Human skin color

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Human skin color is primarily due to melanin; it ranges from skin almost black in appearance to white with a pinkish tinge due to blood vessels underneath.[1] Variations in skin hue are mainly of genetic origin and are associated with sunlight, but the evolutionary causes are not completely certain. The leading explanation is they are adaptations to sunlight intensities which produce vitamin D deficiency or ultraviolet light damage to folic acid.[2] Other hypotheses include protection from ambient temperature, infections, skin cancer or frostbite, an alteration in food, and sexual selection.[3] According to scientific studies, natural human skin color diversity is highest in black or Sub-Saharan African populations.[4]

Social relations have a significant impact on the perception of skin color. In traditional African society, light skin was often seen as unhealthy, and there was no overall preference for it. Skin tone preference varies by culture. Many historically favored and continue to favor lighter skin in women. In his foreword to Peter Frost's 2005 Fair Women, Dark Men, University of Washington sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe writes: "Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker."[5]

In Western societies, through mass media and popular culture, skin tone has often become a standard for evaluating ability and prettiness and has had more of a bearing on women's self-image than that of men. A preference for women with tanned skin has emerged in the modern West; studies find that the degree of tanning is directly related to how attractive a young woman is perceived to be.[6][7][8]

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