Melanin is pigment, or color, in a person’s skin, hair, and eyes. In general, people who have darker skin tones have more melanin than those with lighter skin tones. A person’s genetics determine their skin color and melanin level.
Melanin is a natural protector against the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. People who have more melanin in their skin have a lower risk of sunburn and skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
A suntan is a sign that the skin is releasing melanin. This is the skin’s way of protecting itself from damage. However, experts also link sun exposure, sunburns, and suntans to skin damage and skin cancer.
No research to date has proved that foods or supplements can increase a person’s melanin levels. However, eating certain nutrients may help the skin defend itself from UV damage and skin cancer.
There are also ways to give the skin a tanned appearance without damaging it with UV rays.
Read on to learn more about melanin levels and whether it may be possible to increase these in the body.
While there are no safe, proven melanin boosters on the market, researchers have found a chemical compound that may boost melanin levels in the skin.
This compound created a tanned appearance when researchers applied it to human skin. They believe the compound shuts off certain enzymes that inhibit melanin production.
While the results show potential, clinical studies have yet to prove the compound is safe and effective for people to use. Because of this, it is not yet available to the public.
Though some products claim to be “tanning pills” that can darken skin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say these products are not proven to be safe and effective. They may even cause serious adverse reactions, including eye damage.
Although melanin has some protective benefits, tanning is not a safe way to boost melanin. Tanning, sunburn, and sun exposure greatly increases a person’s risk of getting skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
In addition, the Skin Cancer Foundation say people should not try to get a “base tan” before a vacation or prolonged sun exposure. This advance tanning does not protect from sunburn but increases skin damage and the chance of skin cancer.
Even though people with darker skin have some natural UV protection, the American Academy of Dermatology state that people of all skin tones, including people of color, can get skin cancer and need to protect their skin from the sun.
A healthy diet could also help prevent skin cancer, as certain nutrients may offer some protection against skin cancer.
Foods with antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that can slow or prevent damage to cells. In some cases, this means they can help prevent certain types of cancer.
Some studies suggest that antioxidants may help mediate UV damage to the skin and skin cancer.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggest that eating more antioxidant-rich foods may help prevent certain types of diseases.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants. Other foods, such as dark chocolate, green tea, nuts, beans, herbs, and spices also contain antioxidants.
Although antioxidants in food may be helpful, getting them from a supplement is not.
The NIH say that high dose antioxidant supplements may cause health risks, including an increased chance of some cancers. They may also interact with medicines.
Flavonoids are nutrients found in almost all fruits and vegetables. These compounds have demonstrated some anticancer properties.
One study found that certain flavonoids may help prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Researchers included several flavonoids in their study, many of which are in fruits, vegetables, and green tea.
While it cannot increase melanin, eating flavonoids is a healthful way to help the skin defend itself from damage.
If a person’s goal is to darken the appearance of their skin, they may wish to use a sunless tanning product.
Sunless tanners do not increase melanin or offer any UV protection. Instead, their effects are strictly cosmetic.
Many self-tanning products contain a compound called dihydroxyacetone (DHA).
DHA is a plant molecule that produces pigment when it is put on the skin. This pigment is called melanoidin, but it is not the same as melanin and does not offer its protection.
The effects of DHA can last for several days, but they fade as the skin naturally produces new cells.
Some evidence suggests that using DHA products of 5% concentration or above could increase the risk of UV damage for the first 24 hours after applying.
People should use sunscreen and sun protective clothing to help prevent this damage from sunlight.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommend the following steps to help prevent skin cancer:
- Find shade, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Do not try to get a tan and avoid sunburns.
- Do not use indoor tanning beds.
- Wear clothing, hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses to protect skin and eyes.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher every day.
- For longer sun exposure, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every 2 hours. Use a generous amount (about 2 tablespoons) for the whole body.
- Check skin for any changes at least once a month.
- See a dermatologist at least once a year for a skin exam.
A person’s genetics determine their natural melanin levels and skin color. However, researchers are looking for ways to increase melanin and help prevent skin cancer,
A diet rich in antioxidants and flavonoids is a good way to protect against skin damage and skin cancer.
People of all skin tones should protect themselves from UV rays by using sunscreen daily and wearing sun protective hats and clothing when they are out in the sun for long periods.