The pigment melanin is produced by specialized cells, called melanocytes. In healthy skin, melanocytes are sparsely spread among the other cell types in the basal layer of the epidermis. Sun tanning results from an UV-induced increase in the release of melanin to neighbouring keratinocytes, the major cell type component of the epidermis as well as redistribution of melanin among these cells. Here we provide a mathematical conceptualization of our current knowledge of the tanning response, in terms of a dynamic model. The resolution level of the model is tuned to available data, and its primary focus is to describe the tanning response following UV exposure.
The model appears capable of accounting for available experimental data on the tanning response in different skin and photo types. It predicts that the thickness of the epidermal layer and how far the melanocyte dendrites grow out in the epidermal layers after UV exposure influence the tanning response substantially.
Despite the paucity of experimental validation data the model is constrained enough to serve as a foundation for the establishment of a theoretical-experimental research programme aimed at elucidating the more fine-grained regulatory anatomy underlying the tanning response.