Melanin – The Skin Color Pigment

Melanin pigments in skin eumelanin and pheomelanin

Melanin is the most important contributor to skin color. Skin color is derived from several pigments, but the pigment melanin gives skin its color and tone. Dark spots on the skin are caused by an increase in melanin.

In order to understand how skin lightening ingredients work to erase dark spots- you first need to understand what melanin is and how melanin is made.

What is melanin?

Melanin is a skin pigment.  There are two kinds of melanin.  Eumelanin has a brown-black color and pheomelanin which has a red yellow color. The amount of eumelanin and pheomelanin that the skin makes is partially determined by genetics.

What does melanin do?

The function of melanin is to protect the skin from sun damage by absorbing harmful radiation such as UVA and UVB radiation. Eumelanin is more protective than pheomelanin. Melanin production increases when skin is exposed to sun. This process is called tanning. Skin tanning is the body’s way to protect itself and it’s DNA from the ravages of sun exposure.

Where is melanin found?

Melanin is in the epidermis and dermis of the skin. This skin pigment is made by cells called melanocytes that are found in the epidermis and the dermis.

How is melanin made?

Melanocytes make melanin from tyrosine. The process of making both types of melanin requires an enzyme called tyrosinase. When cysteine is present- pheomelanin is made.  In the absence of cysteine, eumelanin is made.



Once melanin is made by melanocytes, it is packed into protective melanosomes and travels up the “arms” of the melanocyte until it reaches skin cells called keratinocytes. The melanosome then passes through a receptor called a protease activator receptor-2 (PAR-2) into the keratinocyte. Clumps of melanin and melanosomes can be seen in pigmented keratinocytes. 



What is Skin Pigmentation?

Skin pigmentation occurs when melanin and other pigments accumulate in skin cells. Pigments affect how light is reflected off of the skin. The ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin determines how brown, black, yellow and red your skin is. The more eumelanin there is- the darker your skin is.


How to Lighten Dark Spots on Skin and Even Skin Tone?

There are several ways to lighten skin color and even skin tone:

  1. Push the melanin production pathway to make more pheomelanin than eumelanin. This requires cysteine. Pheomelanin is lighter than eumelanin.
  2. Prevent production of both types of melanin by blocking tyrosinase.
  3. Prevent movement of the melanosomes through the PAR-2 receptor with pAR-2 blockers.
  4. Speed up the breakdown of melanosomes
  5. Increase exfoliation speed so the melanocytes cannot make pigment fast enough to keep the skin pigmented.


How To use Skin Lighteners Properly?

Only apply the skin lightening ingredients to the dark spots on your skin. If you apply these ingredients outside of the dark spots you can get a halo effect (a light area surrounding the dark spot).  In other words- only apply these skin lightening products on areas that you want to lighten the color.



To learn more about how to lighten dark spots on the skin- click here to go to the skin lightening ingredients dictionary.

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