Melanin is a substance in your body that determines your skin, hair, and eye pigmentation. The more melanin produced, the darker your skin, hair, and eyes. Research is still evolving about effective ways to increase melanin production.
Melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) can be found in your hair, the innermost layer of your skin, the pupils and irises of your eyes, and a few areas in the brain and inner ear. The amount of melanin that melanocytes produce depends on several factors, including genetics and ancestry.
This article explains natural ways to increase melanin production, including diet and supplements.
Benefits of Melanin
Melanin does more than create the beautiful variety of skin tones, eye color, and hair shades found across populations. It also serves several important purposes. When you spend more time in the sun, your melanocytes produce more melanin. Melanin absorbs harmful ultraviolet (UV) light that can cause skin cancer.
It also protects the genetic material inside your cells from UV rays and looks for reactive oxygen species (ROS), a byproduct of cell metabolism. By removing these ROS, melanin helps eliminate free radicals that contribute to stress, premature aging, and skin cancer.
What Conditions Affect Melanin Levels?
There are several conditions associated with low levels of melanin production:
- Albinism: (a rare disorder involving deficient levels of melanin production)
- Hearing loss
- Melasma: (a condition that causes brown or blue-grey patches on the face or arms)
- Parkinson’s disease: (a progressive neurodegenerative disorder)
- Pigment loss following skin damage
- Vitiligo: (an autoimmune disorder that leads to smooth, white patches on the skin)
Can Melanin Be Increased?
While research is still evolving, initial studies suggest that certain foods and supplements may help support melanin production.
Discussing supplements with your doctor is important since these products aren’t regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). It’s also important to use caution with tanning accelerators or tanning pills since these may pose certain safety risks.
Types of Melanin
Melanocytes produce three main types of melanin. These include:
- Eumelanin: The quantity and balance of black and brown eumelanin cause individual differences in hair, skin, and eye color.
- Neuromelanin: This type of melanin is responsible for the color of your neurons.
- Pheomelanin: Pheomelanin produces a pinkish pigmentation found in your lips, nipples, hair, and other pinkish body parts.
How to Increase Melanin Naturally
Currently, several vitamins and supplements are investigated for their ability to boost melanin production. However, the best way to support average melanin production is to eat a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. This eating style can reduce inflammation and provide sufficient vitamins and minerals for melanin production.
What About Tanning?
While sun exposure does increase melanin production, it also carries a risk for skin cancer. It’s important to protect your skin with sunscreens containing SPF 30 or higher, no matter your skin tone. Safer alternatives include sunless tanners and bronzers, which are considered safe.
Eating Antioxidant-Rich Foods
While there is limited research that certain foods can boost melanin production, antioxidant-rich foods are full of vitamins that can support healthy hair, skin, and eyes.
Foods with high levels of antioxidants can help protect cells against free radical damage. Free radicals are produced by normal cell processes in addition to sun exposure, smoking, illness, diet, and other stressors. They can affect how other cells in the body function and may impact the aging process.
Antioxidants work by soaking up free radicals so they can’t damage healthy cells. In addition, since some skin conditions are related to autoimmune function, choosing an anti-inflammatory diet that can reduce inflammation may be helpful.
Examples of antioxidant-rich foods include:
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, or collard greens)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts)
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- Beans (red beans, pinto beans, black beans, and other legumes)
- Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble antioxidant that may help protect against skin cancer. It is found naturally in foods such as:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Tomato products
- Orange and yellow vegetables
Vitamin A, including topical retinoids, may also improve skin elasticity and hydration, skin texture, wrinkles, and age spots.
It is possible to consume too much Vitamin A, so it’s important to check supplement labels before adding extra vitamin A to your diet.
Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. This powerful antioxidant can help protect the skin against UV damage. Some research also suggests that it may help treat conditions like vitiligo.
Vitamin C plays an important role in healthy skin, including forming the skin barrier, protecting against oxidation, and preventing wrinkles and cancer.
Studies show that vitamin C effectively reduces pigmentation because it interrupts a key step of melanin production. It can be used topically or as an injection under the supervision of a dermatologist.
Foods with a high level of vitamin C include fruits and vegetables like:
- Red and green peppers
In addition to foods, vitamin C can be found in the form of tablets, capsules, and liquid.
While more research is needed, initial studies suggest that vitamin B12 can boost melanin production. Some patients with vitiligo are counseled to take vitamin supplements since this skin condition may be associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Other alternative treatments include folic acid and phototherapy, although more research is needed. Ginkgo biloba may also help those with vitiligo slow the course of the disease.
Melanin production can slow or stop for several reasons, from medical conditions like vitiligo to normal aging processes. Research is still evolving about the effectiveness of different supplements for increasing melanin production. Eating a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich foods is the safest way to support healthy skin, nails, and hair and naturally maximize melanin production.
A Word From Verywell
While melanin does play a role in sun protection, it’s still essential to use other measures to protect your skin from the sun. Everyone should wear sunscreen with an SPF 30 or greater, no matter the color of their skin. The treatment plan will depend on your particular health concern. Your healthcare provider can help you understand the best option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do melanin supplements work?
Research is still evolving about the effectiveness of supplements in increasing melanin production. Eating a varied diet with antioxidant-rich foods is the best way to support healthy skin, nails, and hair.
What is melanin deficiency?
Melanin deficiency refers to a lack of a bodily substance responsible for the pigmentation of hair, skin, eyes, and other body parts. In addition to providing pigmentation, melanin plays an important role in protecting cells from harmful ultraviolet light rays. If you have concerns about changes in your skin, hair, or eye color, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.