I first discovered melatonin's play in skincare when learning about the ISDIN's Melatonik 3-in-1 Night Serum. The ingredient is added into the formula as an anti-aging factor because it's said to stimulate your skin's antioxidant enzymes while you sleep. These enzymes will help defend against free radicals from pollution and UV exposure.
Then, a few short weeks later, I saw it pop up in two other new nighttime skincare products: Peter Thomas Roth's Green Releaf Therapeutic Sleep Cream and Zelens Z Melatonin Night Repair Serum.
With suspicions that melatonin is on track to become 2019's CBD oil (AKA, the next "it" ingredient), I reached out to Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, for her insight.
According to Dr. Levin, melatonin's reputation for amping up skin health could be legit — in fact, skin cells actually have melatonin receptors and have been shown to produce it, too.
"Melatonin is actually highly lipophilic, which means it can easily penetrate into skin cells and impart important cellular functions such as repairing mitochondrial and DNA damage," she explains. "It also has been shown to upregulate important antioxidative enzymes, which activates further protection against oxidative damage." In other words, it sends a signal to the antioxidant enzymes in the body to get to work.
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, adds that these antioxidant enzymes that melatonin stimulates might be even more powerful than many of the common antioxidants in anti-aging skincare serums, creams, and more. "These enzymes are more effective at repairing damage compared to traditional antioxidants like vitamin C, E, and others (roughly 1 million to 1)," she notes.
And if that's not enough, Dr. Levin says there is evidence that the ingredient can act as an anti-inflammatory, has the ability to improve ultraviolet radiation damage and pigmentation issues, and has demonstrated anti-tumor properties. However, Dr. Levin says there still needs to be more clinical studies done on melatonin and what else it can do for the body.
Dr. Levin actually calls ISDIN's Melatonik one of her favourite melatonin-infused products because it's also made with a plant-based ingredient that acts as a gentler alternative to retinol. "Bakuchiol is derived from a plant native to India, which has shown to induce collagen production, improve pigmentation, and improve skin elasticity without causing irritation or dryness," she says.
With all this being said, it's important to note again that you can't get same benefits out of the melatonin chocolates you bought at Whole Foods, or any melatonin supplement you take orally. This research is purely based on topical application.
And what about applying too much? Dr. Engelman says that shouldn't be a concern. "The absorption into the bloodstream is virtually imperceptible and no systemic side effects are noted from topical application." However, Dr. Levin says that anything could potentially cause irritation or allergies, so moderation should be taken into consideration.
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