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Pigment Cell Res. 2002 Oct;15(5):385-90.

Skin responses to ultraviolet radiation: effects of constitutive pigmentation, sex, and ancestry.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, PA 16802, USA.


Constitutive skin pigmentation and skin responses to ultraviolet radiation were measured on a sample of volunteers (n=250) living in State College, PA, USA. The sample was composed of individuals of European American (n=190), Hispanic (n=45), and East Asian ancestry (n=15). Constitutive pigmentation was measured using the Adjusted Melanin Index (AMI), Erythemal Dose Response (EDR) was measured using the slope of a* at 24 h (Deltaa*), and Melanogenic Dose-Response (MDR) was measured using DeltaAM, the slope of AMI at 7 d. The relationships between constitutive skin pigmentation, EDR, MDR, sex, age, and ancestry were investigated. European Americans showed a lower constitutive pigmentation, had a significantly higher burn response (EDR), and had a significantly lower tanning response (MDR) than Hispanics and East Asians. No significant difference is seen between Hispanics and East Asians for either constitutive pigmentation or EDR. Constitutive pigmentation in females was slightly lower than in males in all three samples, but the difference was not significant. While no differences were observed in MDR between sexes, males had a stronger EDR than females regardless of population or constitutive pigmentation level, and this difference was significant in European Americans and Hispanics. We observed no age-related differences in any of the populations or measures investigated. We evaluated the relationship between constitutive pigmentation, EDR and MDR. There was a strong inverse correlation between constitutive pigmentation and EDR in the three samples (European Americans, R2=0.176, P < 0.001; Hispanics, R2=0.204, P=0.009; East Asians, R2=0.223, P=0.098) and a strong direct correlation between constitutive pigmentation and MDR in European Americans and Hispanics (European Americans, R2=0.094, P < 0.001; Hispanics, R2=0.164, P=0.012). In other words, persons with lower constitutive pigmentation both burn more and tan less than persons with higher pigmentation. However, after controlling for constitutive pigmentation, EDR and MDR were significantly correlated in European Americans (R2=0.041 P=0.006). Thus, the general observation that persons who burn more tan less is probable because of the common link that these two phenotypes have with constitutive skin pigmentation and, in fact, once pigmentation has been adjusted for, there is a positive correlation between tanning response and burning response in European Americans.

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