Melanin is a pigment created by cells in the body called melanocytes; it is present in every living being on the earth. The main purpose of melanin is to absorb and protect the skin from sun’s harmful UV rays. Melanin is the reason for the color change in the hair, skin, and your irises. There are many types of melanin, these three are the most common melanin 1) Eumelanin is most common and produces brownish color, 2) Pheomelanin produces reddish brown color, this is the reason for freckles and red color hair, 3) Neuromelanin is found in the brain, it’s functioning is still unknown to the doctors.
Every individual on earth will have same amount of melanocytes. The variations happen because of the production of the melanin and are affected by
- Exposure to UV radiation- exposure to more sun light will produce more melanin, and it protects the body from UV rays.
- Genetic makeup- the genetic makeup is largely determined by your parents and your ancestor’s. We see genetic anomalies regarding skin color expression, etc. When those anomalies result in higher survivability, they are passed on to one’s children.
- Size of melanocyte- the size is different in every individual, and it may lead to a difference in the production of the melanin per cell.
- Disease may affect - different types of diseases affect the production of melanin, such as albinism which is a genetic inability to produce melanin, Vitiligo that has a progressive loss of melanocytes.
Health benefits of melanin:
Melanin carries health benefits that are enjoyed by individuals who have darker skin.
- Having more amounted of melanin means you will have more protection from the sun, and you are less prone to premature signs of ageing, and it also gives protection from various skin cancers such as basal carcinoma to melanoma.
- Younger looking skin- due to high levels of melanin the dark looking people look younger than light color people. Those who have short term damage from the sun, long-term signs of ageing such as age spots, wrinkles, rough skin will receive protection from increased melanin.
- The dark pigmentation protects from DNA damage and it also absorbs the right amounts of UV radiation required by the body, as well as protects against Folate depletion. Folate is important for fetal growth, organ and neural tube development. Women who are dark color suffer the lowest level of neural tube defects.
- Melanin helps in regulating a wide range of molecular interactions and metabolic processes.
Disorders related to melanin
Albinism- This rare disorder occurs from very little melanin. People affected with albinism have white hair; blue eyes, pale skin, and eye issues, there are asked to wear sun protection to avoid further damage as there is no treatment.
Melasma- People with this will have brown patches on the face. Studies say that it is caused by hormones, birth control pills, heavy exposure to sun. Dermatologists prescribe cream that can lighten melasma and sunscreen will help it from getting worsen. Laser treatment, and chemical peels may help.
Vitiligo- By losing melanocytes the person will get white patches on the skin. There is no cure for this. But it is treated with UV light therapy, dyes, light-sensitive medications, corticosteroid creams and surgery.
Loss of Pigment after skin loss- sometimes melanin is not produced in the area where skin is burned, blistered or infected.
Deafness- Melanin may also play a role in hearing, it may cause hearing loss with very little melanin.