Look around you. Look at people in your neighborhood, the kids in your school, people in your office at the mall, in the temples, at some events, and even when you travel. What do you notice? Perhaps you would see people come in different colors. Have you ever wondered why that happens?
For a long time, ever since we started learning about the world, we have known that people from different parts of the world have different skin colors; for example, people from tropical regions usually have darker skin complexion, while people who live in colder climates are fair.
Scientists even have studied the differences in skin color alongside the color differences in our eyes and hair. And the fact is that skin color is passed through genes from parents to their children. But what is the origin of the difference between skin colors in people from different regions? It is because of a component named melanin that determines the color of our skin, hair, and eyes.
This article will discuss melanin and its effects on skin color.
What Is Melanin?
Melanin is the pigment made by special cells called melanocytes. The purpose of melanin is to help our body function, store the necessary vitamins, and protect us from harmful UV rays. This substance in our body produces pigmentation in hair, eye, and skin. And the more melanin our body produces, our eyes, hair, and skin will be darker.
However, the amount of melanin our body produces depends on genetics and other factors, including how much sun exposure our ancestral population had and how much sun exposure we have now, which also regulates melanin production.
Melanin is a complex polymer originating from the amino acid tyrosine. And besides humans, animals also have melanin in their bodies in varying degrees.
What Are The Different Types Of Melanin?
Everyone has the same number of melanocytes in their body, but some people produce more melanin than others. When the melanocytes produce a little bit of melanin, your hair, skin, and eyes color will be lighter. And when the cells make more melanin, the hair, skin, and eyes will be darker.
Inhuman there are three types of melanin:
- Eumelanin: Eumelanin is responsible for making primarily dark colors in hair, eyes, and skin. Brown and black are two types of eumelanin. In people with blonde hair, there is a minimal amount of brown eumelanin and no black eumelanin.
- Pheomelanin: All the pinkish parts of our body, including the nipples and lips, are of that color because of pheomelanin. Some people also get red hair with an equal amount of pheomelanin and eumelanin. And when brown eumelanin and pheomelanin are present equally, people get strawberry blonde hair.
- Neuromelanin: Neuromelanin controls the colors of the neurons. It does not impact any of the colors that we can see.
How Does Melanin Affect Skin Color?
Skin color is the primary physical characteristic that categorizes humans into different groups. Human skin has different tones and colors, which can be seen in other demographic populations. Though many factors influence human skin color, melanin is by far the most crucial factor.
The expression of genes regulates the quality and quantity of melanin. Tyrosinase inspires the genetic mechanism for controlling human skin color. However, the most significant ethnic skin color differences are determined by melanin content. We can evaluate how melanin affects skin color by knowing about some dermatological disease patterns that occur due to the impact and composition of melanin.
Several genes instruct our body to make one of several proteins involved in the production of melanin. And albinism occurs when a mutation in one of those genes occurs.
Albinism is a group of inherited disorders with either no melanin production or limited presence of that pigment. Alongside determining the color of your skin, eyes, and hair, melanin production also plays a vital role in developing optic nerves. And that is the reason people with albinism also suffer from vision problems.
Though it is easy to diagnose a person with albinism, sometimes the symptoms are slight and not noticeable. People with albinism also are sensitive to sun rays, so they are always at risk of developing skin cancer. Although there is no complete cure for albinism, people with this disorder again take necessary steps to protect their skin and eyes alongside maximizing their vision.
There are different types of albinism, including:
- Oculocutaneous Albinism: This is the most common type in which a person inherits two copies of a mutated gene, one from each parent. In this type of albinism, the person experiences decreased pigment in skin, eyes, and hair color and a vision problem.
- Ocular Albinism: This mainly affects the eyes, causing vision problems. The most common form of ocular albinism is type 1, inherited by a gene mutation on the X chromosome. And ocular albinism can be passed from a mother to her son if she carries one muted X gene.
Albinism involves visible signs and symptoms on the skin, eye, and hair color alongside vision.
