Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment and is responsible for the color of hair, among other things. It is produced by specialized cells called melanocytes, which are primarily located in the skin, eyes and yup, you guessed it, hair follicles.
Melanin provides a diverse range of colors, from black to brown and red to blonde and understanding melanin, and more importantly identifying it is KEY to effective hair coloring and predicting the best results.
I go way into understanding and identifying melanin in the fundamentals course, here.
So let’s break it down and take it beyond beauty school.
First, how is melanin even created?
The process of melanin production begins within specialized cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes are located in the hair follicles and their primary role is to synthesize and distribute melanin pigment to growing hair strands.
Step 1: tyrosine formation. Melanin production begins with the amino acid tyrosine which is a building block for various proteins, including melanin. Tyrosine is produced within the melanocytes through a metabolic pathway.
Step 2: enzyme activation. An enzyme called tyrosinase is essential for the synthesis of melanin. Tyrosinase catalyzes the conversion of tyrosine into DOPA which is an intermediate molecule in the melanin production pathway.
Step 3: DOPA then goes through different chemical transformation wrestling in the formation of two primary melanin precursors (DOPAquinone + DHI)which then can be used in two different pathways to form two different types of melanin
Step 4: Eumelanin and pheomelanin.
a. Eumelanin Pathway: In the eumelanin pathway, DOPAquinone is converted into eumelanin, which is responsible for darker hair colors like black and brown. The chemical transformations in this pathway lead to the production of black eumelanin or brown eumelanin, depending on the specific reactions.
b. Pheomelanin Pathway: In the pheomelanin pathway, 5,6-dihydroxyindole (DHI) is converted into pheomelanin, which is responsible for lighter hair colors like red and blonde.
Sep 5: once eumelanin or pheomelanin is formed, it is stored in specialized cellular structures called melanosomes within the melanocytes. These melanosomes then travel to the hair shaft. As the hair shaft grows, the melanosomes release their contents, depositing melanin into the cortical fibers of the hair (makes up about 2% of the structure of hair)
So now that we know HOW melanin is formed, let's talk a bit about the different characteristics of these two types of melanin.
Eumelanin: is larger in size and is more prominent in darker hair as it is a black to brown color. Eumelanin is much easier to break down and disperse through the hair. Most individuals (not all) with higher ratios of eumelanin will lift lighter, quicker and more refined.
Pheomelanin: is smaller in size and more difficult to break down. Pheomelanin is responsible for lighter and warmer hair as it is more of a red/gold pigment. Pheomelanin also has a tendency to reconnect once hair gets to a healthier pH which is why individuals with higher ratios of pheomelanin tend to get brassier and darker looking within weeks of lightening.
Being able to determine if a client has a higher ratio of eumelanin or pheomelanin is SO important as it CAN help you determine HOW the hair will lift and lighten.
I teach all about the differences between eumelanin and pheomelanin and more importantly HOW to identify what your client has and ultimately how to best predict how the hair is going to lift and lighten in the fundamentals course shop- click here for $500 off!
Until next time, happy hair coloring!