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How Topical Melatonin Can Improve Your Complexion

With input from board-certified dermatologist James Collyer of Modern Dermatology.


“Did you hear the news about melatonin? The kids are applying it to their faces.”

“Gasp!” (Clutches pearls.) “No! Heavens to Betsy! Are they crazy?”

I can imagine two gossipy seniors chit-chatting about the good ol’ days when all they did with melatonin was ingest it, in order to get better quality sleep. (Or better yet, all they did was produce it naturally in their brains, because they didn’t rely on computer screens and caffeine to get through the day.) But now, people are applying melatonin to their face before bed, in the form of creams and serums. The idea is that they’ll wake up looking fresher and more youthful, in addition to feeling refreshed from a good night of rest. (Which is possibly aided by orally ingested melatonin.)

So, is topical melatonin’s effectiveness a fact, or a fad?

First, let’s consider supplemental melatonin. Even if you haven’t taken melatonin as a sleep aid, you probably know its function: It doesn’t knock you flat like a sleeping pill, but it does aid in your ability to doze off, to stay asleep and even to wake up more readily in the morning. Our bodies produce it naturally, but so many people have wonky sleep schedules or patterns that they need a slight push, without passing out and sleeping for 10 hours. Melatonin, taken orally, is more or less a “natural” sleep aid — when done in moderation, of course.


But what about topically? What is its purpose? I’ve seen it in a few products of late, and have been using one in particular, Zelens Z-Melatonin Night Repair Serum, as a final step before bed. Zelens claims that the product synchronizes with your body’s natural circadian rhythm — that is, on a cellular level, since all your cells are regenerating fastest and most effectively while you sleep — and in turn, it helps you wake with a brighter, firmer, more even complexion.

I ran the idea by one of my most trusted sources on the matter, board-certified dermatologist James Collyer, of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. Here’s what he had to say, which further supported the brand’s claim:

“Melatonin in the skin stimulates your body’s natural production of antioxidant enzymes at night,” Collyer says. “The better and deeper sleep you get, the more production of melatonin may be produced, leading to more antioxidants in the skin. These antioxidants help protect the skin from pollutants, protect collagen and help counteract harmful UV rays, which are a large cause of dark spots and wrinkles. There is evidence that using melatonin in skin care products can increase antioxidant properties in the skin.”

And, because you’re curious, Collyer also notes that, no, melatonin applied to the skin does not work as a sleep aid. It simply boosts the functions that help protect the skin and keep it firm. That being said, it’s not so much that topical melatonin products help you to look younger and have a brighter complexion, like many other serums or night creams. However, as Collyer states, they do fortify your skin to get through the day with a stronger defense against toxins and UV rays. And in doing so, with continued use, they do help you look younger and maintain a brighter, less-blemished complexion.

A month’s use of Zelens has me saying, “So far, so good.” Like most moisturizers and serums, it’s one of those things you don’t always know is working simply because you’re not getting any worse for the wear. And because I’ve got a pretty solid regimen already with some great serums and creams, I have to say that it fits nicely into the fold. In the very least, it’s worth noting that I haven’t substituted it out since I started testing it. (Most products get subbed out after a few uses. So this one is a favorite.)

And of course, melatonin isn’t the only ingredient in the Zelens serum, either. It’s also got peptide complexes, seaweed extract, soothing aloe vera, hydration hero hyaluronic acid and about two dozen other ingredients that work to firm, brighten, calm, moisturize, defend and more. If you want to be more corrective about your anti-aging nighttime regimen (wherein these melatonin products would be more proactive), I would suggest mixing it with your prescription retinol and applying them together.

Buy Now: $202

Gear Patrol also recommends:

A denser option than the serum, this cream also employs retinol, so it provides a full-court press against signs of aging. (Plus it’s got colloidal oatmeal, which soothes and calms the skin, too.)
Green Releaf Therapeutic Sleep Cream Skin Protectant by Peter Thomas Roth $65

This is a rare instance wherein melatonin is used in a daytime product, primarily for its ability to help defend against UV ray damage and environmental toxins. If you’re prone to dark spots on the skin in summer, then this is your primary defense strategy.
Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 by Dr. Dennis Gross $42

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