Skin: Skin is the most recognizable form of the results of albinism. People with white hair and very light skin color predominantly suffer from albinism. However, the skin and hair color can range from white to brown, and sometimes the skin color may be the same as other people without albinism.
People with albinism, when exposed to the sun, may develop the following:
- Moles with or without pigmentation
In many people, albinism does not involve any change in skin color, but for others, melanin production starts to increase during childhood and teenage resulting in slight differences in pigmentation.
Hair: People with albinism can have white to brown hair. Also, African or Asian people with albinism can have yellow, reddish, or brown hair. In people with albinism, sometimes the hair may appear darker with age due to exposure to typical minerals in water and the environment.
Eyelashes: People with albinism often have pale eyebrows and eyelashes. Their eye color can also range from very light blue to brown and even can change with age. Due to the lack of melanin, the iris of people with albinism may appear somewhat translucent. This means their iris can completely block light from entering the eye. And for that reason, in people with very light-colored eyes, the iris appear red in some lighting.
Melasma is a common skin problem in which the patient experiences dark and discolored patches all over the skin. Since melasma occurs in many pregnant women, the condition is also called the ‘mask of pregnancy’ or chloasma.
Melasma is also common in men. Men suffer more from melasma than women. According to the American Academy Of Dermatology, people who developed melasma include 90% of women.
Darker-skinned individuals are also very prone to melasma compared to people with fair skin tones. Though many hormonal interventions, such as the production of estrogen and progesterone ca, use melasma, sun exposure is a major contributing factor since the ultraviolet rays affect the melanocytes that control melanin.
Melasma commonly occurs on the face, although it can appear on the arms and back in many people. The face, forehead, chin, cheeks, upper lip, etc., are the most common places where melasma occurs. Melasma may appear as macules that look like freckles and dark patches with irregular borders.
Some people also notice melasma on their necks and forearms. Though the skin discoloration occurred by melasma does not do any physical harm, people can be self-conscious about how it appears.
Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses its color in patches. The discolored areas usually get more prominent as they get bigger with time. The condition can affect any part of the body, including the hair and inside the mouth. Since the color of our hair and skin is determined by melanin, vitiligo occurs when the melanocytes stop producing melanin.
People of any skin color and type can get affected by vitiligo, but it is more noticeable in people with brown and black complexion. Though vitiligo is not a life-threatening condition or contagious, it can be stressful or make a person conscious about how they look.
The most common symptom of vitiligo is a patchy loss of skin color that usually appears first on the face, hands, and most areas around body openings and genitals. People with vitiligo may also notice premature graying or whitening of their hair on the scalp, eyebrows, beard, and eyelashes. Sometimes loss of color in the tissues inside the mouth and nose can also be noticed in people with vitiligo.
Vitiligo can occur at any age. Usually, people below the age of 30 are more prone to this condition. Depending upon which type of vitiligo you have, you may notice it on:
- All Skin Surfaces-With this type of vitiligo, discoloration is noticed in nearly all skin surfaces. Therefore, this vitiligo is called universal vitiligo.
- Different Parts Of The Body-Generalized vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo in which the discoloration occurs in patches and progresses similarly on corresponding body parts.
- Only One Side Of The Body-This type of vitiligo is called segmental vitiligo, in which the discoloration occurs at a younger age, progresses for a couple of years, and then stops.
- Only One Or Few Areas Of The Body-This type of vitiligo is called localized vitiligo, in which only one or some body parts are affected.
- Face And Hands-Acrofacial vitiligo affects the facial skin, hands, and sometimes around body openings such as the nose, ears, and eyes.
How To Reduce Melanin Production For Lighter Skin?
There are several ways to lower the existing melanin deposit in your skin and reduce its production. It is always best to consult a doctor to get proper guidance on removing existing melanin deposits and declining production.
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In laser therapy, concentrated pulses of light are used to remove the top layers of the skin. It also decreases the melanin deposit in the treated areas, and there are different types of laser treatments, including:
- Ablative Lasers- These lasers generally remove the skin’s outermost layer and are ideal for severe discoloration.
