All About Melanin

three black woman of various skin tones

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All About Melanin

Fast Facts

  • Eumelanin is the most common form of melanin and is brownish in color. The other basic form is
  • Pheomelanin, second basic form of melanin which produces reddish-brown color that is often associated with freckles and red hair.
  • Melanin is found in several areas of the human body including the skin, hair, and pupils

What is Melanin?

Melanin is a pigment that is produced by cells known as melanocytes in the skin of most animals, including humans. This pigment comes in different shades, depending on the genetic makeup of the individual. Melanin comes in two basic forms and can range from yellowish-red to dark brown. White people—like, say the Swiss or Irish—have a very small production of melanin, while ethnically Asian people produce a slightly different type of melanin called pheomelanin. “Black skin ages well because we have a natural protection.

Genetically speaking, every individual on Earth has approximately the same number of melanocytes. The difference, then, in the production of melanin is affected by:

  1. Exposure to UV radiation: Melanin is produced as a response to UV radiation in order to prevent damage to the DNA in the integument. Individuals, who are exposed to UV light, such as the sun, will produce more melanin for protection.
  2. Genetic makeup: Different ethnicities and cultures are genetically pre-disposed to producing particular shades and amounts of melanin due to inheritance. This is, essentially, one of the primary indicators used in determining race in the human population. It is important to note that this is, and has historically been, a controversial form of human identification.
  3. Size of melanocytes: Melanocyte size varies in different individuals and may lead to a difference in the amount of melanin produced per cell.
  4. Disease conditions: Several diseases may affect melanin production, including albinism, a genetic inability to produce melanin, and vitiligo, a progressive loss of melanocytes.
About Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a community educator, digital content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, inclusion, equity, curriculum writing, and higher education.

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