The Biology of Skin Color
This film explores the hypothesis that different tones of skin color in humans arose as adaptations to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in different parts of the world.
Our human ancestors in Africa likely had dark skin, which is produced by an abundance of the pigment eumelanin in skin cells. In the high ultraviolet (UV) environment of sub-Saharan (or equatorial) Africa, darker skin protects against the damaging effects of UV radiation. Anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski explains that the variation in skin color that evolved since our human ancestors migrated out of Africa can be explained by the trade-off between protection from UV and the need for some UV absorption for the production of vitamin D.
The “Abbreviated Film Guide” provides a short summary of the film, along with key concepts and connections to curriculum standards.
An audio descriptive version of the film is available via our media player.
adaptation, anthropology, folate, melanin, melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), pigmentation, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, vitamin D
Jablonski, Nina G. Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.
Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
HS-LS3.A, HS-LS3.B, HS-LS4.A, HS-LS4.C
AP Biology (2019)
EVO-1, EVO-3, IST-1. IST-2, SYI-3
IB Biology (2016)
1.2, 2.6, 3.4, 5.1, 10.2
AP Environmental Science (2020)
Topic(s): 2.6, 9.1, 4.7
IB Environmental Systems and Societies (2017)
Vision and Change (2009)