Properties and Benefits of Melanin

Properties and Benefits of Melanin: A pigment found in the cells of our body, melanin gives our skin, hair and eyes their specific color. People with fair or light skin have less melanin than those with a darker, more tanned skin color. Melanin is also responsible for the natural color of our hair and eyes. The partial or total lack of melanin resulting in features such as white hair, light blue eyes and an extremely pale skin color is called albinism. While it is not a debilitating condition, albinism leaves the body unprotected from UV radiation which may lead to serious health problems over time.

For this reason people with darker complexions indicating higher melanin concentrations in the skin are generally considered healthier than fair-skinned people because they are more protected from UV rays and thus have a lower risk for sunburns and skin cancer in particular. However, it has been shown that while more melanin does offer a higher degree of protection against radiation from sunlight, it also reduces our production of vitamin D, a nutrient with significant immune system-boosting and bone-strengthening properties and a wide range of other health benefits.

Melanin properties

Melanin is a pigment of the skin, eyes and hair resulting from the synthesis of an amino acid called tyrosine. The melanin in our skin comes from special cells located deep in the epidermis, known as melanocytes. When the body is deficient in melanin, albinism occurs. Plants, animals and people can develop this condition. Although it does not pose serious health problems from the beginning, albinism lacks certain protective mechanisms.

For instance, the melanin in our eyes colors the iris in order to make it more opaque and protect against UV radiation and excess light. Albinism means more exposure to light radiations, photosensitivity and retina and optic nerve damage. Also, people suffering from a melanin deficit will also experience poor vision.

Brown and black-eyed people are generally thought to have a sharper vision than blue or green-eyed people. Just as interesting is the fact that, over time, our iris slowly discolours as well. Maybe you have noticed how your parents or grandparents’ eye color has gone from light brown to light blue. Yes, it’s possible. This indicates not only lower melanin levels, but also a poor diet, lacking vitamin A, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, all the nutrients required for a healthy vision.

The same thing happens with hair. As we grow older, less melanin is produced at the level of the hair root, causing new hairs to grow white or gray. This process is triggered by the death of the melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) at the base of our hair follicles and is one of the first signs of aging. High levels of melanin help preserve one’s natural hair (and eye) pigmentation longer.

Melanin

Melanin boasts other incredible health benefits as well. For example, the melanin in our skin acts like a barrier against radiation coming from the sun. It is so efficient that it successfully repels 99.9% of radiation. When there is a total or even partial deficit of the pigment, the skin is more susceptible to developing sunburns and more serious skin damage that can allow the development of skin cancer.




For example, people with darker skin tones can generally tolerate more hours of sun exposure than fair-skinned people. If red-haired, fair-skinned, green-eyed individuals were to expose themselves to the sun, especially without having prior applied sun lotion, their skin would be less tolerant of the heat and radiation and exhibit mild to severe skin damage symptoms, including redness, sunburns or blisters.

Sun (over)exposure and poor melanin pigmentation have been linked to higher risks of skin cancer. If you are light-skinned, remember to always use sunscreen. The lighter the skin, the higher the UV protection factor it requires. The best sunscreen lotions are broad-spectrum ones, meaning they offer protection against both UVB and UVA. Some studies suggest that UVA are responsible for malignant melanoma, a common form of skin cancer. However, sun lotion is just as important if you have a darker skin too because radiation can still pass through and produce serious damage to the skin.

Need to read: some pharmaceutical companies will try to take advantage of people by promoting incredible melanin supplements. These are not reliable because the pigment is produced by cells in our skin, which we cannot simply bottle and sell. However, you can slightly discolor your skin naturally and give it a slight orange tan by consuming more beta-carotene-rich foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkins. Eating a high amount of foods rich in lycopene can lead to a similar effect. The conditions are known as carotenosis (or carotenodermia) and lycopenemia.

Drinking plenty of water, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and taking your vitamins is important for an overall healthy and beautiful skin. Also, remember that antioxidants such as vitamins C, A and E can help prevent skin damage due to free radical exposure.

Update 2017. Current tests set in place for measuring vitamin D levels in the body look for a certain protein that binds to the vitamin and a prehormone called 25-hydroxyvitamin D that is converted into an active form of vitamin D. African American people have often been found with low levels of this protein and prehormone and thus considered to be deficient in vitamin D and prescribed supplements. However, emerging research reveals genetical differences between dark and white skin people.

