Updated: 10/7/23; Originally Published 1/29/23
Skin is more than a sheath that wraps around your body. Skin is a window to the body’s internal workings. It is for this reason that melanoma, a type of skin cancer, creates fear in many people. If the skin is stressed and damaged enough to allow cancerous cells to grow, so is the rest of the body. Let’s avoid all that and focus on wellness of our skin from the inside out!
When our Wellness Lifestyle supports healthy skin, we are also supporting whole body and mind health. When we slather product after product onto our skin in order to make it look good, we are missing out on the opportunity to improve our overall resistance to disease and to extend our healthspan (lifespan with great health).
- Part 1 – Skin Coloration Basics
- Part 2 – Why Mole Growth is a Warning Sign
- Part 3 – Action Steps to Improve Your Skin
- Reading Resources
What is a Mole? What is a Melanocyte?
A mole is a cluster of melanin-rich darker pigmented skin cells that originate from a type of cell within your skin called a melanocyte.
A melanocyte is a type of cell that produces a pigment called melanin (one of many pigments that create our skin color). Melanocytes are generated by the neural crest in developing babies (which also makes brain!) and are distributed throughout the body as we grow.
Melanocytes are found in:
- Deepest layer of the epidermis (outer layer of skin)
- Hair follicles
- Iris and pupils of the eyes
- Mucous membranes like the mouth, nose, gut lining, lungs, vagina, penis, etc.
- Cochlea of the inner ear
- Brain’s mesencephalon, substantia nigra, and locus coeruleus
- Valves and septa of the heart
- and possibly more!
When I read that list, it reinforces what I already know – that skin is a window to the body’s internal workings. Skin problems indicate existing or potential problems in the gut, brain, and so much more!
Melanocytes Within Your Skin
Melanocytes are anchored in the layer that separates the outer skin layer (epidermis) from the middle skin layer (dermis). Melanocytes and their partners keratinocytes both live and work in the epidermis. Each melanocyte is physically connected via little “fingers” (called dendrites) to 30-40 keratinocytes. Melanocytes make melanin that gives your skin protective color (and more!). Keratinocytes are the cells that provide the physical barrier between you and the world.
The communication that occurs between these two types of cells is poorly understood but we know that melanin should flow out along the “fingers” towards the keratinocytes in order to be evenly distributed throughout the skin. When the flow is low (haha!), you get moles or concentrated melanin spots. Another word for the flow of melanin through the skin is: dispersion.
Melanin Stimulating Hormone
Melanin production is regulated by a hormone called Melanin Stimulating Hormone (MSH) produced in the pituitary gland in the brain upon instruction from the hypothalamus (also in the brain). MSH is produced when the skin tells the brain it has been exposed to UV light. MSH seems to be unlike other hormones in that there is no known direct feedback mechanism that turns MSH production off when levels get high.
MSH is one of many hormones and there is a lovely interplay between them. MSH participates in the regulation of inflammation, thirst/urination, hunger/satiety, pain/nerve function, sex hormone creation, sleep, cortisol/melatonin levels, and of course the color and tanning ability of your skin.
High MSH in the bloodstream can be connected to adrenal gland issues, high estrogen levels, high progesterone levels such as during pregnancy, and of course sun exposure. You can have a high MSH level and not tan well!
Low MSH levels create many more problems and might be present from sun avoidance or because of chronic illness (such as mold). If you have a low MSH level and have issues such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, hormone issues, gut issues, poor sleep I would encourage you to look into complex chronic illness such as mold toxicity and to get some sun!
Interestingly, all humans have the same density of melanocytes in their skin (at least) but skin, eye, and hair color is determined by how much melanin they produce. Melanocytes can produce several types of melanin:
- Eumelanin – brownish hue – predominant in skin and hair
- Pheomelanin – reddish-yellow hue – found most often in female skin (the pink parts!)
- Neuromelanin – brown or black tinge to the brain’s neurons – serving as an immunoprotective supporter of brain health
Scientists can even look at the mineral levels of dinosaur bones and guess at their skin colors!
Melanin is produced sporadically throughout the skin by melanocytes but is ideally present uniformly throughout the skin in order to protect you properly. Specifically, the melanin needs to move along the dendrites (“fingers”) to the keratinocytes – your primary outer skin cell type. The melanin then forms a cap on top of the “brain” (called the nucleus) of the keratinocyte that protects the cell’s DNA from damage. Bad things happen when your DNA is compromised. Remember that this process happens in your skin but it also happens in your brain (in a related but possible more important way)!
Many hormones, minerals, and more affect the production and dispersion of melanin throughout the skin (and your brain!). The key for the proper dispersal of melanin is cell to cell signaling between the melanocytes and their neighboring keratinocytes. Communication on the cellular level is necessary for healthy, damage-resistant skin.
Melanin Protects From Sun Damage
Melanin is your body’s natural defense system against UV light from the sun. Sun exposure on the skin does two things:
- Stimulates melanin production which makes the skin more deeply colored
- Creates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that can damage the DNA within your skin cells.
