Misconceptions : The Facts About Melanin

issue three : fear they neighbour

we investigate the facts about melanin.

Via Wikicommons

Via Wikicommons

The #melanin seems to have taken on a life of its own. A quick Instagram search of the tag brings up 5,607,212  posts that have included it. About 99% of those posts are people of colour. I even came across accounts that were dedicated to black skin and had attributed the word Melanin into their account names. 

After having just put up an editorial, featuring a bevvy of beautiful black women from around the globe, (Disclaimer: I was only able to feature six different ethnicities due to model availability, but we tried our utmost to represent as many cultures as possible.) simply titled Melanin. So while the black community has laid claim to the hashtag, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with the facts on the subject.

This, is after, all a space in which to learn and understand the implications of misappropriation.


What is Melanin and where does it come from?

Melanin is the pigment that occurs naturally in all of our bodies; across all races, religions and creeds (if you want to get extra technical, melanin is found in nearly all living organisms).  This pigment is what colours our eyes, hair and skin.  It is produced by melanocytes, which are found in the skin's basal layer - stratum germinativum. We are all born with the same number of melanocytes, however, our race determines just how much melanin is produced by these ingenious little cells, which is why all have different skin colours. 

Technically, there are three different kinds of melanin; pheomelanin, eumelanin and neuromelanin. However, is it only pheomelanin and eumelanin that are found in the skin. Neuromelanin, as the name suggests is located in our brains, but science has yet to discover its purpose. 

The most common melanin is eumelanin, which appears either as brown eumelanin and black eumelanin (which colour our eyes and hair). I guess I can see why the #melanin was appropriated - that, and the Greek melas, and the origins of the word meaning of dark or black! But did you know that this is the same pigment that allows caucasians to develop a tan? The sun stimulates the melanocytes to produce more melanin.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, those fair skin red heads have their own unique melanin, pheomelanin, which is responsible for producing a red pigment but offers little natural protection to the sun.



Whether you believe in Adam & Eve or that all our ancestors began their journey in Africa, the fact of the matter is that populations living closer to the equator were designed to produce more melanin, as it serves as a natural sunblock and helps the skin from burning as quickly as fair skinned races. So you see, we have evolution and genetic adaptation to thank for all the beautiful shades of skin. From the palest alabaster to the deepest black.


the absence of colour

Albinism occurs because of the absence of pigment (a.k.a. melanin) in the body. This is a relatively rare congenital disorder that is inherited through the bloodline. 

There are two types of albinism; oculo-cutaneous albinism which affects the skin, hair and eyes and ocular-albinism which affects just the eyes.

When considering the context of this issue and its controversial title "Fear Thy Neighbour," it was albinism that got me thinking about the real difference between race and culture. You could be asian, black, caucasian and every race in between, but also be an albino person. That has no bearing on one's culture and upbringing and ultimately how we identify ourselves.

This issue is dedicated to exploring those differences in the hope that we can all find some commonality, or at the very least, an understanding of other people's culture.