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What is melanin?
Melanin is a skin pigment. It occurs in both humans and animals, and is what makes hair, skin, and eyes appear darker.
For many years, studies have shown that there’s a lower incidence of skin cancer among individuals with darker skin, and people of non-Caucasian descent tend to have more melanin. But more research is needed to be sure increased melanin is the main reason for this lowered risk.
People of any skin type can try increasing melanin to reduce skin cancer risk. Studies suggest that upping your intake of certain nutrients could increase melanin levels. It might even increase the amount of melanin in people with fair skin types.
Nutrients may boost melanin
There are no studies directly proving ways to increase melanin. However, many nutrients thought to boost melanin can improve skin health in general and may reduce your overall risk for developing skin cancer.
Nutrients could be the key to increasing melanin naturally in skin. Here are a few nutrients that research suggests may help your body produce more melanin.
Antioxidants show the strongest potential for increasing melanin production. Though more studies and high-quality trials are needed, some research suggests antioxidants may help.
Micronutrients like flavonoids or polyphenols, which come from the plants we eat, act as powerful antioxidants and may affect melanin production. Some of them increase melanin, while others may help reduce it.
Eat more antioxidant-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, dark berries, dark chocolate, and colorful vegetables to get more antioxidants. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements may also help.
Studies suggest vitamin A is important to melanin production and is essential to having healthy skin. You get vitamin A from the food you eat, especially vegetables that contain beta carotene, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and peas.
Since vitamin A also functions as an antioxidant, some researchers believe this vitamin, more than any other, may be the key to melanin production. More studies are still needed to directly prove vitamin A increases melanin in people, however.
For now, claims that vitamin A boosts melanin levels are primarily anecdotal. However, some studies suggest taking vitamin A (specifically retinol) may be good for skin health.
A type of carotenoid (the substance that gives red, yellow, and orange vegetables their color) is found in vitamin A. It may also play a role in melanin production and UV protection, according to research.
You can increase vitamin A levels by eating more vitamin A-rich foods like orange vegetables (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes), fish, and meat. Taking a vitamin A supplement can also help.
Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can build up in your body. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests sticking to the daily recommended amount of 700 mcg for women and 900 mcg for men. Children need even less vitamin A daily.
Pregnant women should never exceed the daily dose of Vitamin A, as there are dangers to the baby.
Vitamin E is an important vitamin for skin health. It’s also an antioxidant and could possibly boost melanin levels.
You can get more vitamin E by taking a supplement or by eating more vitamin E–rich foods like vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts.
Like vitamins A and E, vitamin C is an antioxidant. Vitamin C is needed for healthy mucous membranes. It may also have some impact on melanin production and skin protection.
There aren’t any studies that prove vitamin C increases melanin production. However, anecdotal evidence suggests vitamin C might increase melanin levels.
Eating vitamin C–rich foods like citrus, berries, and leafy green vegetables may optimize melanin production. Taking a vitamin C supplement may help as well.
Herbs and botanicals
To date, no studies have proven herbs of any kind increase melanin production. For now, such claims are only anecdotal.
However, if you’re interested in trying herbs to help your skin, you can find these herbs in supplements, teas, and essential oils.
Essential oils are not made to be taken by mouth. They are meant to be diffused into the air as aromatherapy or diluted in a carrier oil and massaged on the skin.
Some research studies suggest there may be several ways to increase melanin. While these findings aren’t fully proven, taking antioxidants and vitamin A is the most likely way to do this.
Eating healthy foods or taking supplements that contain certain vitamins and antioxidants, such as Vitamins A, C, and E, may help you care for your skin and may reduce your risk of skin cancer, studies suggest.
However, it’s not yet been proven if any vitamin or nutrient reliably boosts melanin in individuals. The only proven way to prevent skin cancer is by staying out of excessive sunlight and using a high-quality sunscreen.