What Does Melanin Do? A Closer Look at What Melanin is & How it Works

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Ever wondered what contributes to all of the wonderful skin tones, eye colors, and hair shades that we see all around us each day? It all comes down to a pigment known as melanin.

However, it’s not all about appearances. Melanin also plays a vital role in a number of different biological processes in both the skin and the body, many of which people are unaware of.

Today, we’re going to change that. Read on as we discuss what does melanin do, where it comes from, and what to do if your body is producing too much or too little melanin.

What is Melanin & Where Does This Substance Come From?

Melanin chemical structure

The term ‘melanin’ refers to a group of natural pigments found in almost all forms of life.

In humans, melanin is produced by melanocytes, which are cells that can be found in the deepest layer of the skin.

There are several processes that contribute to melanin synthesis, including the production of the amino acid tyrosine.

Once these granules of melanin pigment are produced, they are then dispersed into the skin cells in the human epidermis.

The Different Types of Melanin in Humans

There are three main types of melanin found in human beings:

  • Eumelanin – this form of melanin pigment is found in the skin and hair. It’s particularly prevalent in those with darker skin pigmentation since it’s responsible for brown and black colors
  • Pheomelanin – another form of melanin found in the skin and hair, this one is responsible for providing pink and red pigments
  • Neuromelanin – this form of melanin can be found in the brain. Neuromelanin doesn’t influence skin or hair color but plays a role in neurological processes

Why is Melanin Important & What Does Melanin Do? The Role & Benefits of Melanin for Your Skin & Body

So, what does melanin do? Melanin is important for a number of different reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the most important functions that this skin pigment is involved in:

Melanin Pigments Are Responsible for the Color of Your Eyes, Skin, and Hair

Woman touching her face and looking at the mirror to check for dark spots

Melanin determines your skin color, as well as the color of your hair and eyes. Those with dark skin tones and dark eyes will have more melanin deposits in their body than those with lighter skin. The same applies to those with dark hair, versus those with blond hair or red hair.

Protects Skin Cells From UV Damage

UV radiation is seriously detrimental to the health of human skin. Not only does sun exposure accelerate the skin aging process, leading to fine lines and wrinkles, but it can also cause skin cancer.

Chances are that you’ve noticed your skin taking on a darker color, or freckles appearing, after UV light exposure. This is down to how ultraviolet radiation stimulates melanin production. Why? Because brown eumelanin absorbs harmful UV rays before they’re able to cause too much damage to the DNA in your skin cells. As a result, melanin protects your skin from sun damage.

This is why those that have dark skin are less susceptible to skin cancer than those with pale skin [1] since their skin naturally contains a higher level of protective melanin.

Antioxidant Properties Prevent the Oxidation Process

While UV radiation protection may be the main role of melanin, this natural pigment is also a free radical scavenger. It works in the same way as antioxidants – by binding itself to the free radicals in your skin, melanin is able to neutralize them before they cause long-term damage to your skin cells.

what does melanin do

Reduces Inflammation in the Body

Melanin is a powerful anti-inflammatory [2], and this is something that can benefit your health in a big way. Inflammation not only leads to several different health diseases, but also speeds up skin aging while contributing to acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. Adequate melanin production will put a stop to all of this, enabling you to live your healthiest life.

To soothe inflammation and irritation on your skin, you can try out an aloe vera face mask for glowing skin.

Protects Immune System Function

Although more research into this is needed, studies have found that melanin plays a significant role in immune system function [3]. The better balanced the melanin in your body is, the stronger your immune system will be.

How to Increase Melanin Levels in Your Skin

How much melanin you have is usually determined by genetics. However, there are a couple of conditions that can cause a lack of melanin in the body.

Conditions That Cause a Lack of Melanin Pigment

The first is vitiligo, which is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough melanin, leading to white patches developing on the skin and hair.

Albinism also leads to reduced melanin production. However, this genetic condition is quite rare.

Plant-Based Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Woman taking antioxidant juices before starting her day

The best way to encourage your body to produce more melanin is by consuming antioxidant-rich foods. By reducing oxidative stress in your body, antioxidants indirectly help your skin to create more pigment.

