Melanin, the Skin Pigment
Melanin is an epidermal pigment that gives colour to our eyes, skin, and hair. It can be found in the epidermis – the outer layer of skin – as well as in our hair follicles and even deeper within the layers of skin. Melanocytes produce melanin – special cells which are responsible for protecting us from harmful UV radiation, slowing down aging processes and providing us with antioxidants.
Through its behaviour, melanin makes it possible to appreciate a variety of skin tones worldwide; without it, humans would all have the same colour complexion. It is also the most important chromophore in the skin and an important chromophore for laser photothermolysis.
Melanocyte, the Melanin Factory
Melanin is produced by melanocytes, melanin-producing cells that are predominantly located at the outermost layer of our skin. Although melanocyte production can be affected by external factors such as sunlight, the majority of melanin is produced in a genetically determined manner.
The melanocytes synthesize melanin from the amino acid tyrosine and disperse it throughout our body, producing melanized areas and influencing individual appearance. Melanin is also essential for vision, helping to protect and maintain all layers of the eye and producing melanized tissue necessary for healthy sight.
As more individuals become conscious of the long-term damaging effects of the sun’s UVB rays, there is increasing interest in using melanocyte inhibitors. Ascorbic acid and azelaic acid are two examples, while hydroquinone (in higher strengths) remains to be a top choice for those who wish to decrease the production of pigment in their skin and even out their complexion.
As they use these ingredients regularly and safely, people can lighten or brighten their tone without risking any long-term damage. As a result, inhibitors such as ascorbic acid, azelaic acid and hydroquinone are becoming increasingly popular amongst those who seek effective yet safe methods to improve the appearance of their skin.
Types of Melanin?
Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment that gives colour to our skin, hair, and eyes. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for dark brown or black hair and skin and lighter tones such as blond or brown.
Pheomelanin is responsible for the redness in fair-skinned people and hair ranging from straw-blond to coppery red shades. It’s estimated that the amount of melanin present can create around 37,000 distinct shades! Because everyone’s combination of these two types is unique, it creates an endless spectrum of skin tones and hues worldwide. To top it off, melanin protects our skin against UV rays.
Pigmentary disorders affect melanin, a pigment responsible for the skin’s colour. These disorders can be caused by genetic factors or environmental exposure to the sun, resulting in changes in the melanin of the epidermal or dermal layer of the skin.
Two common pigmentary disorders are melasma and sunspots. Melasma appears as patches of dark, irregularly shaped marks on areas of the face that have been exposed to sunlight. Sunspot lesions appear lighter freckles or moles and can manifest on parts not often exposed to the sun, such as palms, soles, and scalp.
As a result, individuals with pigmentary disorders can undergo complex emotional turmoil when dealing with their appearance. If you’re experiencing any signs and symptoms related to melanin irregularities, visiting a dermatologist can help diagnose your condition so you can get on track to better managing your skin health.
Hypopigmentation occurs when melanin, which is responsible for skin pigment and provides protection from the sun’s UV rays, is lacking in the skin. The melanin can be absent as either an anomaly in epidermal melanocytes – melanin-producing cells — or a lack of melanin-producing activity in dermal melanocytes. While hypopigmentation often occurs naturally, some are caused by injury, illness or poor nutrition.
Hypopigmentation conditions include vitiligo, albinism and certain skin diseases, including leprosy, tinea versicolor and pityriasis alba. Treatment for hypopigmentation depends on etiology and severity levels but may include medical intervention, topical creams to boost melanin production or laser treatments to lessen the effects.
Laser absorption by melanin is an important component of medical and cosmetic treatments that use lasers. Alex 755 nm, Diod laser 810, and ND:Yag 1064 are three wavelengths often used to reduce the appearance of dark spots on skin resulting from hyperpigmentation. Alex 755 nm has been used for years to target brown patches, birthmarks, and tattoos.
Diod laser 810 is better suited for targeting hair follicles, and ND:Yag 1064 can reach deeper layers of skin without disrupting surrounding healthy tissue. This is the most frequent laser for Laser hair removal and skin rejuvenation.