As most should be, we’re big fans of melanin, so we did some research and here’s what we found!
Melanin isn’t just in skin, melanin is a pigment synthesised by melanocyte cells and determines our skin, eye and hair colour. Humans have 3 different types of melanin: eumelanin, neuromelanin and pheomelanin. Brown and black eumelanin are the most common types of melanin. Brown eumelanin is found in hair follicles and its expression results in blonde hair when no other pigments are present; whereas both brown and black eumelanin are present in skin. The function of neuromelanin is still under speculation, but it is known to be increased in darker areas of the brain. The least common form of melanin is pheomelanin which is the red pigment in areas such as the lips and the predominant melanin pigment people with in red hair.
Several factors determine the type, concentration and location of melanin; one factor being melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) which is located on the surface of melanocytes. When activated, MC1R converts phenomelanin into eumelanin making skin darker. When the MC1R is highly express, skin appears more melanated.
No matter it's location in the body, all melanin derivatives have one thing in common: they reflect light. Eumelanin, in particular, is a photo-protective molecule that is able to dissipate 99.9% of absorbed ultraviolet (UV) radiation at the epidermis (most outer layer of skin). So the ‘melanin glow’ isn’t just real, it’s scientific.
Eumelanin prevents the majority of the Sun’s UV radiation from penetrating through to the hypodermis (inner layer of skin) and potentially damaging DNA. While melanin protects from UV-B radiation, UV-A is able to penetrate deeper into the skin and potentially cause damage to DNA. Damage to DNA can be very detrimental to health and result in sunburn, premature ageing and even melanoma. So, no matter how much melanin you've been blessed with, sun protection is still important (educate yourself on all things ‘sun safety’ here).
Sun damage is also a key factor in the visual signs of ageing i.e. discolouration of the skin, wrinkles and a loss in elasticity. Melanin is a very efficient natural sun protector, and therefore people with melanin tend to look younger than their less-melanated peers.
Melanin is indeed a magical molecule and its functions extend far beyond glowing in sun and providing natural UV protection. Decreased melanocyte expression in the inner ear has been linked to hearing loss and neuromelanin is thought to be involved in maintaining the balance of metals in your body. It's official: melanin is magic.
Read more on the magic of melanin:
The physical and chemical properties of eumelanin, Paul Meredith and Tadeusz Sarna
MC1R melanocortin 1 receptor, Gene ID
The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin, M Brenner and V J Hearing
The known health effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin, World Health Organization
SUNSCREEN (blog post) by TheCatalystInMe
By Tomi Akingbade, Founder