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J Am Acad Dermatol. 1979 Sep;1(3):249-60.

Photoprotection by melanin--a comparison of black and Caucasian skin.


The photoprotective role of melanin was evaluated by comparing the transmission of ultraviolet (UV) radiation through skin samples of blacks and Caucasians, using both biologic and spectroscopic techniques. UVA transmission was measured using fluoranthene, which causes a phototoxic response to UVA wavelength. UVB was measured by monitoring erythema produced by either a 150-watt xenon arc or FS-20 sunlamps. It was found that on the average, five times as much ultraviolet light (UVB and UVA) reaches the upper dermis of Caucasians as reaches that of blacks. Differences in transmission between the stratum corneum of blacks and of Caucasians were far less striking. The main site of UV filtration in Caucasians is the stratum corneum, whereas in blacks it is the malpighian layers. Melanin acts as a neutral density filter, reducing all wavelengths of light equally. The superior photoprotection of black epidermis is due not only to increased melanin content but also to other factors related to packaging and distribution of melanosomes. Not only are these data consistent with epidemiologic evidence, but they also may indicate why blacks are less disposed to phototoxic drug responses as well as less susceptible to acute and chronic actinic damage.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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