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Melanin synthesis discovery prompts hope of new cosmetics applications

By Simon Pitman+

07-Jul-2016
Last updated on 07-Jul-2016 at 15:11 GMT2016-07-07T15:11:20Z

Melanin synthesis, courtesty of Ed Uthman, Flickr
Melanin synthesis, courtesty of Ed Uthman, Flickr

New research that has deciphered the formation process for melanin could lead to further development of its use in a number of applications, including cosmetics.

A team of researchers as the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Kiel, in Germany, say they have uncovered the molecular mechanism that leads to the synthesis of melanin.

Melanin is best known as the pigment behind hair and skin colour, but is found in most living organisms and falls into three principle groups.

Anti-ageing, skin conditioning and tinting

In cosmetics, melanin is used as a skin conditioning agent, as well as a skin protecting and anti-ageing agent, but it can also be incorporated into a range of skin care products that provide skin colouring or tinting, as well as sunscreens and skin whitening products.

For cosmetics purposes melanin is usually animal or marine-derived and has been used in the industry since the mid 1990s.

However, how the synthesis of melanin occurs has remained a mystery, until this research, the findings of which have been published in the international edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie.

The secret was in the enzyme tryosinase

Using an advanced biotechnology technique, the researchers discovered how the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase is a core trigger in the synthesis process, ultimately helping the scientists to uncover the molecular mechanism behind melanin synthesis.

The scientists say that this discovery of the mechanism will ultimately help make systematic improvements in the processes of stimulation, inhibition and modification of the synthesis of melanin.

Likewise it will also serve to improve the process by which it is formed through biotechnology, which is increasingly the most common way of producing it for cosmetic applications.

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