Have you heard the word ‘melanin’ casually thrown around now and then? Have you wanted to find out? Do you have questions that have gone unanswered? Well, today is your lucky day because we are here to break it down for you. Let’s start with the basics.
So, what is melanin?
It is a pigment in your skin, hair and eyes that brings colour to them! That just sounds beautiful! The colour of your hair depends on how much melanin you have in it and the particular type. Melanin is made by cells known as melanocytes. So if you have less production, then you could have light hair, eyes and skin. Whereas if your cells produce an excess, then you could have dark hair, eyes and skin!
What are the different types of melanin?
There are three types of melanin in the body. Each one has a different amount of potency and function.
This is its most potent form. It provides darker skin, hair and eye colours. You can find it in all three body parts. It creates brown and black colours in the body depending on the production. Therefore, if you have blonde hair, it is probably because you have less melanin in your hair.
This type of melanin is also found in your skin, hair and eye, but it produces a different colour from eumelanin. This pigment makes red and pink colours resulting in people who have red hair! It is also the reason for the pink colour of lips and nipples. But, it is not as potent as eumelanin and does not protect the skin from the sun as much.
This one occurs in the brain and not any other part of the body. It provides colour to your neurons. A lack or absence of neuromelanin can result in some amount of damage to the brain.
What are the benefits of melanin?
Apart from giving you your eye and skin colour, it has other great benefits too. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Melanin has the ability to protect your skin from the harsh UV rays of the sun. People with lighter skin and hair are more susceptible to sun exposure and damage.
Ageing and more
As it turns out, melanin has properties that can reduce the effects of ageing, cancer and diabetes. But how exactly is this possible? It starts with something known as reactive oxygen species. They seem to be a by-product of various cellular processes. However, when there is a build-up of this in the body, it can cause cell damage, resulting in ageing, diabetes, and possibly cancer. It has properties that protect you against reactive oxygen species build-up.
Other related issues
Some studies show that melanin can be linked to preventing stomach ulcers, reducing inflammation in the body, and affecting the immune system.
Where can you find melanin in the body?
We know that it is found in the hair, skin and eyes, but apart from this, it is also found in the brain, adrenaline glands, the inner ear, lips and nipples.
How does melanin react to the sun?
When exposed to the sun, your body tends to produce more melanin. This is why you get suntanned! This reaction of increased production is because of melanin’s protective properties against the sun. This does not mean that you avoid your sunscreen and limit your sun exposure, however! People who have less production tend to get sunburnt quickly and have a higher risk of getting cancer due to exposure to UV rays. People with darker skin have a reduced chance of getting skin cancer.
1. Albinism – This occurs when there is minimal melanin production in the body. It is a rare disorder and requires extra protection from the sun.
2. Melasma – This is a disorder where you get brown patches on your skin. It can be caused by exposure to the sun, hormones and other factors.
3. Vitiligo – This occurs when there is a loss of melanin in certain patches of your skin. This results in white patches.
4. Parkinson’s disease – When you have this disease, the neuromelanin in your brain reduces as you age instead of increasing.
5. Skin Trauma/ damage – When there is severe skin damage because of extreme sun exposure or infections, in some cases, your skin cannot produce more melanin. Unfortunately, you cannot treat this condition.
What affects melanin levels in the skin?
- Genetics play a significant role in how much melanin your skin produces.
2. The amount and ratio of eumelanin and pheomelanin in the skin affect skin pigmentation.
3. Skin pigmentation is also a result of the distribution of melanocytes which are the cells that contain melanin.
4. UV light exposure, age, hormonal changes and inflammation in the body also affect its levels in the skin and body.
5. Freckles are the result of tiny clusters of melanocytes.
The silver lining
Melanin is that incredible ingredient that brings colour to our bodies! It has so many variations and contributions. It is very helpful to understand the role that it plays in our body to make sense of why our skin, hair and eye colours differ all over the world! We are all made up of the same things, just different proportions!
1. Can you decrease melanin in the skin?
Your normal melanin production is genetic and cannot be changed. However, if you are facing hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, your doctor will be the best to guide you with possible treatment options.
2. Can you have too little melanin?
Yes, It is possible to have too little in the skin. This is known as hypopigmentation. Albinism is an example of this.
3. Can you increase melanin in the skin?
Unfortunately, there is no safe way to increase production in your skin. The best thing to do is protect your skin well from the sun and other factors.
4. Does more melanin mean darker skin?
If you have a more significant amount of eumelanin in your skin, it can result in a darker skin tone.