Recently, a FutureDerm reader asked me if melatonin had any anti-aging effects for the skin. As with most things in dermatology and skin care, the answer is a bit complicated. My conclusion is that you shouldn’t necessarily supplement with melatonin, whether orally or topically, as there are conflicting effects (on the one hand, melatonin aids in the treatment and repair of UV-irradiated skin cells; on the other hand, it takes down your body’s production of growth hormone, which is detrimental in the quest of looking younger for longer).
How Melatonin Affects the Skin
On the positive side, it has been proposed that melatonin could counteract forms of stress within the skin. For instance, it has been shown that melatonin is able to suppress ultraviolet (UV)-induced damage to skin cells and shows strong antioxidant activity in UV exposed cells (Endocrine), and this effect is regardless of whether melatonin is naturally synthesized, orally-supplemented, or topically-supplemented.
The other positive functions of melatonin are more speculative. Naturally within the body, the “sleepy” neurotransmitter l-tryptophan is transformed by your cells into serotonin (a “happy” hormone) and melatonin. Early studies have proposed L-tryptophan conversion into melatonin may occur when it is beneficial for melatonin to be a free-radical scavenger/broad-spectrum antioxidant, or as activator of pathways protective against oxidative stress or metabolic modulator (Journal of Pineal Research). But these theories are, as the authors state, quite early in their development.
The issue with supplementing with melatonin is that it may throw off hormonal patterns. For instance, women naturally produce luteinizing hormone (LH) in order to ovulate, right before their period, in what is known as the “LH surge.” However, melatonin has been shown to decrease LH levels (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism).
Melatonin may also affect growth hormone (GH). Early studies of growth hormone have implied that its production decreases with age, and supplementation with GH may help to maintain the integrity and health of the skin (Mayo Clinic), although the research there is still early. But supplementing with melatonin will decrease levels of GH — not what you want to do as you are aging!
Although there are limited studies showing that melatonin may help to regulate homeostasis (i.e., “balance”) within the skin through various types of internal and external stressors, it plays too crucial a role in suppressing ovulation (through luteinizing hormone) and decreasing skin’s overall health and integrity (through decreasing levels of growth hormone) for me to recommend using melatonin as an anti-aging treatment at this time. Instead, I recommend maintaining homeostasis within your cells with non-hormonal antioxidants (like vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea, white tea), sunscreen, staying out of the sun, reducing emotional stress as best as you can, and sleeping 7-8 hours a night.