Increased melanin in the skin makes skin less penetrable by the sun’s UV light. A natural melanin rich tan is protective by design. When your sun exposure lasts too long for your melanin protective blanket, your skin starts to turn red (sunburn) from the UV damage.
The Importance of Sun Exposure
Two of the most commonly heard recommendations to those concerned about skin cancer are to wear sunscreen and to avoid sun exposure. What you do not hear so much is that the rise in the cases of skin cancer matches the rise in the use of sun screen.
Our skin needs exposure to the UV portion of sunlight (no window!) in order to:
- Make the sulfate forms of Vitamin D (the bioactive form)
- Make the sulfate form of cholesterol (to help the liver and support our body’s detox)
- Generate dopamine – the neurotransmitter that arouses our brain, create arousal of any type, and makes us strive for a better life
- Generate endorphins – nature’s pain reliever
- Convert the water inside you into the structured EZ form which allows your blood to flow better, your tissues to maintain their hydration levels, and your cells to communicate with each other
It makes sense to me that if you are having trouble handling sun exposure without burning, that part of the issue might be your inability to detox your skin on the cellular level.
Skin Color: Inflammatory or Anti-Inflammatory?
Humans lucky enough to have darker skin have more eumelanin (brown melanin) which both blocks the UV light by absorbing it and – get this – absorbs the reactive oxygen species (ROS) created in the process. Brown skin offers double duty protection. Your birthday suit has a SPF of 10-15 and it takes care of its own damaging waste products! Darker skin does come with a cost – a greater need to be in the sun to keep the rest of the body healthy.
Light colored skin responds less to MSH in the blood stream because the MSH receptors in the melanocytes are less sensitive. Humans with lighter skin (like me!) have more pheomelanin in the skin which can absorb less UV light but also has the rude tendency to create more ROS! A light colored person’s birthday suit SPF is only about 2.5 (or less for red hair/even paler skin) and is actually more toxic after sun exposure. The down side here is that the immune system has a higher work load to remove ROS before they cause permanent harm.
We need the sun AND to keep our inflammation levels low. But how?
Mole Growth vs Whole Body Suntan
Whether your skin reacts to sun by growing moles or giving you a whole body tan depends on your ability to both create melanin and disperse it throughout the skin. There are 4 lovely potential explanations for the process of dispersion but as of 2021 researchers have yet to identify which of the four models reflect reality in the human body. One thing that is agreed upon is that neighboring skin cells must be both be able to communicate with each other and desire to communicate with each other.
Upon sun exposure, the keratinocytes must send out the cry for melanin to the brain. The brain must respond by sending instructions to the melanocytes to turn production up. The melanocytes must be able to make melanin and willing to send it out. The keratinocytes must be willing and able to accept the melanin. Every cell in the skin must be a team player in order to properly protect each other and all the rest of you too. Polite and cooperative cell to cell signaling is crucial to maintain.
Moles and Skin Cancer
Cancer is strongly related to your cells feeling so stressed and challenged that they must revert to a more primitive form in order to survive. Cancer cells do not talk politely to their neighbors. They do not share a cup of sugar with their neighbors. They pillage, destroy, and conquer. In short, their cell to cell signalling indicates that they no longer have good social skills.
When a melanocyte in your skin goes rogue due to cellular stress (i.e. behaves like a cancer cell), it pumps out melanin but keeps it to itself. Voila! A big funny looking mole. The problem is that intense level of cellular stress is happening all over the skin and likely the entire body. This systemic cellular stress is why skin cancer is such a concern for humans. Remember that your skin is a window to the health of your entire body!
A wellness oriented path to avoiding skin cancer is to better support your cells and reduce their stress via your Wellness Lifestyle. Specifically, I am talking about improving your ability to lower your own oxidative stress to your cells. This cellular detox ability helps both your skin and the entire rest of your body avoid a cancer-rich state.
Melanocytes and Your Immune System
Melanocytes have another superpower – they can communicate with and affect your immune system function. Melanin will seek out reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are creating a stressful environment for your cells and activate your immune system to remove the ROS. Reactive Oxygen Species are created all the time by normal metabolism within the body and also from sun exposure, chemical exposure, and other environmental pollutants to your body. The exact mechanism melanin uses to find and remove ROS is not quite understood, however the connection is there.
Immune suppressing drugs can stimulate melanin production. It goes the other way too – a depressed immune system can also stimulate melanin overproduction. An overactive, angry immune system can attack your melanocytes such that you can no longer produce melanin resulting in the auto-immune condition called Vitiligo (“pale patches” with less color).
Scientists are currently researching using melanin to heal cardiac and nerve damage because of its immune supporting behavior.
8 Nutrients to Support Your Skin Health
In order to effectively produce and distribute melanin, your body needs certain raw materials and control factors.
- Zinc and Copper are the mineral co-factors needed to make the enzymes Tyrosinase, Trp1, and Trp2 that control the production of melanin.
- B vitamins – in particular B5, B9, and B12 – are important for cell growth but perhaps more importantly for supporting your body’s detox so that immune function does not negatively affect your melanin production.
