Spectrophotometric Methods for Quantifying Pigmentation in Human Hair—Influence of MC1R Genotype and Environment

Authors


*email: sri.shekar@qimr.edu.au (Sri N. Shekar)

Abstract

Eumelanin (brown/black melanin) and pheomelanin (red/yellow melanin) in human hair can be quantified using chemical methods or approximated using spectrophotometric methods. Chemical methods consume greater resources, making them less attractive for epidemiological studies. This investigation sought to identify the spectrophotometric measures that best explain the light–dark continuum of hair color and the measure that is best able to distinguish red hair from nonred hair. Genetic analysis was performed on these two measures to determine the proportion of genetic and environmental influences on variation in these traits. Reflectance curves along the visible spectrum and subjective ratings of hair color were collected from 1730 adolescent twin individuals. Discriminant class analyses were performed to determine the spectrophotometric measure that could best proxy for eumelanin and pheomelanin quantities. The ratio of light reflected in the green portion of the spectrum to that reflected in the red portion of the spectrum was best able to distinguish red hair from nonred hair. Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) genotype explained some, but not all, variation in this measure. Light absorbed in the red portion of the spectrum was best able to explain the light–dark continuum of hair color. Variance components analysis showed that there were qualitatively different genetic influences between males and females for the light–dark continuum of hair. Our results show that spectrophotometric measures approximating variation in eumelanin and pheomelanin may be considered as an alternative to chemical methods in larger epidemiological studies.

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