The advance, published in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, could help to determine the risk of damage from sun exposure and skin cancer in the future.

Melanin is a pigment that is found in virtually all living things. The two most common types in humans and lead to the discoloration of the skin, hair and eyes are eumelanin and pheomelanin. The second, was recently discovered that its high presence acts as a risk factor for skin cancer.

The current technique to distinguish and quantify the presence is based on both chemical treatments require the extraction of tissue pigments that houses and destruction. This research has shown a correlation between measurements of melanin obtained by the conventional art and those obtained by Raman spectroscopy.

The results were obtained by comparing the levels of each type of melanin present in samples of hair and feathers. Analyses based on the new technique have been carried out at the National Museum of Natural Sciences, CSIC.

The researcher at the University of Paris-Sud (France) Ismael Galván, who led the research confident that "the technique can be perfectly applied to the skin also." Thus, explains: "If you manage to set the thresholds in pheomelanin levels that make skin cancer risks, this new methodology could be used to diagnose the risk factor of a person against melanoma".

Safe Technica

The research team has achieved, thus, develop the first noninvasive method to quantify and distinguish melanin. This method consists in the analysis of inelastic scattering produced when the molecules of tissue are excited with a light source. This scattering provides information about the form of vibration of molecules, which identifies the structure and nature of the substances that form part of the skin, including the type and amount of melanin.

The action of this technique could be likened to that of a camera or MRIs obtained this information current on the surface of the samples. Galvan, believes that "this new method opens a wide range of possibilities in the study of pigmentation, especially on the analysis of precious samples that can not be destroyed to be chemically treated, in fields ranging from evolutionary biology to medicine" .

According to the investigator, "the use of Raman spectroscopy in determining the melanin tissue also involves a reduction in time and cost compared to currently used techniques."

The investigation also involved researchers from the University of Murcia and the University of Fujita (Japan).

Ismael Galván, Alberto Jorge, Kazuma Ito, Keisuke Tabuchi, Francisco Solano and Kazumasa Wakamatsu. Raman spectroscopy as a non-invasive technique for the quantification of melanins in feathers and hairs. Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research. DOI: 10.1111/pcmr.12140

Photography: My Arm by Vicente Segarra 2013