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September 1985

What Is the Function of Melanin?

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Dermatology, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore.

Arch Dermatol. 1985;121(9):1160-1163. doi:10.1001/archderm.1985.01660090074017

An informal survey of my colleagues revealed that most dermatologists believe the primary function of melanin in humans is to act as a sunscreen to protect us from ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight; the leading textbooks of dermatology support this notion. Recently, while reading materials outside of our specialty, I was surprised to find that dermatologists might be alone in the scientific community in their acceptance of this view. Furthermore, the evidence for melanin having developed to serve other functions appeared to be as strong or stronger than the evidence that it is primarily a sunscreen. Interestingly, a decade or so ago, there was considerable discussion about this subject among dermatologists who had an interest in photobiology,1,2 but, recently, we appear to have accepted as dogma that melanin is a sunscreen. Dogma, in any discipline, should be examined periodically. With many recent advances in the biology of melanin, it

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