Our A-to-Z Guide to Understanding Melanin & Skin Pigmentation

understanding melanin and skin pigmentation

In broad terms, the level of melanin in your body determines your skin pigmentation (color).  Melanin is also the pigment that determines the shade of our eyes and hair. It has other uses, too, which we’ll talk about in this guide.

My goal is not to create a scholarly research paper here, but I do think understanding melanin will help you make better decisions about what you want to do with your skin. Whitening/lightening is essentially manipulating the body’s melanin production as we will describe in a bit.

A Quick Rundown of Melanin Types

There are actually three varieties of melanin that we produce.  Eumelanin are brown and black polymers that play the key role in determining the color of the vast majority of our skin. Pheomelanin polymers are pinkish/red and usually aggregate in areas such as our lips, areolas and sex organs.

A third variety, neuromelanin, is based in our brains and may eventually shed light on a number of related conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimers etc. But our focus here is on melanin as it relates to skin coloring.

We want you to come away from this guide understanding first how your body creates and uses melanin. And then we’ll discuss changes within your control that can make a positive difference in how your skin appears.

What Is Melanin’s Role in the Human Body?

Scientists believe that melanin is one way that the body’s microorganisms stay protected.  There’s indisputable evidence that melanin protects our skin from the damage caused by UV radiation.  Studies also conclude that melanin helps our cells avoid at least some of the damage that would otherwise be caused by a whole host of other environmental stressors known to be harmful.

We will spare you the deep scientific details but don’t lose sight of the fact that melanin is vital to the lifecycle of cells. You’ll want to remember this as we discuss some of its negatives in regards to skin coloring.

How Melanin Affects Skin Color

It might be helpful to first understand that melanin is sort of like the body’s own equivalent of paint. Without melanin in our skin, we would essentially all be albinos… much lighter versions of what we see every day.  Albinism really can’t be described as being white, of course. It’s more about having a lack of color.

So the higher your level of skin melanin, the darker your shade. The problem with melanin, for most women, is that it’s rarely evenly distributed. Women use skin care products, primarily the skin lighteners, to even out their color.

A nice even skintone in almost any shade can be beautiful.  For example, we’ve all seen gorgeous black women, stunning Latinas and Orientals, white women with a perfect Alabaster shade.

They are not in any way the same shade, but their skin has a uniformity in melanin levels that we all recognize as beauty.  The problem is that the vast majority of us don’t have uniform melanin levels, and we’re going to talk about the potential solutions next.

How the Body Produces Melanin

In non-technical terms, your body has cells throughout that are called melanocytes. Through the process of melanogenesis these cells create melanin and the level of melanin in your skin determines your skin coloring.

It’s true that some women would like to be an entirely different shade than they are, but most really only want their melanin levels to be evenly distributed throughout their body.  We all associate a nice even skintone with beauty, right?

Fewer than 10% of women between the ages of 18 and 30 report that they are satisfied with their skin’s appearance, and that number plummets as we age.  Chief among their complaints are things like acne scarring, freckles, rosacea and dark spots.

These issues are all variations of a conditio known as hyperpigmentation.  You’ll want to understand how it develops, and what your possible options are, before you buy any beauty products that attempt to change the melanin levels in your skin.

Hyperpigmentation: When Melanin Goes Rogue

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