So what is the relationship between our skin and ultraviolet light? Can melanin be considered a natural sun protection ? How sun protection and melanin are linked? And to what lengths do our bodies go to absorb the effects of harmful radiation?
These are important questions—questions that biologists at Brown University are beginning to find answers to.
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Elena Oancea, discovered our skin actually contains a unique UVA receptor previously thought to be present only in the human eye. That’s right, the study suggests our skin senses light just like our eyes sense light.
Once the light-sensitive receptors are triggered, the body begins to produce melanin right away, and often within one hour. This process does not take days, as previously thought.
Specifically, the receptors are called rhodopsin, and rhodopsin has the uncanny ability to not only detect UVA light, but then trigger calcium activity, which kickstarts the melanin production.
Here’s why this matters: Melanin protects the skin from sun damage. We know this. Think of it as our body’s natural defense against harmful UVB rays, as melanin absorbs the radiation from the sun. So when you look in the mirror at your bronzed bod from a day at the beach, remember that melanin was on-duty and working hard all the while, and in fact, was on the scene within an hour from digging your toes in the sand!
Undoubtedly, Oancea’s study has been a success in learning more about melanin, how and when it’s produced, and what this relationship means for sun protection.
This discovery, while a huge step toward understanding exactly how our skin reacts to the sun, is still far from conclusive. More questions still loom, such as whether or not rhodopsin is the only receptor doing all the heavy-lifting for our skin, or perhaps there are other receptors at work.
Nevertheless, the results of this study speak to the resilience of our bodies and how it takes up the fight against damaged DNA.
If you like learning about the dynamic connection between our skin and the sun, and you want to be informed on how to stay safe out there, keep a lookout for more articles coming soon.