Is melatonin the underrated skin hero our complexion deserves?

Written by Shannon Peter

Thought melatonin only helped you sleep? According to cult US brand Milk Makeup, it’s about time we started applying the ingredient topically to our skin. Stylist investigates this unsung skin hero…

If you’ve heard of melatonin, you’ll most likely have it pegged as a supplement that’ll help you drift off and improve the quality of your sleep. It’s a hormone the body naturally produces to regulate your circadian rhythm and control your sleep cycle, so some people take an extra dose of melatonin when they’re suffering a bout of insomnia or need a little help in the sleep department.

However, if we consider melatonin solely a sleep aid, then we might just be overlooking some particularly impressive benefits… skin benefits, in fact. Well, that’s the premise behind two of cult US brand Milk Makeup’s products: a melatonin-infused solid night serum and lip mask. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but even in my years as a beauty journalist, I haven’t come across many – if any – melatonin skin products, so when I heard about them, my eyebrow certainly raised a little out of curiosity. What exactly is the point of applying melatonin topically? Is it to help you sleep? Or does melatonin have skin benefits I don’t know about? It was time to do some digging, but also some testing.

“Topical melatonin increases the skins defence against free radicals and has antioxidant benefits for healthy, rejuvenated-looking skin,” Dianna Ruth, Milk Makeup co-founder and product developer tells me over email. “The serum won’t help you go to sleep, but it is made with soothing lavender oil and chamomile extract to provide a calming, relaxing sensorial experience.”

Sounds legit, but I sought out a second opinion on this potential hero ingredient. “Applying melatonin topically can trick your skin into triggering antioxidant behaviour that would otherwise kick in during sleep, where skin regeneration is naturally at its best performance,” explains Dr Mario Luca Russo, cosmetic and dermatological surgeon at Urban Retreat. “In addition, melatonin can help shield the skin from oxidative stress by acting as a direct scavenger of harmful free radicals.”

Okay, so far, so promising. But could we get the same skin protection from taking a regular melatonin supplement? “The outcome of using an oral melatonin at night is an increase in your natural defences to fight free radicals caused by UV radiation, stress and pollution the next day, as well as repair the damage done that day,” explains Dr Russo. “However, the concentration that reaches the skin seems to be lower than when applied topically.” Basically, for your skin to reap the benefits, you need to apply it directly.

I trialled Milk Makeup’s melatonin serum every evening for just over a week, and I am really into it. It’s ridiculously easy to apply; the watery stick melts when it hits the warmth of the face, so you don’t even need to use your fingers. The dream. I also love that it smells just like a pillow spray. My skin definitely feels hydrated, and while I’m not going out much (so my skin is batting off less pollution than usual) I do think the antioxidant benefits are helping my complexion look fresher and brighter.

The lip mask is like an industrial-strength lip balm, ideal for my sore, flaky lips which have been ravaged by nervous biting and fiddling with my newly-installed Invisalign over the last few weeks. The formula is VERY rich and a little sticky – imagine the texture of honey – so is best worn as a mask overnight, which is when it’ll do its best nourishing work. My soreness and flakiness disappeared after a couple of nights using it.

Will we start to see more melatonin in skin products? “Skincare is subject to trends and fads,” Dr Russo rightly points out. “Many of these ingredients are mainly exciting simply because they’re new.” So, only time will tell if more brands start to funnel melatonin into their formulas, but for now, I shall bask in the glow of this serum, and try my luck with some other melatonin-infused skincare products…

The best melatonin skincare products

  • Milk Makeup Melatonin Overnight Serum

    A lightweight, somewhat watery serum that uses melatonin to boost skin’s defences against aggressors, and plies it with hydration.

    Shop Milk Makeup Melatonin Overnight Serum, £32


  • Milk Makeup Melatonin Lip Mask

    A thick, buttery, heavy-duty lip balm that blankets lips as you sleep, preventing much-needed moisture from seeping out.

    Shop Milk Makeup Melatonin Lip Mask, £20


  • Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50,

    A non-chalky SPF that not only protects skin with factor 50, but also contains vitamins c and e, as well as melatonin, to brighten dark spots caused by previous sun exposure.

    Shop Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 at Cult Beauty, £46


  • Zelens Z-Melatonin Overnight Serum

    This powerful antioxidant serum protects against free-radical damage, while dosing skin with hydrating hyaluronic acid.

    Shop Zelens Z-Melatonin Overnight Serum at lookfantastic, £165


Images: Shannon Peter/courtesy of brands

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