More exactly, African Americans and dark skin people in general have been found to naturally have less of these vitamin D binding proteins and prehormone because their ancestors used to live in areas were there was plentiful sunshine year round and thus did not need to store the vitamin (this is also the reason why they have more melanin and a darker skin, to have enough protection against sun radiation too).

Light skin people, who were living at higher latitudes, did not enjoy as much sunshine all year round, so their body evolved to store vitamin D for when there wasn’t enough sunshine, like in winter months. This is also the reason why they needed less protection from sunlight radiation (so had less melanin in their skin and, consequently, a lighter skin color), but also the reason why they have more vitamin D binding proteins (for storage purposes).

According to a more recent 2013 study from the New England Journal of Medicine (Vitamin D–Binding Protein and Vitamin D Status of Black Americans and White Americans), the reason why African Americans have been often found deficient was because the tests set in place to measure vitamin D levels in the body measured the levels of the binding proteins and prehormone based on a standard for light skin people.

Said tests did not take into account genetical differences, like dark skin people naturally having less of these binding proteins and the pre-vitamin D form mentioned above without this meaning they have less vitamin D. In light of recent discoveries, current tests for measuring vitamin D levels appear to be inaccurate for dark-skin people and account for why so many have been misdiagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and prescribed supplements when they might not have needed them.

Conclusion. What we should be taking from both old and new research is that melanin continues to regulate the amount of sun radiation our skin receives. The darker your skin, the better protected you are from sun radiation, while the lighter your skin, the more prone you are the suffer the side effects of sun exposure. However, neither situation excludes the necessity to wear sunscreen. It also remains true that sun radiation is the source of vitamin D produced in the skin. With sufficient sun exposure, everyone can get all the vitamin D they need, irrespective of skin color. Lastly, current tests for measuring vitamin D levels have been found to not be accurate for people with dark skin because they do not consider lower standard values for the elements measured.




23 thoughts on “Properties and Benefits of Melanin

  1. Sir, you’re a liar. White people such as yourself do not produce enough melanin so don’t say that if your a “darker complexion” you might not get enough vitamin d from the sun. You’re trying to make white people superior with your false facts. Melanin is rich in “dark skin people”. “Dark skin people” are the original people and you need to stop pushing your white propaganda subliminally to your followers. I’m also Caucasian by the way. I just woke up to the truth that society has been lied to by blind people such as yourself who knows no real truth.

    • Hello, Stephen. Please allow me to clarify the confusion for you. Apparently, you read the article too fast to properly understand it, but being the nice person I am, I want to help you understand that the things I have written are right.

      1) People with fair or light skin have less melanin than those with a darker, more tanned skin color, meaning that people with a darker skin have more of it.
      2) When I say dark skin people, I only mean people with a dark skin. But here is where your language and general knowledge let you down: Hispanic people, African American people, African people, Romani people, Indigenous Australians and, guess what, even some Caucasians have a darker skin. And that is ok. Sorry you didn’t find anything racist here. Whether or not they are ‘the original people’ is irrevelant to my article on health and wellness because I want to help everyone feel healthy and happy.
      3) If you have a darker complexion, you might not get enough vitamin D from sun exposure. And this, Stephen, is a medical fact, not an issue of race. Melanin acts as a barrier, protecting us from radiation from the sun which is also the one we get our vitamin D from. So, the darker the complexion, the less vitamin D your body gets because not enough ‘sun’ reaches us.
      3) And according to this study, vitamin D deficiency is more common and severe in people with darker skin.

      Please note that I will only accept constructive criticism from you from now on.

  2. I don’t care about what college you went to or what website you got your “knowledge” from. The school system is mostly lies so I can’t blame you that you think you know what you’re talking about. “Dark skin people” aka melanin rich people aka black people get as much vitamin D as anyone on this earth. That’s where you’re misleading people. Look at the ancient walls on Egypt and you’ll see “dark skin people” basking in the glory of the sun. They are the original people whether you wanna discuss it or not. Maybe if you got your head out these false books that these colleges gave us and actually study ancient text and pictures you would see the real truth. So no its not racism I’m looking for, so please Mr. Marius don’t put words in my mouth. Just don’t count out “dark people” for being rich in melanin. They have more melanin than ANY race and they get just as much if not more vitamin D than anyone else. Get your facts straight buddy and stop misleading people. How’s that for constructive criticism?

