Melanin is an aromatic bio-polymer and organic semiconductor. At present, it is worth more than gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium combined. Despite the fact that melanin is one of the most expensive substances in the world, few people know it.
It is the pigment that gives skin and hair their natural color. It is also the substance that protects the epidermis from UV rays and prevents damage to DNA. It is for this reason that darker-skinned people tend to have higher levels of melanin than lighter-skinned people.
People who spend a lot of time in the sun are often advised to use sunscreen and protective clothing because melanin can offer some limited protection against UV rays. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that UV rays are not the only threat to our skin. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) – byproducts of the body’s own cell processes – can build up and cause stress, premature aging and health concerns such as diabetes and cancer. Melanin scavenges for ROS, boosting antioxidants and eliminating free radicals.
The amount of melanin that is produced in the body depends on genetics, and it will vary between individuals. However, it is possible to increase the production of melanin in the skin by using certain skincare products such as tyrosine.
Melanin can be extracted from many different sources, including a variety of plants and animals. However, the most potent source appears to be humans. Melanin can be extracted from the skin using dilute alkali, and it is sold commercially for use in synthetic pigments and biomaterials.