Research on the evolution of skin color in humans was avoided by scientists for many years. Skin color is worthy of scientific investigation, however, because it is the product of over five million years of evolution in the human lineage, it the most obvious characteristic in which people vary in their appearance, and it is of great social importance. My research on the evolution of human skin and skin color, done mostly in collaboration with George Chaplin, has demonstrated that skin color is the product of natural selection acting to regulate levels of melanin pigment in the skin relative to levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the environment. Melanin is a natural sunscreen that prevents the breakdown of certain essential biomolecules (in particular, the B vitamin folate, and DNA), while permitting enough UVR to enter the skin to promote the production of essential vitamin D.
Jablonski, N. G., & Chaplin, G. (2017). The colours of humanity: The evolution of pigmentation in the human lineage. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 372(1724).
Coussens, A. K., Naude, C. E., Goliath, R., Chaplin, G., Wilkinson, R. J., & Jablonski, N. G. (2015). High-dose vitamin D3 reduces deficiency caused by low UVB exposure and limits HIV-1 replication in urban Southern Africans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(26), 8052-8057.
Jablonski, N. G., and Chaplin, G. (2013). Epidermal pigmentation in the human lineage is an adaptation to ultraviolet radiation. Journal of Human Evolution, 65(5), 671-675.
Swiatoniowski, A. K., Quillen, E., Shriver, M. D., and Jablonski, N. G. (2013). Comparing von Luschan skin color tiles and modern spectrophotometry for measuring human skin pigmentation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 151(2), 325-330.
Jablonski, N. G., and Chaplin, G. (2012). Human skin pigmentation, migration and disease susceptibility. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1590), 785-792.
Jablonski, N. G. (2012). The evolution of human skin colouration and its relevance to health in the modern world. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 42(1), 58-63.
Jablonski, N. G., & Chaplin, G. (2010). Human skin pigmentation as an adaptation to UV radiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(S2), 8962-8968.
Jablonski, N. G. (2010). Skin coloration. In M. I. Muehlenbein (Ed.), Human Evolutionary Biology (pp. 192-213). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chaplin, G., & Jablonski, N. G. (2009). Vitamin D and the evolution of human depigmentation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139(4), 451-461.