    • Stephen, for the last time: the article says that people with a darker complexion actually have more melanin than people with fair skin. This is why I asked you to read it again. As for the ‘dark skin people’ part, I honestly do not understand why you are insisting on the fact that I am somehow excluding a race of people out of the discussion when I am actually including individuals with darker skin color from other races as well. Please upgrade your reading and comprehension skills.
      As for your recommendation, unfortunately, analyzing hieroglyphs will not tell anyone much about our ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight as this topic does not belong to the field of historical studies.
      Last but not least, I must politely disagree with your idea that people with a darker complexion get the same amount of vitamin D from sun exposure because the same generous amounts of melanin that offer them a greater protection against the harmful effects of UVA and UVB radiation have been shown to limit their vitamin D production, to a certain extent of course. While I appreciate your effort of trying to make a constructive commentary, you have not managed to convince me to adhere to your opinion in this respect.
      You seem like an educated and well-read individual, Stephen. So surely you don’t expect me to simply change my equally well-documented opinion just because someone tells me that I am wrong. So I dare you, Stephen, to educate me on the matter. Tell me where you get your information from. Where does it say that melanin concentration in the skin does not influence vitamin D production? Because all the scientific literature on the matter firmly states that having more melanin reduces our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D as a result of sun exposure because it blocks the sun’s rays which activate vitamin D synthesis processes. I expect your response to keep to the subject of health and wellness and use convincing arguments. Otherwise our dialogue is futile and we are merely wasting time arguing about different issues.

  3. I agree with the gentleman, am not a milk drinker I am lactose intolerant, and I don’t take vitamins, never have, I go to my physician 4 times a year for a check up, he never told me I was lacking vitamin D, and I am a African American in my 50’s dark complexed, and the sun gives me my energy, and so it does my husband, 4 children and 7 grandchildren. My mother and father’s siblings the same goes for them also. I am just learning what actually what melanin really is, because like the gentlemen was saying they don’t teach you in schools, maybe it’s about time they start teaching it in health class.

  4. @ Marius Lixandru — I just read your article which was in fact very informative. The development is totally in accordance with conclusions from scientific studies done in the respective areas. As a “dark-skinned” male I can’t see how you have attempted to claim that people with higher melanin levels are inferior as alleged by “Stephen”. I would like to think that Stephen did not read the article properly…or maybe he is just another Black Supremacist looking for a fight. :D We are all one people, If our Creator thinks diversity is beauty…why can’t we?

    • Thank you. I feel that you have truly understood what the article is about. Many people around the world battle vitamin D deficiency and may not know that melanin levels influence vitamin D production. Surely, this is not true for everyone, but from a scientifical point of view, this explains why some people who take in a lot of sun and eat and live right still suffer the side effects of a vitamin D deficit. We are diverse and beautiful and we should try our best to support and learn from each other. Your attitude in this respect is inspiring.

  5. This is a study that studies melanin and the UVA and UVB protection that white vs black skin has. The more UVA and UVB protection that skin has, the lower the incidence that skin can produce vitamin D. In all actuality, having darker skin lowers your risk of skin cancer, increases the number of antioxidant and free radical fighting compounds in the skin. It is possible to get vitamin D not from milk and get enough from the sun, regardless of skin color. Due to differences in skin color, some people are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. For example, those with pale skin who do not expose it to the sun or those with high melanin who have a natural protection from the sun’s rays.
    Article here.
    “While Black epidermis allows only 7.4% of UVB and 17.5% of UVA to penetrate, 24% UVB and 55% UVA passes through White skin.”

    • Very well put, Mandy. Darker skin is, by its very nature, made to offer more protection from the sun, but has the disadvantage that it contributes to a lower production of vitamin D. Even people with a lighter skin can suffer from vitamin D deficiency if they do not enjoy sufficient sun exposure. Nonetheless, it is possible for many of us, regardless of our skin color, to get enough vitamin D, despite the varying photoprotective effect of melanin. The study is very informative and your intervention educative and enlightening. Thank you.

    • Hello, Mr. Essel. Some people are more prone to vitamin D deficiency than others. It’s a cumulation of factors. If you suspect you may have a vitamin D deficiency, you can ask your doctor to determine whether or not you need more of the vitamin.

