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Is it possible to increase the amount of melanin in your skin? The short answer is yes, and the methods are simple. But why would you want more melanin? Science shows that the benefits of melanin in the skin are significant. This blog will discuss what melanin is, why you might need more of it, and how to achieve that end. 

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Melanin and What it Does

Melanin is a substance that determines the color of your skin, hair, and eyes. The more melanin you have, the darker these are. Cells that produce melanin are called melanocytes, and are found in the innermost layer of your skin, the irises and pupils of your eyes, hair, and areas of your inner ear, adrenal gland, and brain. Although all humans have the same number of melanocytes, the amount of melanin they produce varies widely. 

How much of this complex polymer your body produces depends on several factors, including your genetics and ancestral sun exposure. Melanin is found in both human and animal skin. Further, people with clusters of melanocytes in their skin have freckles. 

In addition to providing pigment to your hair, eyes, and skin, melanin also absorbs the harmful UV rays and it protects your cells from sun damage. 

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Types of Melanin

There are three main types of melanin:

Eumelanin is divided into two sub-types – black and brown. Eumelanin makes mostly darker colors in skin, eyes, and hair, and people with dark-colored hair usually have a mixture of these. People with a small amount of brown and no black eumelanin have blonde hair.  

Pheomelanin is a type of melanin found in the pinkish parts of your body, including lips and nipples. People with equal amounts of eumelanin and pheomelanin have red hair. 

Neuromelanin determines the color of your more visible body parts, like skin, hair, and eyes. It’s also responsible for the pigment in your neurons. 

A woman sitting on a beach with a sun hat.

The Benefits of Melanin and Why You Might Want More

One of the best-known benefits of melanin is its protective property. The sun can damage our cells when our skin is exposed to UV rays. These rays penetrate your skin and, over time, can damage healthy cells. If the exposure is prolonged, the damage can be extensive. 

Sun Protection

Interestingly, spending some time in the sun causes your body to produce melanin. The UV rays hit the skin and are redistributed to its upper layers, where melanin absorbs the sun’s rays (UVA, UVB, UVC, and blue light) and protects your cells from damage. Hence, people with more melanin experience greater sun protection, while people with less are more vulnerable to sun damage

Of course, melanin alone isn’t enough to prevent all sun damage to the skin. Sunscreen and protective clothing are essential to your skin’s health.

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Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)

ROS are the byproducts of your body’s cell metabolism, and when they build up in your cells, they lead to health problems like cancer and diabetes, damaging stress, and premature aging. But melanin seeks out ROS and protects your cells from free radicals, and boosts antioxidants. 

Additional Benefit

Studies have considered that melanin may help to support your immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. More research is needed to explore this possibility more fully.

Related: How Trained Immunity and Vitiligo Are Connected

How to Boost Melanin

Now that you know all the benefits of melanin, here are ways to increase it.  

Vitamins 

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can enhance your skin pigmentation with potentially damaging sun exposure. You can get more vitamin E with supplementation or in your diet by consuming sunflower seeds, avocados, almonds, flax seeds, olive oil, and peanut butter.

Vitamin D helps to produce more melanin when the sun’s UVB rays turn inactive vitamin D3 into active D3. To increase your vitamin D3 levels, eat whole eggs, mackerel, sardines, organ meat, red meat, and vitamin D-fortified milk and juices.  

Vitamin B12 protects your DNA, cells, and nerves. You can increase your B12 by taking supplements or consuming more eggs, liver, red meat, milk, and fish.

Vitamin C can significantly increase melanin production, as well as being a powerful antioxidant. Eat foods that are full of vitamin C, like citrus fruits – oranges, limes, tangerines, grapefruit, and other fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, kiwi, papaya, guava, broccoli, berries, and kale.

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Vitamin B9, also called folic acid, is vital for reproductive health. Like melanin, it also protects your skin from the sun’s UVA radiation and skin cancer. Eat more leafy greens, broccoli, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, liver, and other foods with added folic acid. 

Antioxidants

Along with beta-carotene and lycopene, antioxidants work to increase melanin production. Eat more carrots, tomato, kale, sweet potato, spinach, watermelon, guava, cantaloupe, apricot, and grapefruit to raise your levels of beta-carotene and lycopene.   

Sunbathing

While extended time in the sun is dangerous, sunbathing before 10 am may give you more melanin production without the risk. Remember to apply sunblock. 

Melanin Supplements and Hormones

Another way to increase melanin in your skin is to take melanin supplements or hormones. Talk to your dermatologist about this, as these are only available with a prescription. 

Note: These may cause hyperpigmentation.    

a man with dreadlocks smiling at the camera

Conditions That May Be Affected By Melanin Levels

Several conditions are associated with your low melanin production: 

  • Albinism: the genetic condition of having no skin color, lighter skin, or patches of missing color
  • Vitiligo: patches of lighter skin
  • Hearing Loss: due to a lack of melanin in the inner ear
  • Melasma: brown or blue-grey patches on the arms or face
  • Parkinson’s Disease: a neurodegenerative disorder

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Boosting Melanin Levels

You may want to boost your melanin levels for many reasons – you have a disorder that negatively impacts your life or well-being, or you want one of the other benefits. There are natural ways to enhance melanin production with a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Not only can these help with melanin, they will positively impact your overall health.  

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