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Home / Staying Healthy / Beauty and Skincare / Skin senses UV light just like eyes

Skin senses UV light just like eyes

Latest US research discovers skin’s ability to sense ultraviolet light, just the way our eyes do. This is possible as a result of the photosensitive light receptor rhodopsin present in the skin cells. This is the same receptor used by eyes to detect light.

skin on sun
Credit to: https://wakeup-world.com

Latest US research discovers skin’s ability to sense ultraviolet light, just the way our eyes do. This is possible as a result of the photosensitive light receptor rhodopsin present in the skin cells. This is the same receptor used by eyes to detect light.

The research was conducted by biologists at the Brown University in Province, Rhode Island, USA and has been published in the online November issue of ‘Current Biology’.

According to the research team, the photoreceptor is present in the skin’s self protection mechanism, composed of the melanin producing cells. The skin produces melanin in order to protect against DNA damage caused by over exposure to UV rays.

Explaining the findings and the role of these photoreceptors; senior author of the research Elena Oancea, who is also an assistant professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology at Brown University, said:

“As soon as you step out into the sun, your skin knows that it is exposed to UV radiation. This is a very fast process, faster than anything that was known before,”

According to Oancea and the team, rhodopsin is present in the specialized skin cells called melanocytes. These cells produce the pigment melanin whenever, they detect exposure to ultraviolet light. Thus, the light sensitive rhodopsin helps the melanocytes to detect light and start producing melanin within a few hours of exposure. The melanin in turn gives skin a darker color and also protects against DNA damage.

Prior to this study it was considered that melanin production took days to begin; however, that has been found to be untrue as the study proves it begins within hours of exposure to UV rays; explaining the clear reasons behind the ‘tanning’ of skin when one steps out in the sun.

The researchers had experimented with human melanocytes in the laboratory and were able to find out not only the presence of rhodopsin in melanocytes, but, were also able to follow the melanin production trigger mechanism within these cells. It was discovered during the research that when rhodopsin senses light it releases a calcium ion signal inside the melanocytes; which in turn get triggered to begin melanin production.

It was also discovered that when rhodopsin levels are reduced in the skin cells and then the UV light is shone on skin; the calcium ion signaling reduces considerably; thus affecting melanin production as well.

Researchers were also able to identify the longer wavelength UVA light as the one causing the trigger for melanin production instead of the shorter wavelength UVB light.

While the skin’s defense mechanism against sun damage does not cease to amaze us; many questions still remain unanswered from the researchers’ point of view. However, we hope the research is able to bring forth some worthy changes in the way people deal with skin tans as well as revolutionize our sun screens and fairness lotions further.

The study was funded by the Brown University, the National Institutes of Health, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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