- Vitamin C’s anti-oxidant properties will calm your cellular stress as long as the Vitamin C actually gets into the cells. When applied topically, it can reduce your melanin production but is important for the rest of the body!
- Vitamin D production in the skin is intimately tied to melanin content. Lighter colored skin allows more UVB light to enter the skin deep enough to generate Vitamin D production. Darker colored skin offers more protection from UBV resulting in lower vitamin D production from the same amount of sun exposure.
- Vitamin A helps stimulate fibroblasts which make new cells. This is true in your skin, bones, and all over! Vitamin A also encourages melanin to be more evenly distributed throughout the skin’s surface.
- Vitamin A and D together support your immune system’s ability to detox your cells. If you are abundant in one and deficient in the other – that is actually worse than being low in both!
- Vitamin E turns up the activity of glutathione inside your cells. Glutathione is an antioxidant that gets recycled in your body and can work everywhere. Vitamin E is easily absorbed through topical application to your skin.
- Cysteine and Glutathione (which contains cysteine) are ingredients to make melanin – particularly for lighter skinned folks who make more pheomelanin. If you are low on protein intake or your master antioxidant glutathione, you will be unable to make melanin.
Estrogen is an important control factor for melanin production! Estrogen stimulates the production of melanin which implies that for women there is a cyclical nature to their coloration during their reproductive years. Any women who has experienced extra pigmentation during pregnancy can confirm this!
7 Skin Detox Tips for Melanoma Prevention
1: Red/Infrared Light Therapy
The red/infrared light absorbed by your skin during a Joovv Light Therapy session stimulates blood flow to your skin. Inflammation in the skin (and whole body) is lowered so your immune system can focus on the important things. The infrared light also supports the healing and function of your hypothalamus so you can generate the optimal amount of MSH – the hormone that controls melanin production.
3: Sulfur and Sulfate
Sulfate is required by the cell membrane to create the electrical environment for cell to cell communications. Sulfate is made from sulfur which comes from your diet (eggs, cruciferous vegetables, garlic, onions, etc). Sulfate can also be absorbed directly from your Epsom Salts footbath (be sure to dump your used water in your food garden or at least outside into the Earth!).
Magnesium is known to protect your DNA’s structural shape from being deformed since the function of your DNA depends on its shape. Most Americans are magnesium deficient which means their DNA are at risk of changing (called mutating) which will affect the growth and reproduction of that cell. No mutant cells please! If you need a boost, my favorite supplement is Magnesium Breakthrough – available to my clients either as a single purchase or as part of their Custom Supplement Subscription.
5: Mineral Balancing and Alkalinity
The acidity or alkalinity of your skin affects the production of melanin in the melanocytes. Optimal melanin production occurs when the melanocyte exists with a slightly alkaline skin pH level of 6.8 (neutral is 7). Melanin production is decreased in Caucasians when the melanocytes are acidic (low pH). Whether your cells are acidic or alkaline depends on your internal mineral balance. A Hair Mineral Analysis is an easy, non-invasive way to see what is needed to balance your minerals and shift your body from an acidic (damaging) state to a healing, alkaline state.
5: Eat Organic
Ensure you maintain a diet rich in life-supporting nutrients and low in stress-inducing toxins by choosing local organic foods as close to 100% of the time as possible. Shift your budget allotments around to support your wellness goals. When you stop into my Charles County, Maryland wellness center, you can pick up your weekly organic vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and more from Next Step Produce and your no-sugar, cold-pressed, keto-friendly, organic vegetable juices from our monthly Farmers Juice group order.
6: Chaga Mushroom Extract
Chaga is also known as the anti-cancer mushroom because of its incredibly high level of antioxidants. Chaga is not a mushroom to be eaten – it is powerful medicine. At my La Plata, MD area wellness center, I carry a liquid double extraction of chaga from LifeCykle that is powerful! Its double extraction means it contains both water soluble and fat soluble nutrients.
7: Glutathione, B Vitamins, and NAC
Depending on your personal genetics and epigenetics, you might need some help with establishing and maintaining a healthy supply of glutathione (your best cellular antioxidant) and the materials needed to recycle used glutathione so it can be used again. A Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis will assess your current nutritional state and the signs of glutathione production and recycling.
Thermography as a Early Warning Tool
Those with many moles or other reasons to be concerned about melanoma often choose to go to a dermatologist for an annual skin review. When a mole is questionable in shape, color, size, or fast growth pattern, the removal of the mole and a biopsy of the tissue is quickly recommended. This invasive procedure more often than not generates fear, leaves a scar to remind you of the fear, and does nothing to support a healthier body or direct your lifestyle towards cancer prevention.
Thermography scans produce temperature maps of your skin. Small localized rises in the temperature of your skin are usually attributed to inflammation in the area. If you have a mole in the same location, that would be a cause for further exploration on your part. If you have normal, healthy growth to your moles, there should be no small, warm, inflammatory areas to your skin. A thermogram can provide both peace of mind AND an early warning to problem areas.
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