How does Melanin affect Skin Color

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Shedding light upon color

The world is full of colors and myriad hues. It adds beauty and meaning to our lives – The vibrant yellows of dandelion, the lush greens of the forest, and the glorious orange of sunset. Colors are the soul of our life. Now what has this poetic deviation got to do with melanin?

Every color says something about the substance and every color invokes some emotion in us. Even in our subconscious, we associate certain colors with certain conditions. For example, grey hair is associated with age and wisdom. Yellow skin is associated with jaundice and a tan is associated with a weather-beaten look in India.

When it comes to skin color, various ethnic groups have various skin shades, each of them rich and vibrant. However, if you start to experience changes in your skin color, it is certainly something that demands attention!

Getting into one’s skin – Melanin Pigment

We get our skin color due to our skin’s pigmentation. It is a result of genetics and exposure to sun. People around the world have skin color varying from pale to dark. This is because of the fact that the skin contains a pigment called melanin.

Over the years, we have adapted to our respective climates and have developed various skin colors. While exposure to harsh sun leads to an increase in melanin pigment, colder climates lead to paler skin complexions. So, our skin color is just a matter of adaptation.

Why people in warmer climates have darker complexion?

Melanin pigment in the skin is a natural sunscreen and helps us fight the dangerous ultraviolet rays coming from harsh sunlight. So, the body produces more melanin in skin so that the effects of UV rays like stripping the body of folic acid and causing certain cancers are prevented.

However, a bit of UV rays is necessary as it helps the body absorb vitamin D and build strong bones.  That is why one needs a good balance of melanin pigment to stay healthy.

What is melanin pigment and how is it produced?

Skin color is primarily caused due to melanin in skin. This melanin comes in the form of cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes come in two subtypes called pheomelanin and eumelanin. Pheomelanin gives skin a yellow to red color and eumelanin gives the skin a dark brown to black color.

So, people with paler shades of skin color have more of pheomelanin and darker complexion skin color comes with eumelanin.

How does melanin production happen in the skin?

Melanin production happens in the upper most layer of skin called epidermis. It is produced in the cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are sensitive to sunlight and when they are subjected to sunlight, they produce melanin pigment. This can happen even with an exposure of a few hours in sunlight.

Benefits of melanin pigment

  • Melanin is a natural sunscreen
  • It prevents sunburns
  • It prevents skin cancers
  • Helps in the synthesis of vitamin D
  • Prevents folate depletion and aids reproduction
  • Prevents eye diseases in people with brown & black colored eyes
  • Delays skin wrinkles
  • Protects against age spots
  • Prevents DNA damage

There seem to be many benefits of melanin pigment; however, this does not mean that you go out and stay in the sun all day to get this miracle pigment. Your natural skin pigmentation is predetermined to keep you healthy and overexposure to sun can damage your skin instead of giving you any miraculous powers.

Melanin disorders & Hyperpigmentation

We now know that melanin is sensitive to sunlight and melanin production is mainly dependent upon the amount of sunlight. So, let us now talk a little bit about sunlight. We all know that exposure to early morning sunlight is healthy. However, exposing oneself to harsh sunlight has its demerits.

Read more about How to Reduce Melanin

Melanin spots – Sun Damage

We now live in the age of climate change. We can see high temperatures and harsh sunlight even in the months of September and October. Now, this leads to exposure higher amounts of sunlight, which can lead to sunburns, heat rashes, age spots, wrinkles, and excess production of melanin pigment leading to skin discoloration.

Apart from this, melanin pigment tends to from spots instead of even formation. This can damage your looks. This is called blotchy pigmentation due to sun damage. These spots can appear on your face, arms, and neck areas which tend to get more exposure.

Hyperpigmentation – Melanin pigment Spots

Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that arises in the form of dark spots of melanin pigment. These pigments appear concentrated in small areas and tend damage a person’s looks. They can affect the entire body or just the face and arms.

Hyperpigmentation can occur in three forms:

  • Melasma
  • Sunspots
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Melasma

What is Melasma?

Melasma is a common skin condition. It occurs in the form of grey or brown patches on the forehead, cheeks, nose, upper lip, and chin. Patches can also form on the neck and forearms. These patches do not cause any itching or pain.

Causes of Melasma
  • Overexposure to sun
  • Hormonal changes in pregnant women
  • Overuse of skin care products
Melasma Treatment

Melasma is treated by dermatologists. Treatment can vary based on the extent of Melasma and the darkness of patches. Gels, lotions, and liquid topical medications like hydroquinone, and corticosteroids for skin lightening are basic treatment options.

In case of virulent Melasma, dermatologists suggest procedures like dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, and laser light therapy for getting rid of Melasma and for melanin removal.

Sunspots

As discussed in the section “melanin spots – sun damage,” sunspots are a result of overexposure to harsh sunlight. These can result in general darkening of the skin or small areas with spots. Sunspots make a person look older, and spoils the looks of a person. It is important to wear sunscreen to prevent sunspots. Treatments to sunspots include topical lotions and gels along with dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, and laser therapy for melanin removal.

 Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that is acquired after a skin disease like skin allergy, skin infections like lichens planus infection, lupus erythematosus, and atopic dermatitis.

This condition causes localized spots concentrated at the site of infection. The color of the patches can vary from brown, red, or even black. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spoils the looks of a person and reduces the self-esteem.

Treatment to this condition involves chemical peels, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion and laser therapy for melanin removal.

Any change in the skin pigmentation is a cause of concern as it can alter the way you look and is an indicator of an underlying condition. One should address these immediately in order to avoid spreading of the pigmentation.

Therapies like laser therapy, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels are safe and help you regain your appearance and confidence. If you feel awkward and uncomfortable with melanin pigmentation on your face, arms, and neck, consult expert dermatologists at La Belle to explore treatment options.