Influence of skin melanisation and ultraviolet radiation on biomarkers of systemic oxidative stress

Barbara Shih, Mark Farrar, Andy Vail, Donald Allan, Mu-Rong Chao, Chiung-Wen Hu, George D D Jones, Marcus S Cooke, Lesley Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Skin melanisation ranges widely across human populations. Melanin has antioxidant properties and also acts as a filter to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) incident upon the skin. In this study we firstly examined whether melanin level might influence baseline levels of systemic oxidative stress, in 65 humans in vivo from the same geographical area ranging from the lightest to darkest skin type (phototype I-VI). This was examined in winter-time (latitude 53.5°N). Remarkably, we found that urinary biomarkers of oxidatively-generated DNA damage (8-oxodG) and RNA damage (8-oxoGuo) were significantly correlated with skin lightness (L*), such that 14-15% of the variation in their baseline levels could be explained by skin colour. Next we exposed 15 humans at the extremes of skin melanisation to a simulated summer-time exposure of solar UVR (95% UVA, 5% UVB; dose standardised to sunburn threshold), following which they provided a sample of every urine void over the next five days. We found that UVR induced a small but significant increase in urinary 8-oxodG and 8-oxoGuo, with differing kinetics between skin types. Thus greater melanisation is associated with protection against systemic oxidative stress, which may reflect melanin’s antioxidant properties, and solar UVR exposure also influences systemic oxidative stress levels in humans. These novel findings may have profound implications for human physiology and health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-46
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Jul 2020


  • oxidative stress
  • melanin
  • skin
  • ultraviolet radiation
  • nucleic acids
  • biomarkers


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