- Non-Ablative Lasers-These lasers are gentler than the former type and promote collagen production, allowing new skin to form. Intense pulse light is a non-ablative laser that uses pulses of light energy to target different kinds of discolorations by heating and destroying the melanin that removes the discolored spots.
- Q-Switched Laser-In this type of laser, pulses of light is used. This laser converts light energy into heat energy that dissolves the skin.
Topical Creams And Ointments
There are also many creams and ointments available to lighten the skin. Those products decrease the existing melanin deposits in the areas in which they are applied. There are over-the-counter and prescription-only skin-lightening products available, and typically, those products will contain one of the following ingredients:
- Vitamin C
- Kojic acid
- Azelaic acid
- Glycolic acid
Read more about How does Melanin affect Skin Color
Most of the abovementioned ingredients aim to destroy tyrosinase, the enzyme accountable for melanin production. Applying those components also slows down melanin production and results in lighter skin. However, some skin-lightening products may also cause side effects:
Methods That Can Slow Down The Production Of Melanin
Applying Sunscreen And Controlling Sun Exposure
The primary purpose of melanin is to protect your skin from sun damage. And when you overexpose your skin in the sun, your skin will create even more melanin. When you wear a good amount of sunscreen, it will limit the process of melanin production. A sunscreen with SPF 30 and above will protect your skin from UV rays and slow down melanin production.
According to the American Academy Of Dermatology, the best sunscreen must also be water-resistant. However, no sunscreen can block 100% of the UV rays. Therefore to limit melanin production using sunscreen, you need to modify your sun exposure, stay indoors from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, and wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved attires, sunglasses, and hats.
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Using Natural Remedies
People claim that using natural remedies can also lighten skin. However, it is not clear how long those remedies take to work; it is essential to be religiously and patiently following and trying them. Additionally, the results derived from home remedies are temporary, so one needs to continue using them for a long time.
Turmeric-Turmeric has a compound called curcumin that reduces melanin synthesis and inhibits tyrosinase. This ability of turmeric overpowers melanocytes and reduces the production of melanin.
Aloe Vera Gel: Aloe Vera gel can reduce melanin production after sun exposure. That is why dermatologists suggest applying an adequate amount of aloe Vera gel after returning from the sun. Aloe Vera gel contains aloesin, a compound believed to destroy tyrosines, and the same was found in a study in 2002 in clinical and experimental dermatology.
Later in a study in 2012, it was determined that aloe Vera does not have those effects. However, using aloe Vera gel helps in lightening skin.
Lemon Juice-Lemon juice can reduce skin pigmentation; this remedy has been used in dermatology for centuries. This may be due to the vitamin C content of lemon. According to an article published in the Journal of Clinics and Aesthetic Dermatology in 2017, vitamin C reduces tyrosine activity that prevents melanin production.
Though lemon has an anti-pigmentation effect on the skin, it can be harsh when applied directly. Therefore, a diluted version of lemon juice is suggested and must not be used after sun exposure.
Green Tea– A compound called epigallocatechin gallate prevents melanin accumulation in green tea. Green tea also inhibits the enzyme needed to produce melanin.
What Are The Ways To Increase Melanin In The Body?
Where in the one hand, people with excessive melanin production and darker skin tone try to find ways to reduce melanin production and lighten skin tone; there are people with a skin type that want to increase melanin production to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Studies suggest that upping the intake of certain nutrients can increase melanin levels. Those remedies even increased the amount of melanin in many people with fair skin types.
Antioxidants: Studies suggest that some solid and potential antioxidants increase melanin production. Though more studies and high-quality trials are necessary to advocate that antioxidants may help increase melanin production.
