Why Melatonin Could Be the Next Vitamin C

woman applying melatonin serum

For many of us, the word “melatonin” is enough to get us yawning — after all, it’s a hormone our bodies produce when it’s time to nod off. For this reason, it has been bottled up in supplement form (much to the relief of jetlagged travelers and sporadic sleepers). But skincare buffs could have a reason to make room for melatonin, too — albeit not in supplement form. When applied topically, melatonin might host a bevy of beauty benefits.  

You may have noticed melatonin migrating from the supplement section at the drugstore to the shelves of Sephora®. This is because it holds promise as an antioxidant. In fact, some dermatologists think melatonin could join the ranks of vitamin C in the rolodex of effective free-radical fighters. “Some studies suggest melatonin may be as effective, if not more effective, than [current antioxidant] go-tos,” notes dermatologist Dr. Amelia Hausauer of Aesthetx Plastic SurgeryTM. Similar to vitamin C, topical melatonin works to suppress UV-induced damage (which can accelerate age spots, wrinkles, etc.). According to NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, “Melatonin neutralizes free radicals, and boosts the productivity of other antioxidants in your skin.”

In addition to its antioxidant prowess, melatonin can also help skin cell renewal. According to recent animal studies, “[Topical melatonin] promotes collagen production,” says Dr. Marko Lens, London-based dermatologist, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and founder of Zelens® skincare line.

Despite its promise, though, topical melatonin application might not be for everyone — specifically those prone to hyperpigmentation. “There’s controversy,” confirms NYC-based dermatologist, Dr. Michelle Henry. “Although it is an antioxidant and potentially effective for anti-aging, melatonin may also stimulate melanocytes [melanin-forming cells], which would lead to an accentuation of dark spots.” 

But the jury is still out: Interestingly, there’s a contrary school of thought that believes melatonin can actively help lighten hyperpigmentation. Henry says she falls into this camp, believing that the antioxidant benefits outweigh the possible risk of added pigmentation. “In fact, [a small study noted] that melatonin may have efficacy against melasma, and even work to induce skin lightening,” she explains. 

What everyone does agree on is melatonin’s ability to thwart UV damage and nasty free radicals — which are proven skin-agers.Keep reading to discover four melatonin-spiked products to add to your skincare regimen. (And in case you were wondering: no, applying melatonin to your skin will not make you sleepy.)


The Dr Dennis Gross® Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($42) moisturizes, protects against damaging UVA and UVB rays. The addition of melatonin promotes your skin’s natural free radical defense systems to be on high alert.


The melatonin in the Zelens® Z MelatoninTM Night Repair Serum ($220) is sourced from botanics like St. John’s Wort, Chinese liquorice, and thyme. And, in this formula, melatonin is just the start. A gentle PHA (called gluconolactone) lightly resurfaces, while hyaluronic acid hydrates. Expect a watery, lightweight texture that can be easily layered with a heavier overnight moisturizer.


Another p.m. product: ISDIN® Melatonik® 3-in-1 Night Serum ($150). This formula contains a trifecta of trendy and trusted hero ingredients. There’s melatonin, of course, which serves to stimulate protection against free radicals, pollution, and UV radiation. Then, there’s bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative that’s had the beauty world abuzz recently. Last, but certainly not least, there’s Vitamin C, which rounds out this antioxidant powerhouse.


The PeterThomasRoth® Green ReleafTM Therapeutic Sleep Cream ($65) contains melatonin, but that isn’t even the trendiest ingredient in this bright green gel. It’s also laced with cannabis sativa seed oil (a nourishing, antioxidant-rich ingredient that will not get you high). A 2% retinoid complex works to smooth lines, while colloidal oatmeal helps prevent any irritation.

Editor's Note

Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.

Dr. Michelle Henry is a paid Allergan® consultant.

Some complimentary products were provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.

Product prices may vary from the time this article was written.

Allergan® may receive commission for purchases made through links in this article.