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Pigmentation of human skin is closely involved in protection against environmental stresses, in particular exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It is well known that darker skin is significantly more resistant to the damaging effects of UV, such as photocarcinogenesis and photoaging, than is lighter skin. Constitutive skin pigmentation depends on the amount of melanin and its distribution in that tissue. Melanin is significantly photoprotective and epidermal cells in darker skin incur less DNA damage than do those in lighter skin. This review summarizes current understanding of the regulation of constitutive human skin pigmentation and responses to UV radiation, with emphasis on physiological factors that influence those processes. Further research is needed to characterize the role of skin pigmentation to reduce photocarcinogenesis and to develop effective strategies to minimize such risks.