Some of the best antioxidant-rich foods are:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Pomegranates
  • Cinnamon

Decreasing Melanin Production in Your Skin

While some may struggle with a lack of melanin in their skin, others have the opposite problem – skin that produces too much melanin. This is most commonly caused by excess sun exposure, the effects of which build up over time.

However, certain health conditions, such as Addison’s disease, along with pregnancy, can also cause your skin to produce more melanin than it actually needs.

The Result & Effects of Excess Melanin Production

What happens when your skin produces excess melanin? Hyperpigmentation is the result. You’ll notice dark spots developing on your skin. These can occur on both the face and the body – they’ll usually show up on the parts of your skin that have had the most UV exposure.

Research-Backed Ingredients for Hyperpigmentation Treatment

The best way to treat hyperpigmentation is to use skincare products that contain ingredients proven to decrease melanin production. There are quite a few that are effective at doing so, including:

  • Kojic acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Azelaic acid
  • Retinoids
  • Licorice root extract
  • Glycolic acid

It goes without saying that sun protection is crucial if you’re trying to reduce melanin levels in your skin. As mentioned, UV radiation stimulates melanin synthesis, so there’s no point in trying to slow this down unless you prevent those UV rays from speeding things back up each day.

To treat hyperpigmentation effectively, you can try some of the skin whitening creams. Read our guide and find out which is the best whitening cream.

Gorgeous woman with fair skin and dark eyes wearing white shirt

If nothing of what’s mentioned above doesn’t help, you will need a special skin lightening treatment, such as a laser treatment, glutathione injections, etc.

FAQ:

Q: The term melanin refers to what color?

The term melanin usually refers to black or brown, although pheomelanin, which is a type of melanin, refers to pink or red.

Q: How does melanin affect the body? What is the purpose of melanin and what is melanin used for?

Melanin is responsible for your eye, hair, and skin color. However, it also protects you from UV damage while displaying antioxidant activities.

Q: What does lack of melanin do?

A lack of melanin will leave you with lighter skin and hair. It can also make you more susceptible to UV damage.

Q: Can you live without melanin?

Yes, you can live without melanin, but this will likely lead to different disorders and diseases.

Q: Does white skin have melanin?

Yes, white skin has melanin, although it contains less melanin than dark skin.

Q: How does melanin help the skin?

Melanin helps the skin by protecting it from UV and free radical damage.

Q: What happens if you have no melanin?

If you have no melanin, then your skin color will be light or patchy.

Q: What foods increase melanin?

Pretty blonde posing for a camera

Antioxidant-rich foods are great for increasing melanin in the skin.

Q: How does your body produce melanin?

Your body produces melanin in special skin cells called melanocytes.

Q: What is a lack of melanin called?

A lack of melanin in human skin is called vitiligo.

Q: What does melanin do in the body?

Melanin does several things in the body, from reducing inflammation to supporting the immune system.

Q: How do you treat melanin deficiency?

Melanin deficiency is treated with a combination of topical and oral medications.

Q: What amino acid does the human body use to synthesize melanin?

The body uses the amino acid tyrosine to synthesize melanin.

Q: Is melanin good or bad?

Melanin in the right amounts is good – your body needs it for several purposes.

Q: Does everyone have melanin?

Yes, everyone has melanin, but they each have it in different amounts.

Q: Can you buy vitamins for melanin?

Vitamins A and E are great for boosting natural melanin production.

Q: Do all animals have melanin?

All mammals have melanin.

Summary

As you can see, melanin is important for so many different reasons. Not only does it play a big role in what you look like, but it’s also vital for the health of both your skin and your body. By understanding more about what melanin does and how it’s produced, you’ll hopefully now be equipped with the knowledge that you need to encourage a healthy melanin balance in your skin.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7087065/
[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bcpt.12748
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33807336/

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About Brenda Lawrence

I’ve been a writer nearly all my life and a professional one for almost ten years. My reviews are meticulously researched and fact-checked to allow you to find the brand or product that will meet your needs.