Absorption mechanisms of human melanin in the visible, 400-720 nm

J Invest Dermatol. 1987 Oct;89(4):384-8. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12471764.


In this paper we propose that human melanin absorbs visible radiation through two distinct mechanisms: one that is in effect over the entire visible range and is linear in wavelength, and a second one that is evident at wavelengths in the range 400-500 nm and is exponential in frequency. These mechanisms are apparent in all human diffuse reflectance spectra that we have collected. We show that the absorber is the same in all human volunteer skin samples. By studying the diffuse reflection spectra of DOPA-melanin in solution and DOPA-melanin in powder form, we find that we can correlate the absorption mechanisms, one with melanin in solution (a low molecular weight form) and the other with melanin in powder (a high molecular weight form). Therefore, we propose that melanin exists in two distinct states. This model is of biologic significance, as it provides a reasonable interpretation for the diffuse reflection spectra obtained from delayed pigment (UVB-induced) and immediate pigment (UVA-induced). Delayed pigment appears as an increase of both forms of melanin (neomelanogenesis), whereas immediate pigment appears as an increase in the higher molecular weight form with a commensurate decrease in the lower molecular weight form: the two mechanisms change independently of each other. Finally, we show that we can distinguish spectroscopically between the delayed pigment and the immediate pigment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Melanins*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Solubility
  • Spectrum Analysis


  • Melanins