Melatonin For Skin: Everything You Need To Know + Best Products
Sleep is crucial to a healthy skin care routine, period and full stop. So when you catch wind of melatonin in skin care conversations, you might understandably file it under the context of a good snooze. Melatonin's main gig is to send sleepy signals to your body, after all, which help you clock in those precious hours of beauty sleep.
But what if we told you that melatonin may have benefits beyond a good night's rest? Lo and behold: The ingredient is venturing over to skin care for some pretty compelling reasons. Somebody give melatonin's publicist a ring—this sleepy-time hormone may need a rebrand.
Benefits of melatonin for skin.
"Melatonin is a very powerful—perhaps the most powerful—antioxidant for prevention of UV-induced skin damage," says board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., founder of DrBaileySkinCare.com. "It is also anti-inflammatory."
Specifically, it protects the skin in a series of events called the melatoninergic antioxidative system (MAS)1. Ready for some science speak? Not only does melatonin itself stave off free radicals in the skin, but it also forms two other free radical fighters when it breaks down—which makes it an even more potent and long-lasting antioxidant, says Bailey. Plus, melatonin may even stimulate antioxidant enzymes at the gene level and enhance DNA repair—although, researchers are still trying to figure out the exact reason this happens.
And on the cellular subject, melatonin has also been shown to help preserve mitochondrial function2—which, you know, powers literally every cell in your body (including skin cells!). Perhaps that's why, as one report reads3, "Melatonin's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support, coupled with its mitochondrial support, make it an intriguing target for use to support skin health."
Not to mention, topical melatonin can penetrate deeply into the skin. Notes Bailey, "[It] even penetrates4 into cellular nuclei (where DNA resides), mitochondria (the cells' power generator and regulator of many important cellular functions), [and] it also penetrates deeply into the dermis where collagen is lost, [which leads] to wrinkles."
All that to say: Melatonin is more than its sleepy-time moniker—it actually has some pretty impressive skin care benefits.
Are there any side effects?
OK, so there's some scientific weight behind the hormone's foray into skin care. But as Bailey notes: We need way more research to suss out the side effects. "Melatonin is a hormone," she says. "Other hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisone are well known, and topical application of them can have both benefits and side effects." Because topical melatonin is relatively new in the beauty space, there is a bit of a gap when it comes to its potential side effects or how exactly we should use it (which we'll dive into in a moment).
Take Bailey's example: Because it's so well absorbed through the skin and penetrates deeply into the cells, could it potentially disrupt the sleep/wake cycle if you apply it during the day? Melatonin is primarily used to help regulate sleep, after all. Of course, skin care products might not formulate at high enough concentrations to affect the circadian rhythm too much—but that then raises the question of whether these lower concentrations have enough melatonin present to reap any of the benefits listed above. We simply need more studies in order to tell.
As for common side effects with taking melatonin orally, like headaches, grogginess, or sleepiness upon waking? Well, according to a 2016 study, a topical melatonin cream of 12.5% was not associated with any sort of cognitive dysfunction5.
How to use it.
Because melatonin typically goes hand-in-hand with a good snooze, you may find it—surprise, surprise—in a smattering of night creams and treatments. That's not to say you absolutely must apply in the evenings; with respect to the existing research, it shouldn't really matter what time you slather on.
In fact, due to melatonin's ability to temper oxidative stress and UV damage, it might actually fare well when formulated into a sunscreen. "If you are concerned about sun damage and want to enhance antioxidant protection for your skin, melatonin is worth considering," notes board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim, M.D., FAAD. Or, if you'd like to focus on repair, you may want to apply a melatonin-infused night cream while your skin shifts into recovery mode.
Adds Bailey: "I could see it being used in a skin care routine with retinoids (that have age-fighting benefits), hyaluronic acid (a potent skin hydrator), and sunscreen." But there's still much to learn about melatonin as a skin care ingredient, so there are no stringent guidelines for how to best slather on. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the available products below.
Using melatonin on your skin is still a relatively new venture—but you can find a few available products on the market that do include the snooze-inducing hormone. We need more research at the end of the day, but the ingredient does show some striking potential.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.