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What is Melanin?

Do you know which pigment in your cell determines the color of your skin? Also, are you aware that the same pigment is responsible for deciding the color of your eyes and hair? The solely responsible element for defining your skin, hair, and eye color is melanin pigment.

Before knowing melanin's meaning, you must know that it is an amino acid. The chemical formula for this amino acid is C18H10N2O4. This is a natural pigment that is present in most living animals. Melanocytes are the skin cells that produce pigments. Though the number of melanocytes is the same in all human beings, the production quantity, and rate of this amino acid vary from person to person. 

Now let us come to the definition. The melanin definition states that it is a naturally manufactured pigment, released from melanocytes (skin cells), which determines the color of eyes, hair, and skin in humans and other living animals. The color depends on the density and amount of melanin pigment the living animal has in his body.

The Chemistry of Melanin

Now that you know what is melanin pigment, let us learn the chemical procedures involved in making this amino acid. The chemistry of melanin involves a series of chemical processes. 

The mechanism through which the pigment is produced is called melanogenesis. This involves the metabolism and oxidation of the amino acid named tyrosine. This process is followed by polymerization. 

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If these processes don't occur, it may cause albinism. It is just the opposite of melanin definition. While melanin causes color to your hair, skin, and eyes, albinism fades away the color. However, there is another extreme term used as the antonym of albinism. This is known as melanism.

There are misconceptions about melanistic humans. Melanism doesn't occur in humans at all. We already know what melanin is. Now melanism is the excessive accumulation of melanin in animals. It can occur due to mutation but two other reasons are there.

  • Adaptive melanism is when animals get the extra pigments to adapt to their environment and survive safely. It acts as a good camouflage for them. 

  • Industrial melanism mostly affects insects by a natural selection process. This happens to help them cope with a polluted surrounding. If pollution reduces, melanism slows down too. 

Thus melanism is for animals to better adapt with environments and melanism humans doesn't exist.

Remember, black people are not victims of melanism. They simply have more melanin in their body than others. The melanin meaning is the same for all human beings and the color of skin, hair, and eyes depends on the density of melanin in one's body. 

What are the Functions of Melanin?

You may wonder why the skin colors vary from person to person? Why does the disparity of black and white exist? The main reason behind the variation of melanin production is exposure to the sun. Asian and African people are mostly exposed to the sun more than the people living in Europe or America. Due to this reason, the melanin function is different for Asian and African people who have a darker skin tone than Europeans and Americans.

The UV-A rays directly pass the skin and reach the lower epidermis. This UV ray activates the melanocytes. Melanocytes get stimulated and start manufacturing melanin. These dark pigments protect the skin from damage making the skin tone darker. Thus, depending on the degree of exposure to the sun, pigmentation is produced.

Let Us know about Some Main Melanin Functions:

  • It protects the skin against the adverse effects of UV rays. The UV rays protect the skin by stimulating melanin production in the skin.

  • Melanin absorbs heat inside the skin which helps cold-blooded animals to survive in cold weather.

  • Excess melanin in certain animals acts as camouflage that improves their adaptability and survival procedure.

  • Melanin improves the vision of your eye as it absorbs deranged beams of light.

  • It acts as a resistance to abrasion in an unfavorable habitat protecting species and helping them to adapt.

What are the Sources of Melanin?

We have studied what is melanin pigment, the chemical process of how it is produced, and how it helps species for better survival. Now, it is time to know some sources of melanin that can be used to initiate the production of melanin.

The main sources to get melanin are Antioxidants, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, herbs, and botanicals. The main foods that can be the sources of melanin are listed below-

  • Colorful vegetables

  • Dark chocolate

  • Dark berries

  • Dark green leaves

  • Carrots

  • Spinach

  • Peas

  • Grains

  • Seeds

  • Nuts

  • Citrus

  • Tea

  • Essential oils 

  • Vitamin supplements

Fun Fact

Do you know that the risk of skin cancer is 70 times more to white-skinned people than people with dark skin tone? Yes, melanin protects the skin against harmful UV rays making the skin look darker and reducing the risk of skin cancer. 

Research says that melanosomes in dark-skinned people are more capable of reducing cell damages compared to white-skinned people. Though researches regarding skin cancer are still going on, to some extent, melanin prevents skin cancer according to the data. 

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FAQs on Melanin

1. Is it Possible to Reduce Melanin Naturally?

Melanin production in melanocytes can't be altered. Some clinical treatments are there but they are risky. However, the melanin deposits can be reduced in many ways. Using sunscreen is an effective way. The most prevalent methods of clinically removing pigmentation are chemical peeling and laser treatment. However, they have side effects that should be considered before the treatment.

Doctors may suggest topical creams and ointments for lightening the skin tone. These can show side effects like redness, itching, dryness, etc. There are home remedies to lighten the skin tone. Many people use turmeric, lemon juice, tomato juice, aloe vera gel, skin bleaches, and have green tea to reduce melanin concentration.

2. What Increases Melanin in the Skin?

Melanin production is initiated when the skin is exposed to the sun. But there are other ways to stimulate the melanocytes and increase melanin production. Researches show that antioxidants, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin, C, herbs, and botanicals can be taken to improve melanin production in the body. Foods that are enriched with these nutritions can be taken. 

The foods that have these nutritions are carrots, pea, dark chocolate, dark berries, grains, seeds, green leaves, colorful vegetables, citrus, sweet potato, squash, spinach, green tea, turmeric, essential oils, and many more. You may also take vitamin and mineral supplements after consulting a doctor to stimulate melanin production. 

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