Melanin is a substance in your body that produces hair, eye and skin pigmentation. The more melanin you produce, the darker your eyes, hair and skin will be. The amount of melanin in your body depends on a few different factors, including genetics and how much sun exposure your ancestral population had.
Melanin is a complex polymer that originates from the amino acid tyrosine. Melanin is present in human and animal skin to varying degrees, and is responsible for your unique eye, hair and skin color.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Melanin provides pigmentation to your skin, eyes and hair. The substance also absorbs harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays and protects your cells from sun damage.
Melanin is produced in melanocytes. These cells are located in different areas of your body, including:
There are three different types of melanin, including:
Your unique combination of eumelanin and pheomelanin is responsible for your skin, hair and eye color. Typically, all humans have the same number of melanocytes. However, the amount of melanin produced by these melanocytes varies. People with more melanin generally have darker skin, eyes and hair compared to those with little melanin. Additionally, people who’re born with clusters of melanocytes have freckles.
When you spend time out in the sun, your body produces more melanin. The substance absorbs light from UV rays and redistributes it toward the upper layers of skin. It also protects the genetic material stored in your cells by keeping out harmful UV rays.
But keep in mind that melanin alone isn’t enough to protect your skin from sun damage. That’s why it’s so important to wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing whenever you’re outside.
Notable melanin benefits include:
Studies also suggest that melanin may aid in immune system support and the reduction of inflammation in your body. More research is necessary to determine the full extent of these benefits.
Melanin deficiency is linked to a number of skin disorders and health conditions. Some of these include:
Some people make an excess of melanin. This is known as hyperpigmentation, and it’s harmless. People who make too much melanin usually have patches of skin that become darker than the surrounding skin.
Though many products claim to boost melanin levels, there isn’t any research that supports their effectiveness. Experts continue exploring ways to naturally increase melanin to prevent sun damage and skin cancer.
There’s also a common misconception that tanning is a safe way to increase melanin. In reality, this practice significantly increases your risk for skin cancer.
No. Though the terms sound similar, they refer to different things. Melanin is a pigment responsible for skin tone. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your waking and sleeping cycle.
Some experts believe that people who have darker skin are more prone to vitamin D deficiency than people with lighter skin. This is because excess melanin absorbs the UV rays responsible for vitamin D synthesis. There are studies that support this claim, but more research is needed in this area.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Melanin plays an important role in shielding your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. But remember, melanin isn’t a substitute for proper sun protection. No matter what your skin tone, you should always wear sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 when venturing outdoors.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/29/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.