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Glossary Terms

 


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Melanocytes

Melanocytes are cells located in the bottom layer (the stratum basale) of the skin's epidermis (and in the middle layer of the eye).


Through a process called melanogenesis, melanocytes produce melanin, which is a pigment found in the skin, eyes, and hair.

There are both basal and activated levels of melanogenesis; lighter-skinned people generally have low basal levels of melanogenesis, and exposure to UV radiation generally causes increased melanogenesis.

There are typically between 1000 and 2000 melanocytes per square millimeter of skin. Melanocytes comprise from 5% to 10% of the cells in the basal layer of epidermis. Although their size can vary, melanocytes are typically 7 micrometers in length.

The difference in skin color between fair people and dark people is due not to the number (quantity) of melanocytes in their skin, but to the melanocytes' level of activity.

Albinos lack an enzyme called tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is required for melanocytes to produce melanin from the amino acid tyrosine.

Certain medications can interfere with the melanocyte function. This is how some topical medication is able to lighten skin.