying at least 1 red hair color allele on melanoma risk. We also observed that the 151Cys variant contributed additional melanoma risk amongred-haired women. The information on MC1R status modestly improved the risk prediction; the increase was significant for melanoma and BCC (p, 0.004 and 0.05, respectively). These findings indicated that the effects of the MC1R variants on skin cancer risk were independent from self-reported phenotypic pigmentation. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.