Understanding the Two Types of Melanin
Hair dye. How we love our hair dye. Because of hair dye, we don’t have to hit the genetics lottery. Little girls born with brown hair can grow up to be blondes and red heads. Blondes can grow up to be goth chics. From the bleach blond of Marilyn Monroe to the honey blonde of Beyonce, from the jet black of Nikki Sixx to the sometimes blue of Katy Perry to the sometimes pink of, well Pink, we have to have our hair dye and are willing to take some extreme measures to make sure we have it. For years, men and women would prefer to damage, torture and strip their hair rather than have it be (gasp!!) their natural color. Even though many of us would rather trade their natural hair color for, well almost anything else, melanin is the pigment that is responsible for it. Melanins are also responsible for our skin and eye color. Most melanins are dark, from black to brown, but other melanins are reddish or yellowish.Animal melanins are divided into two groups, eumelanin (eu = good) and pheomelanin (pheo +cloudy or dusky)
In her book, “Skin: a natural story, Dr.Barbara Jablonski says, “In Homo sapiens, skin colors make up an exquisite palette varying in almost imperceptible degrees from the palest ivories to the darks browns.” pheomelanin is usually found in large quantities fair skinned redheads and is also, interestingly enough, found in freckles, lips, and nipples. (Julianne Moore must have a bunch.) Eumelanins are more common in humans, predominantly darker skinned people. High concentration can be found in moles. (Think Cindy Crawford) Because people with red hair are less capable of producing eumelanin, their skin is more susceptible to burns and aging.
Eumelanin is predominant in black and brunette hair. There is brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. Contrary to what you may presume, brown eumelanin without other pigments actually causes blonde hair. pheomelanin is found in red hair. While people with dark hair may produce pheomelanin it is usually hidden by the dominant eumelanin. Blond and red and auburn streaks are usually the results of the pheomelanin showing through. Grey hair contains only a few melanin granules, white hairs contain none. The apparent whiteness is a result of the way they reflect light.
Eye color is dependent on the ratio of eumelanin and pheomelanin in the outer layer of the iris. People with darker colored eyes have more melanin in general, and more eumelanin than pheomelanin. People with light colored eyes(blue or green) have less melanin and more pheomelanin than eumelanin. (Bet you’re thinking, “Why don’t we have yellow eyes?”)Hazel eyes are in between. Eyes appear blue and green rather than red and yellow because of light scattering off proteins in the eye.
In conclusion, it seems that melanin has a whole lot to do with our appearance and making us who we are. Of course, new technologies allow us to change our pigmentation at will, be it using hair dye, colored contact lenses or even photoshopped. Here’s hoping you love your blue/black/brown/pink/freckled/mocha/moled/orange/yellow hair/eyes and skin just the way it is!