Some micronutrients, such as polyphenols and flavonoids from plants, act as powerful antioxidants that affect melanin production. While some might increase melanin, others might reduce it. Eating more antioxidant-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, dark berries, colorful vegetables, etc., can increase the level of antioxidant intake. Therefore, it can help to increase melanin production.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is an essential component in the production of melanin and is also necessary for our healthy skin. We eat many foods regularly that are a rich source of vitamin A. Vegetables especially contain beta carotenes, such as spinach, peas, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
Since vitamin A also acts as an antioxidant, researchers believe that this vitamin, more than any other vitamin, can be the key to the production of melanin. More studies are needed to prove that vitamin A can increase melanin in people. For now, the claim is that Vitamin A can boost melanin levels; however, some studies also suggest that taking vitamin A can be good for the skin.
According to research, a type of carotenoid found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables is essential in melanin production and UV protection. One can increase vitamin A levels in the body by eating more Vitamin A-rich foods such as vegetables, oranges, meat, and fish. However, taking vitamin supplements may also help.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an essential component for this skin health. It also has antioxidant properties that probably boost melanin levels. Though no studies prove a direct link between Vitamin E and increased melanin production, some studies show that Vitamin A helps protect the skin against sun damage. When you get vitamin E supplements or eat Vitamin E-rich foods such as grains, seeds, and nuts, you can get more vitamin E in the body.
Herbs: Some studies have explored the potential benefit of taking herbs and herbal teas to protect skin from harmful UV rays. Products such as turmeric and green tea are some herbs rich in polyphenols and flavonoids. They help protect the skin by increasing its ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species and prevent UV radiation.
No studies have proven that herbs or herbal tea can increase melanin production. For now, such claims are anecdotal.
Some Frequently Asked Questions About Melanin
What does melanin do to our body?
Melanin is the component responsible for the color of our skin, eyes, and hair. The more melanin our body produces, the darker our eyes, hair, and skin become. And the amount of melanin produced in a human body entirely depends upon many factors, including genetics and how much sun exposure their ancestral population had. Melanin is present in every human and animal skin to varying degrees, and the substance also absorbs harmful ultraviolet rays and protects us from sun damage.
What food is high in melanin?
People who want to increase melanin in their hair must eat melanin-rich foods. Lack of melanin can lead to premature graying of hair. However, with vitamins like B5, B6, B9, B12, and D, minerals like iron, zinc, and copper, and other Ayurvedic remedies like henna, coconut oil, sesame seed oil, and foods like red cabbage, avocado, carrots, and dark chocolate one can slow down the process of graying hair by increasing the amount of melanin production in their bodies.
Which foods reduce melanin production?
Foods like tomatoes, eggs, cheese, yogurt, carrot, chia seeds, milk, oatmeal, watermelon, papaya, ginger, dry fruits, and lots of green leafy vegetables can reduce the amount of melanin produced in the body and lighten the skin color.
What causes a lack of melanin?
Some autoimmune conditions, such as non-segmental vitiligo, can destroy the melanocytes that make the melanin. Vitiligo is also associated with many autoimmune diseases, such as hyperthyroidism. However, not everyone with vitiligo develops those conditions.
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What increases melanin in the skin?
Melanin production in the skin is increased due to the ultraviolet rays from the sunlight that penetrate the lower layers of the epidermis and trigger melanocytes to produce more melanin. Melanin is produced as a defense mechanism to protect us from harmful sunlight, and the sunlight is also the primary cause of the increased production of melanin.
Is it possible to change skin color?
It is not possible to change the constitutional skin tone. However, it is possible to medically treat skin concerns like dark spots, tan, and post-acne pigmentation with medicated and dermatologically tested skin-lightening solutions and cosmetic procedures. Those advanced treatments can also improve the skin’s health and restore its natural glow.
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Though melanin makes our skin dark, it protects our skin cells from the sun’s harmful rays. However, it’s the first step you can take if you want to keep your skin glowing and faith, limiting your sun exposure. However, there are laser treatment and other medicated treatment options available for people who wish to reduce the melanin content in their skin and lighten it. I hope this article helped you know the impact of melanin on our skin color. Keep following us for many such articles.