  6. because in your article you wrote that people with darker skin (rich melanin) are likely to get vitamin D deficiency and am surprise because am a person with darker skin have never experienced anything like that

    • Yes, Mr. Essel, darker skin has been correlated with a tendency for a more or less pronounced vitamin D deficiency, but this is not a general rule. In other words it doesn’t mean that if we have a darker complexion we have to have a vitamin D deficiency. But while you and I and millions of other people may never get a shortage of the vitamin, others might and it is important to get this piece of information across to them and help them as well. Because research suggests vitamin D deficiency may encourage the development of certain cancers and overall affect our body in a variety of surprisingly negative ways, so if someone suspects they have a shortage, they should know how important it is to address it properly.

  7. I was compiling some materials for a local health education on the effects of skin bleaching/lightening, so I sought to read more on melanin. I then chanced on your article and I think it has been helpful. I am a proud black young man just like how any race will be about his color. Honestly digesting your article, I did not see any claim of supremacy of any race over another.
    I think if black skin is rich in melanin, and melanin gives black color ability to fight UV rays from the sun, it’s just logical to infer that, the synthesis of Vitamin D from the sun rays could be tempered with in black skin. It’s simply logical.
    I enjoyed the debate anyway.
    Your article is helpful.
    Thank you.

    • Thank you for seeing the logic in the article. Your comment is greatly appreciated as it shows a pure interest in learning more about our health and how our bodies work and interact with different environmental, dietary and other factors. I also appreciate how beautifully diplomatic you have expressed your views on the matter discussed.

  8. I just know one thing, I wish my body made more melanin. These UV rashes are no joke. I’m wondering about squid ink pasta. Could it help my body to produce more melanin?

    • Hi, Lori. Scientifically speaking, our bodies are designed to produce a certain amount of melanin in response to sun exposure. There isn’t anything we can do to go beyond natural processes such as this. And even if we could do something, it wouldn’t be advisable because there would most likely be side effects. After all, we would be altering a natural balance and interfering with everything that makes our body work. What I’m trying to say is that our bodies are made the way they are for a reason and they are perfectly functional. We don’t need to change anything about them, just make sure we are taking good care of them. As for the squid ink pasta, I know that octopuses, squids and cuttlefish produce ink with melanin, squid ink being bluish-black in color. Eating squid ink is not known to cause the body to produce more melanin as it doesn’t interfere with the body production of the pigment, but rather passes through the digestive system so the nutrients in it get absorbed, then is eliminated as waste material. So it’s likely it won’t help you produce more melanin. Hope this helps.

  9. Hello Marius. Good article and I wish this was taught in high school biology. College undergrad biology at least. It would do wonders to help eradicate racism if people honestly understood skin color and how it truly affects the body.

    However, I will say that some of your information truly appears to be outdated. While the first few responses were vitriolic and childish, they were correct. Dark skin does not indicate vitamin D deficiency. People with dark skin do indeed have the needed amount of vitamin D no matter where they are found on the planet. There have been numerous studies in the last 5 years that have confirmed this. The problem all these years has been the test itself, and also by using people with pale skin as the standard. Both were wrong. Thanks.

    • Hello, Joe. Indeed, from what I know, having dark skin does not equivalate with having a vitamin D deficiency. It just points to a higher risk, according to research. And yes, in theory, people with dark skin and white skin have or should be able to produce the needed amount of vitamin D no matter where they are found on the planet. But plenty of both dark and white skin people are actually deficient in vitamin D due to a number of reasons, including but not limited to the content melanin in the skin, amount of sun exposure, dietary factors, existent conditions etc. But I haven’t read these new studies, so I am very much interested in learning more about the subject. I would really appreciate it if you could take the time to email me the titles. As for my first two comments being childish and caustic, indeed they were. They were tailored to the language I was addressed in and served a purpose. Looking to hear from you.

  10. Marius I was not referring to your responses. I was talking about those of the first commenter. I would have probably not responded to that person at all. I thought you handled that with great restraint and class.

    Back on the subject, here is the study: Vitamin D–Binding Protein and Vitamin D Status of Black Americans and White Americans.

    According to that, having a high melanin content is not a negative factor in vitamin D availability to the body compared to pale skin. The reason is that pale skin people have more of what they call protein binders which prohibits the immediate conversion into the bioavailable form. This might help explain why black people have better bone density even in North America. Please have a look. There are other studies that have confirmed as much as well. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Joe. It’s a very interesting study that explains a lot, especially why African Americans maintained a good bone density despite being diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency quite often. I have updated the article to include this newly found information and given the name of the study for anyone interested to read it. I appreciate your help and thank you again.

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