Long in the tooth, or just a redhead?

Prince Harry, a famous redhead (Getty)
Prince Harry, a famous redhead (Getty)

Look older than you feel? You might be a redhead.

Scientists in the Netherlands have found links between a gene known to cause pale skin and red hair and how old a person looks.

It's called MC1R, and people who have it look two years older on average than those without, according to a new study.

"For the first time, a gene has been found that explains in part why some people look older and others younger for their age," says lead researcher Manfred Kayser of Erasmus MC University Medical Center.

They looked at the genomes of more than 2600 elderly Dutch people, and analysed how old they looked --- including how wrinkled they were. After accounting for age, sex, skin colour and sun damage, those with the MC1R gene were consistently rated as looking older.

The links between the gene and susceptibility to DNA damage and inflammation were already known, and the researchers say this is probably behind the prematurely aged look.

"We believe that using the perception of age is one of the best and most exciting ways to measure how 'well' people are aging, which we hope will lead to further breakthroughs in aging and health research in the near future," says colleague David Gunn of Unilever, which partly funded the study.

The results were published in journal Current Biology today.