The apotheosis of melanin is not in the least surprising, with many referring to it as a source of higher perception, energy and spirituality. These beliefs are certainly not out of place, with melanin conferring unto us our skin color which is our cultural identity, and protecting us from the harmful UV radiation. Yet, with its great benefits, come some truths that rarely come to the surface. Below are 5 things no one tells you about melanin.
- Various types of melanin: I’m still yet to see #eumelanin, #pheomelanin, #melaninmagic or #neuromelanin popping on my Instagram feed, yet these are the three basics forms of melanin. It’s really funny how so many people boast about being blessed with melanin yet have no knowledge of this. Eumelanin which is the most common and abundant type in humans, can either occur as black or brown, pheomelanin which is attributed to red hair, is a yellow to reddish brown pigment and the neuromelanin is found in the brain. The combination and variation of the first two pigments is largely responsible for the different skin tones we see.
2. Melanin does not protect you completely from the sun: Full protection from the sun by melanin, is a common misconception. While melanin will absorb most of the UV-B rays coming from the sun, it does not protect you from the UV-A rays which cause premature aging and cancer. It also does not protect you from skin damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. Thus, a high level of melanin is not relative to a free pass on sun protection.
3. Melanin is not present in all the areas of the body: Quite a number of people still feel melanin is next to ubiquitous on the human skin. Yet the lips is an exception, the skin on the lips which is essentially different from the skin of other parts of body, doesn’t have sebaceous glands to keep it moisturized and also more importantly doesn’t have the pigment melanin to protect it from harmful UV radiation. Thus, it becomes essential to use sunscreen which not only protects the skin from UV radiation, but also moisturizes it and prevents it from breaking and getting chapped. And if these are not enough reasons, actinic cheilitis (farmer’s lip), which occurs on sun damaged lips is a precancerous skin damage.
4. Malignant melanoma develops in the melanocytes: Yup! Melanin just stabbed you in the back. As if that’s not enough, the type of cancer (malignant melanoma) that develops in the melanocytes (specialized cells that produce melanin) is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, causing 75% of skin cancer death, and if untreated can spread to other parts of the body. It then becomes important to protect the skin and wear sunscreen to prevent abnormal alterations in the melanocytes, which lead to cancerous growth.
5. Melanin makes the skin more reactive: The downside to having high levels of melanin is that it makes the skin more reactive, the after effects of prolonged sun exposure, bruises, harsh winter conditions, and even as small as a pimple, cause various discoloration and dark patches on the skin. What makes it worse is that they take long to heal. That’s why taking good care of the skin, wearing sunscreen and preventing hyperpigmentation is very important.
6. Melanin loss with age: The elasticity of the skin and the structural integrity of the skin are not the only thing that dwindles with aging. Melanin also reduces with aging, which is why the elderly have gray hair as result of melanin loss from the hair, and are more prone to developing sun spots and sun damage disorders.
7. Essential to Brain and Nerve Function: So it might seem like this article is totally against melanin, yet one of the untold benefits of melanin, it’s the role it plays in neuroprotection which is mediated by neuromelanin. This is made evident in Parkinson’s disease patient, who had less amount of neuromelanin in their neurons.