Melanin is a Type of Pigmentation


Melanin is a type of pigment that gives color to the hair, skin, and eyes in humans and animals. In addition to providing pigmentation for the cells, melanin also absorbs harmful UV rays and protects against cellular damage from UV light exposure. Melanin is a natural skin pigment. Hair, skin, and eye color in people and animals mostly depends on the type and amount of melanin they have. Special skin cells called melanocytes make melanin. Everyone has the same number of melanocytes, but some people make more melanin than others. If those cells make just a little bit of melanin, your hair, skin and the iris of your eyes can be very light. If your cells make more, then your hair, skin, and eyes will be darker.

 The amount of melanin your body makes depends on your genes. If your parents have a lot or a little skin pigment, you’ll probably look like them. When you're in the sun, your body makes more melanin. It may help protect the body from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. But it isn't enough to keep you safe from the sun. Your skin is already damaged if you’re sunburned or your skin has turned slightly darker. That's why it's important to always cover up and wear sunscreen.

People have three types:

  • Eumelanin makes mostly dark colors in hair, eyes, and skin. There are two types of eumelanin: brown and black. Black and brown hair come from different mixes of black and brown eumelanin. Blonde hair happens when there’s a small amount of brown eumelanin and no black eumelanin.
  • Pheomelanin colors the pinkish parts of your body like the lips and nipples. You get red hair when you have the same amount of pheomelanin and eumelanin. Strawberry blonde hair happens when you have brown eumelanin and pheomelanin.
  • Neuromelanin Controls the colors of neurons. It isn't involved with the coloring of things you see.

Melanocytes make eumelanin and pheomelanin. Neuromelanin is found in the brain.

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Kathy Andrews
Managing Editor
Journal of Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research