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Melanocytes are phenotypically prominent but histologically inconspicuous skin cells. They are responsible for the pigmentation of skin and hair, and thereby contribute to the appearance of skin and provide protection from damage by ultraviolet radiation. Pigmentation mutants in various species are highly informative about basic genetic and developmental pathways, and provide important clues to the processes of photoprotection, cancer predisposition and even human evolution. Skin is the most common site of cancer in humans. Continued understanding of melanocyte contributions to skin biology will hopefully provide new opportunities for the prevention and treatment of skin diseases.