This is a pigment found in human hair, eyes and the skin that gives them their color. Melanin plays a core role in protecting our skins from the sun, in particular damage from UV rays.
The pigment is derived from an amino acid called tyrosine. Some people have a higher degree of melanin than others. This is especially so in dark-skinned people whose melanin levels are higher than in light-skinned people. The process can however get out of control for various reasons which leads to an excess of pigment, or hyperpigmentation.
In the body, cells called melanocytes are responsible for production of melanin.
There are actually a number of different types of melanin in our bodies, including skin melanin and neuromelanin. Neuromelanin plays a crucial role in the functioning of the nervous system and the brain.
The process of making melanin involves various steps. In the initial step, a chemical compound called L-DOPA (L-3, 4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) is catalyzed by an enzyme that is called tyrosinase. In some cases, some people lack tyrosine which results in albinism.
Tyrosine is produced by melanocytes which contain melanosomes (melanin granules). Usually, the melanosomes will leave melanocytes and enter into the epidermis cells of the skin where they will determine the skin color, and also protect the DNA against Utra Violet radiation of the sun.
There are various types of melanin namely pheomelanin, neuromelanin and eumelanin. Neuromelanin is a type of melanin that is found in different parts of the brain. Lack or loss of this type of melanin may result in neurological disorders.
Eumelanin is usually found in the skin, hair and the dark areas on the body such as the nipples. In some cases, the amount of eumelanin is in smaller the typical amounts. Which leads to characteristics we are very familiar with. People with a smaller amount of eumelanin have blonde hair.
Pheomelanin also occurs in the skin and hair and provides red and pink colors. It is the main pigment found in people with red hair.