We present a new method for studying melanin in vivo based on diffuse reflectance spectroscopy of human skin. We find that the optical absorption spectrum of in vivo melanin exhibits an exponential dependence on wavelength, consistent with, but with a higher decay slope than, in vitro results. We offer theoretical justification for this exponential dependence on the basis of a recently proposed model for the structure of eumelanin protomolecules. Moreover, we report on a new method for analysis of diffuse reflectance spectra, which identifies intrinsic differences in absorption spectra between malignant melanoma and dysplastic nevi in vivo. These preliminary results are confirmed both by analysis of our own clinical data as well as by analysis of data from three independent, previously published studies. In particular, we find evidence that the histologic transition from dysplastic nevi to melanoma in situ and then to malignant melanoma is reflected in the melanin absorption spectra. Our results are very promising for the development of techniques for the noninvasive detection of melanoma and, more generally, for the study and characterization of pigmented skin lesions. It is also a promising approach for a better understanding of the biological role, structure, and function of melanin.