Human skin color has been a matter of significance for centuries. It has been used to determine races and divide people into categories. Also, many societies base their standards of beauty as well as as social status on skin color. Society generally considers the people with fair skin color richer because they can afford staying indoors and don’t have to work under the sun. In many countries, people consider the lighter skin color more beautiful especially in South East Asia. This also makes many people, men as well as women, spend quite a fortune just to lighten their skin color. On the contrary, there are some countries in Africa where darker skin tone is preferred. Almost all the Africans have dark skin color but the ones with the darkest tones are considered attractive among them.
So all this fuss about skin color makes one think what actually is the basis of the skin color. What makes us divide humanity into races such as Caucasian, the Black, Yellow and Brown people. Also, what is the factor regarding us as more or less beautiful and rich (other than our prejudice of course).
So, let’s have a look at the biology of human skin color.
Melanin: The one responsible for skin color
The basic factor involved in determining the skin color is melanin. The word melanin is derived from a Greek term which means dark or black. Melanin is a pigment produced by the cells called melanocytes found in the skin. The more is the production of melanin in the skin, the darker the skin color is. Africans have highest levels of melanin production, so they have pigmented or dark skins. On the contrary, Caucasians have the lowest amounts of melanin production in their skin.
That’s why the people other than the Caucasian are known as People of Color since their skin has pigment.
Apart from skin, melanin also gives pigment to our hair, iris in the eye, lips etc. So it’s actually the color of our outer body.
What Determines Melanin Production?
Two factors determine the production of melanin. One is genetics and the other one is our exposure to the sun.
The genetic code for the skin color in our DNA comes from both parents, so we mostly have a skin color similar to our parents. If the genes from one parent dominate, then we inherit that parent’s skin color regardless of the skin color of the other parent. And the ones in whom the genes of skin color from both the parents work, they have a combination of the two. For instance, the children of a couple, with an African and a Caucasian person, will have a skin color relatively lighter than the Africans but quite darker than the Caucasians. Because the genes of low melanin production from the Caucasian parent will cause a melanin production much lower than the African skin.
The other factor working here is our exposure to the sun. Sun light causes the melanocytes to increase their melanin production. Melanin absorbs sun light and thus protects the skin cells from the UV radiation damage. It also counters skin cancer by protecting the skin from UV radiation. Thus, the darker a person is, the less they run the risk of developing skin cancer due to UV exposure because of the high melanin production in their skin.
Exposure to the sun causes an increase in the melanin production as a natural strategy to protect skin cells from UV damage. This causes a darkening of the skin due to sun exposure which we also know as tanning.
Tanning is particularly visible when we stay under sun for long periods of time. We can see a difference in the color of the skin that we kept under clothing and the skin that we directly exposed to the sun. We can clearly observe that people from the regions with warm climate have darker skin colors. And the people of colder regions have relatively light skin color.
When people start living under low temperature or where the climate is relatively colder and the sun light is not much intense. The skin cells begin to produce less melanin automatically. Similar is the case when a person lives in a place for a while where the climate is hot and sun is intense. The skin cells automatically enhance the melanin production. This happens as a natural way of protecting skin from UV damage. That is why we can observe that our skin color gets lighter in winters while it gets a bit darker in the summer.
Recommended: Styles of Love: And how to Identify Them
How different races were developed?
Some people wonder how come human beings were divided into different skin colors when their origin is the same. The origin of humanity, Adam and Eve are said to have a brownish skin color and they lived in the Middle East. Sounds sensible as Middle Eastern people have brown skin colors. When the humanity began to expand, however, people shifted to different regions of the world. Gradually, generation after generation, when they lived in a certain region, their melanin production got adjusted to the climate of that region as an evolutionary response. Researchers say that it took 100 generations for the dark-skinned people to become light skinned due to the cold climate.
Albinos are the people who are born with a disability of the skin cells melanocytes to produce melanin. Thus they lack any pigment in the skin and that’s why their skin as well as hair including eyebrows and eye lashes are completely white.
Why Women have Lighter Skin Color than Men?
Gender also causes a variation in melanin production. You might have observed that women, of the same family and the same heredity, have relatively lighter skin color than men. The reason is that women naturally require more calcium in their bodies that comes in use during the periods of pregnancy and lactation. Because during pregnancy and lactation, the baby takes all the calcium that it requires for its skeletal development from the mother’s skeleton. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium in the body. And that vitamin D comes from sun light. Thus the female skin cells produce less amount of melanin, so that more sun light could reach their body. Otherwise the melanin in the epidermis would absorb the UV radiation and would not let it reach their body as per requirement.
Why Skin Color Lightens with Age?
A person’ skin color also fades with age. As in the aging process, the melanocyte stem cells die gradually. This lowers the total amount of melanin production in their skin.
The Reason behind Age Spots:
The skin of outer hands and face have about twice the a amount of pigment cells than the other areas of body that usually remain unexposed to he sun. Because the more is the exposure to sun, the more skin cells are stimulated. In later years, when the production levels decrease, they decrease unevenly. Some spots on the skins still have high melanin while at other spots, the skin cells reduce the production. That causes a blotchy appearance of skin color with little spots of pigmentation here and there. These pigmented spots are called age spots.
So that was all the mystery behind skin color. What a better place this world would be if people just take skin color as a matter of human biology. Instead of using it for he judgment of someone’s race, social status and beauty. For after all, no one is responsible for their skin color. It’s all the game of Melanin.
Also Read: How to Increase Happiness in Your Life