5
skin’s dark secret

Human skin is inherently colorful. Within our single, recently evolved species, Homo sapiens, skin colors make up an exquisite palette, varying in almost imperceptible degrees from the palest ivories to the darkest browns. This array exists because people differ in the amount of melanin pigment their skin contains and the ways in which it is packaged. Melanin, from which human skin derives most of its pigmentation, is a remarkable molecule that has had literally thousands of uses in the evolution of life. Its role in protecting human skin is only one of its more recent.

Melanin is the name given to a family of complex polymeric pigments that exist in many forms. (A polymer is a chemical compound composed of multiple repeating units.) The primary form of melanin we find in the human body is an extremely dense, almost insoluble, and very dark brown pigment molecule that is attached to a protein.1 When this form of melanin is isolated in the laboratory, it looks like sludge in the bottom of a beaker. Melanin pigments are widespread in nature, imparting dark coloration to everything from fungi to frogs, and for many of the same reasons.

-65-

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Skin: A Natural History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Skin Laid Bare 9
  • 2 - History 21
  • 3 - Sweat 39
  • 4 - Skin and Sun 56
  • 5 - Skin’s Dark Secret 65
  • 6 - Color 76
  • 7 - Touch 97
  • 8 - Emotions, Sex, and Skin 112
  • 9 - Wear and Tear 121
  • 10 - Statements 141
  • 11 - Future Skin 164
  • Glossary 175
  • Notes 181
  • References 217
  • Index 243
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