What is the Role of Collagen & Melanin in Skin?
Your skin's color and tone exist due to the compounds collagen and melanin. Each is found in varying degrees, depending upon your age and genetic background. Collagen, a protein, is found in the skin and helps to give it elasticity. Melanin gives the skin its pigmentation and also determines eye and hair color. Knowing how these are comprised and contribute to healthy skin can help you better care for your body.
Collagen is a protein that comprises one-quarter of the proteins that are found in your body, according to 3dchem.com. Collagen is found in your skin as well as the connective tissues of your body (your ligaments). Found in the epidermal layer of the skin, melanin is responsible for giving the skin its color, according to Dr. David O'Neill. Melanin takes on protective aspects in the body: It gives those who live in hot climates protection against the sun through darker skin pigmentation, and it gives those who live in less sunny climates a lighter skin pigmentation, lending them a greater ability to produce vitamin D with less sun exposure.
Collagen's skin function is to give skin its elastic properties. For example, when you pull on your skin, its ability to snap back into place exists thanks to collagen. As we age, production decreases, which can cause skin to lose elasticity and wrinkles to form. Melanin's function for the skin, on the other hand, is protection. When the sun's rays hit the skin, melanin absorbs the rays, which helps to keep the skin damage-free, according to Newton Ask a Scientist. Melanin also gives the skin, hair and eyes their coloring, according to MedlinePlus.
Tyrosine, an amino acid, comprises melanin in two ways: eumelanin, which is a black-brown pigment; or pheomelanin, which is a red-blond pigment, according to Newton Ask a Scientist. When these melanin compounds form together, a melanocyte is created and gives the skin, hair and eyes their color. Collagen is comprised of a number of amino acids, including glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and hydroxylsine. Its makeup is not typical of other similar proteins and it requires vitamin C in order to be produced. Therefore, if vitamin C is not present in the body, the elasticity and strength of the skin and ligaments is affected.
As a person ages, collagen synthesis begins to slow down, according to Varani et al in the American Journal of Pathology. This means that the skin begins to lose elasticity, resulting in wrinkles and signs of aging. This process can be accelerated due to excess ultraviolet radiation exposure due to either sun or indoor tanning, according to the American Journal of Pathology. Sun exposure also can cause damage to melanin pigments. If a person is exposed to too much sun, melanin may not be able to support the radiation. Not only does a sunburn occur, but this damage can result in changes to a person's DNA and increase the risk for melanoma, a potentially deadly cancer.
Collagen is beneficial to the skin because it gives skin a youthful appearance. Collagen also is used in many dermatologic practices through injections that can repair scars and make the lips appear more full. Melanin's protective aspects can help a person when they are exposed to the sun. Without melanin, a person would experience more severe sunburns and a greater risk of skin cancer. (Melanin does not eliminate the risk of skin cancer, however; wearing a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 is still important when going out in the sun.)
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