Exactly How Melanin Determines the Color of Our Skin

As we age, hair color, of course, fades to white or gray. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly why that is, but it might also be a matter of melanin: “[There’s] some thought that it may be related to hydrogen peroxide, which is a metabolic byproduct of cells in the hair bulb,” says Bhanusali. “Over time, an enzyme responsible for breaking down [the hydrogen peroxide] declines, which leads to a buildup that can damage or destroy melanocytes.”

Spot Check

Consider freckles a perma-reminder to wear sunscreen. They aren’t dangerous and can’t turn into skin cancer, but the presence of freckles does signal your susceptibility to developing it, says dermatologist Ope Ofodile. Though freckles are much more common in those of Caucasian descent with fair skin, no matter your skin tone, you can be genetically predisposed to having freckles, which Ofodile describes as “flat patches [of] pigment.” Freckles can darken (and turn into hyperpigmentation) when melanocytes overproduce melanin following sun exposure.

Photographed by Wayne Lawrence

About these images: Shortly after moving to New York City in 2004, photographer Wayne Lawrence found himself at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. The borough’s only public beach had often been stigmatized and Lawrence felt compelled to cast its visitors in a new light. He spent six years capturing portraits and subsequently published a book, Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera. This summer, Lawrence ventures to the beach once again—  this time, Jacob Riis Park beach in Queens, New York, and Point Dume State Beach just outside Los Angeles — to celebrate the beauty of diversity for Allure.

Grooming Lisa Chamberlain @ REX
Production Alejandro Cabezut for ARTWORLD
Models: Nia Craig, Page Ruth @ LA Models, Salanya Inmaung @ Photogenics, Teres Rodney & daughter Addison Binns

This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here. 

More on melanin:

Melanin Should Not Be an Obstacle for Tattoo Artists 

25 Black Dermatologists to Follow

Thando Hopa: My Albinism Is Not a Deficiency

Now, watch equestrian Scnobia Stewart’s morning routine:

This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.

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