Is Pheomelanin Better Than Eumelanin?

  • Suruthy Mary JosephBachelor in Biomedical Science (IBMS)- BSc in University of Portsmouth, UK
  • Maya HeldMS, Natural Sciences (Organic chemistry/Molecular Biology), UCL, UK
  • Sofiya Star BS.c - BS, Madical Science, The University of Edinburgh, UK


Discussions about skin colour can cause discrimination to arise against individuals who have a certain skin colour. So, we need to ask ourselves if human skin colour matters that much. Is colourism relevant and a reason to devalue a person because they are not what you expect them to be? 

Pheomelanin and eumelanin are types of melanin. Melanin imparts pigmentation all over the body.  Therefore, every human possesses melanin that defines the colour of their hair, eyes and skin tone. 

Melanin is secreted by melanocytes, cells that are specialised to synthesise melanin. Melanocytes can be found all over the body. For instance, these cells can populate regions near the hair, the iris, and the adrenal glands

Melanocyte production is contained within organelles in the melanocytes, which are known as melanosomes. For pigmentation to occur, melanin from melanosomes needs to migrate to keratinocytes, cells that are abundant in the skin. Melanin can protect against irritants, such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation.1

What is pheomelanin?

Pheomelanin is one of the types of melanin that causes skin to appear as a lighter colour tone. 

The accumulation of pheomelanin can cause a yellow and red pigment to appear, which is most pronounced on the lips, nipples, vagina and penis. Pheomelanin is also responsible for making hair appear blonde or red. Pheomelanin content is associated with lighter skin tone.1

A high pheomelanin content is typical in people who live far from the equator zone, such as northern Europe. Pheomelanin can stimulate free radicals that are harmful to cells when exposed to UV rays. Unlike eumelanin, pheomelanin does not effectively protect from the harmful effects of UV. Exposure to UV light can progress into carcinogenesis, a form of deadly skin cancer called melanoma

What is eumelanin?

Eumelanin is another form of melanin. Eumelanin is stimulated in the basal layer of the epidermis. Eumelanin promotes darker skin pigmentation, giving black and brown pigmentation. Eumelanin’s melanocytes migrate more rapidly towards keratinocytes than pheomelanin’s melanocytes.1 

Populations living near the equator zone are more likely to be exposed to UV radiation. Eumelanin is a dark skin pigment that is abundant in people who are resident in hot countries.  

What are the similarities and differences between pheomelanin and eumelanin?

At a cellular level, eumelanin and pheomelanin are stimulated in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanin synthesis begins in the same way, starting from an amino acid Tyrosine. Tyrosine is converted into dihydroxyphenylalanine by a tyrosinase enzyme and then follows another pathway where eumelanin and pheomelanin is produced.1 

People with red hair can also have both eumelanin and pheomelanin. Melanocytes possess a protein called the MC1R gene. The MC1R gene induces pheomelanin, which causes red hair. The MC1R gene is a recessive gene, which means it can easily be influenced by dominant traits, like eumelanin production.2 

In darker skin colour, the melanocytes contain an excessive amount of melanosomes compared to the skin cells that give a lighter skin tone. Additionally, people with eumelanin require a higher exposure to UV light in order to produce vitamin D effectively, more so than individuals who have lighter skin. Hence, people with eumelanin are more likely to develop a vitamin D deficiency than people with pheomelanin. 


Melanin is a biological component that causes skin, hair and eye pigmentation. Eumelanin and pheomelanin are two types of melanin that cause different pigmentation. Eumelanin is responsible for darker pigmentation, while pheomelanin causes lighter pigmentation, as well as the appearance of red hair. Both types of melanin confer protection against ultraviolet radiation, with eumelanin making skin more resistant to damage from sun rays. Although a person’s skin colour can be a point of discussion and can cause discrimination, it is more powerful to understand the biological function of skin colour.


  1. Schlessinger DI, Anoruo M, Schlessinger J. Biochemistry, melanin. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Mar 31]. Available from:
  2. Panzella L, Leone L, Greco G, Vitiello G, D’Errico G, Napolitano A, et al. Red human hair pheomelanin is a potent pro-oxidant mediating UV-independent contributory mechanisms of melanomagenesis. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res 2014;27:244–52.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Suruthy Mary Joseph

Bachelor in Biomedical Science (IBMS)- BSc in University of Portsmouth

Suruthy has established 10 years of education in medical science and provides a strong writing background in advanced medical research. Suruthy undertook projects of her own and succeeded in Biomedical data. She is still eager to research and undercover clinical trials to educate the general public on various health problems and benefits. She incorporates her knowledge of traditional natural remedies in her research and writing. She is currently writing essays on various diseases at Klarity. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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