Pheomelanin is one of the two main types of Melanin, the natural pigment found in the hair, skin and eyes of humans and animals. As opposed to Eumelanin, which produces dark hues such as brown and black, pheomelanin gives red and yellow hues to the skin, hair, and eyes. The amount and type of melanin (eumelanin and pheomelanin) in a person's skin and hair determine their individual color.

Properties and functions of pheomelanin

  • Coloring : Pheomelanin is responsible for the red and yellow pigments found in some hair colors, particularly in those with red hair. It also affects skin color and may be present at higher levels in people with fair skin.
  • UV protection : Compared to eumelanin, pheomelanin provides less protection against ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. People with higher levels of pheomelanin in their skin and hair are at increased risk of sunburn and skin damage from UV radiation, including skin cancer.
  • Genetic factors : The production of pheomelanin is genetically controlled. Mutations in the MC1R gene (melanocortin-1 receptor gene) are responsible for increased production of pheomelanin and red hair color in humans.

Health aspects

  • Sun sensitivity : Due to lower UV protection, individuals with high levels of pheomelanin need to be particularly careful when exposing themselves to the sun. The use of sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) and protective clothing is particularly important.
  • Risk of skin cancer : People with red hair and fair skin, who produce a lot of pheomelanin, have a higher risk of skin cancers, especially melanoma, compared to people with darker skin and hair color, who produce more eumelanin.

Research and Applications

  • Cosmetics and hair coloring : Understanding the role of pheomelanin in natural hair color influences the development of hair dyes and other cosmetic products.
  • Medical research : Studying the genetic basis of melanin production may lead to better methods for skin protection and the treatment of skin diseases.

In summary, pheomelanin is an important factor in determining the individual color of skin and hair as well as in the discussion about sun protection and skin cancer risk.

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