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Definition of Skin color

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Skin color: The color of skin which is complexly determined. Skin color depends on many factors including reddening caused by inflammation, the hemoglobin level in the blood, and the darkening caused by increased deposition of the pigment melanin. Melanin itself is a polymer that comes in two types -- a red-yellow form known as pheomelanin and a black-brown form known as eumelanin.

The genetics of skin color are similarly complex. Skin color is clearly polygenic, determined by a number of genes. These genes include TYR (tyrosinase), MATP (membrane-associated transport protein) and P (the pink-eyed dilution protein). There may be 20 or so other genes that affect skin color.

Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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