Soaking up the sun can be invigorating, but it can also be dangerous. The body has a natural line of defense against the harmful UV light. And that's called melanin. Wondering what is the function of melanin or how does melanin protect the skin? We have the answers about what it is and its main function as a defender of radiation exposure and UV protection .

What is Melanin?

Melanin is simply a naturally occurring pigment in our skin. The skin cells that create melanin are called melanocytes.

Does every race have melanin and melanocytes? Absolutely. In fact, we all have the same amount of melanocytes, but some people have more melanin in their skin than others.

The amount of melanin you make depends on your genes. If you have a lot of melanin, it's likely that your skin, eyes, and hair will be darker.

How Does Melanin Protect the Skin?

What exactly is the melanin function and what does it do other than pigment our skin? It actually serves an important protective purpose.

While some people make more melanin in their skin, which shows as darker melanin pigments, all humans make more melanin in the sun. UV rays darken the existing melanin in our skin and encourage new melanin to generate, resulting in darker, tanned skin. That is the protective mechanism in action.

Dangers of Sun Exposure

Many people enjoy a good tan, especially during the summer months and in warmer climates. But while tan is a result of a natural protective function, sun damage is something else completely.

You don't have to look too far to find advice about limiting exposure to the sun. It's a well-known fact that ultraviolet radiation, also referred to as UV rays, is a leading cause of skin cancer—the most common cancer type in the world.

There are several types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVB rays are attributed to the sunburn we experience when we're in the sun too long or during peak UVB hours. They're also responsible for most types of skin cancer.

Unfortunately, the negative effects of UV rays don't stop with skin cancer. In addition to sunburn, UV rays can lead to eye problems like vision impairment and cataracts and even a weakened immune system.

If you're wondering, "Can darker-skinned people get skin cancer?" the answer is yes. While those with darker skin may not see or be as aware of the warning signs, the risks are very real.

Other Protective Measures You Can Take

Melanin is your built-in protective system, but there are some smart steps you can take to reduce the risk of skin cancer and dangerous sun exposure. These include:

  • Avoiding prolonged time in the sun between 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. when UV rays are strongest
  • Use sunscreen to block UV rays
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, or UPF clothing, to protect your skin.
  • Wear rash guards, hats and sunglasses to guard your face, eyes, and neck area

The sun is not entirely unhealthy and can actually be a great source of Vitamin D, but it's important to be smart and safe about spending time outside.

Stay Active and Sun-Safe with Protective Apparel

If someone asks you, "How does melanin protect the skin?" you now have the answer.

But if you still have questions about sun safety and how to stay safe with our UV apparel, email us. We'll reach out with answers and assistance. Don't forget to shop our site for the latest arrivals.

January 13, 2023 — Gabriella Lowell