Pheomelanin as well as eumelanin is present in human epidermis

J Invest Dermatol. 1991 Aug;97(2):340-4. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12480680.


There are two types of melanin in mammals, the brownish black eumelanin and the reddish yellow pheomelanin. Eumelanin and pheomelanin are present in human hair and this study was carried out to see whether both pigments are also present in human epidermis. Samples of epidermis were obtained from suction blisters raised in the upper arm of 13 Caucasian subjects of skin types I, II, and III and analyzed for both eumelanin and pheomelanin using a procedure involving high-performance liquid chromatography. Eumelanin and pheomelanin were found in all epidermal samples and their relative proportions correlated well with those found in samples of hair taken from the same subjects. The lowest concentrations of eumelanin were found in subjects of skin type I, with higher levels in skin types II and III. The concentrations of pheomelanin were more variable and showed no relationship to skin type. Increases in the concentrations of both pigments occurred following PUVA therapy, but whereas the largest increases in eumelanin were seen in skin types II and III, the increases in pheomelanin showed little relationship to skin type. Unlike eumelanin, epidermal pheomelanin also showed little relationship to PUVA-induced tanning. The present findings could be particularly significant in view of recent suggestions that pheomelanin, rather than protecting the skin against UV radiation, may actually contribute to UV-induced skin damage.

MeSH terms

  • Epidermis / metabolism*
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • PUVA Therapy
  • Skin / radiation effects


  • Melanins
  • pheomelanin
  • eumelanin