What is melanin in skin?
Well, if you’re a sun worshipper and love basking in summer’s glorious rays, that healthy tan you’re sporting is anything but healthy.
That’s right; it is, in fact, an immune defence function, shielding you from the sun.
Thankfully, your skin naturally provides you with some awesome protection, which comes in the form of thousands of MINI UMBRELLAS, filled with a pigment called melanin.
These stand guard at the doors of your skin cells to protect your body from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
The human anatomy truly never ceases to amaze us, to think that we actually have our very own inbuilt PARASOLS that deflect damaging UVA rays, giving us protection against the sun and injury.
Dangerous UV rays
Unless you really do live in a cave, you will receive a certain amount of photodamage on any given day – whether from the environment, stress, or diet. Generally, all of this will be handled well by healthy, protected skin.
However, because we are exposed to so much environmental pollution daily, our skin becomes a little bit less protected. Add to this mix sunburn and injury. You have scar tissue and a reduction in capillary flow, which blocks nutrients from getting to your once healthy skin.
An overproduction of melanin is referred to as hyperpigmentation, which can cause unsightly brown patches on the skin.
What are the melanin triggers?
So, as you can see, the sun is a huge culprit in triggering melanin.
Even if you are using an effective sunscreen, heat from the sun causes inflammation, triggering a response to increasing melanin activity. So to those with sensitive skin, beware.
But in reality, there are other reasons for excessive melanin activity:
- there are inflammatory factors, such as using strong chemical peels and laser procedures
- if you suffer from pimples, papules, or pustules, excessive picking will create trauma, bringing melanin to the site of the injury
- hormonal factors should not be overlooked either; these include prescription medication, pregnancy, menopause, and birth control pills
There is a large range of skin colours to the naked eye; this variation is due to pigment in the skin’s cells, referred to as melanin, responsible for our skin colour.
Melanin is produced in special cells called melanocytes, located in the lower layer of our epidermis, the surface layer of our skin. Melanocytes are not the umbrellas of our skin; they produce melanin, forming granules in the epidermal cells.
You can liken melanocytes to tiny pigment factories, which manufacture and ship pigments are known as melanosomes to other cells where pigment is required.
The word ‘melanin’ actually comes from the Greek word MELAS which means BLACK, so like all good sun shades, our tiny umbrellas are coloured black.
It may come as a surprise for you to learn that there are no truly ‘white’ people – it is just some people have less melanin in their skin than others.
UV radiation is most damaging when these epidermal cells are their busiest: dividing up to produce new cells. This is the critical time that UV can damage our DNA in the nucleus, which results in problems like skin cancer and mutations.
Melanin production protects us from both UV radiation and Vitamin D deficiency.
Interestingly, over time, our complexions became dark enough to protect our DNA from any UV damage but still light enough to allow UVB in to help us synthesize Vitamin D. This is why melanin is key to your skin health.
So now you know, and if you’re ever asked, “what is melanin?” you can say they’re our skin’s tiny umbrellas that help shade us from the sun.
Follow the link for a technical overview called the ‘dark side of melanin’.