Skin Deep

Skin Deep: Dr. Baumann weighs pros and cons of melatonin

Today, most of us are looking to get a little help from some type of supplement or pill. The good news is that there are many naturally derived supplements that can offer the benefits of a drug without the potential downsides, but it’s important to keep in mind that even natural supplements can have side effects, too. Case in point: Melatonin.

The Good

Melatonin has a sizeable following because it helps us get one thing that often eludes us … sleep. Since it’s widely available at drugstores, supermarkets and even Costco, it’s easier to get and less expensive than prescription sleep medications. It’s available in doses of 3mg, 5mg, or greater. I recommend taking 3mg half an hour before bedtime if you need help falling asleep. However, I do not recommend taking more than 10mg a day. Just remember, you’ll have about a one-hour window before the melatonin’s effects wear off, so plan accordingly!

Melatonin is also an antioxidant, so it protects cellular DNA from free-radical damage. Some studies even suggest that melatonin may prevent cancer, and other research claims this supplement may even slow down the aging process.

Even more, melatonin has been shown to increase the hair’s anagen (growth) phase when applied topically to the scalp. Though this particular study warrants additional research, melatonin may also be useful for those experiencing hair thinning or loss.

The Bad

The fact that melatonin is only available as a prescription in other countries makes me a bit wary of using it regularly. But although it may help you catch some extra beauty sleep, it has an unfortunate beauty side effect. Melatonin activates your skin’s melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment. So if you’re fighting age spots, melatonin might be counteracting all your skin-care efforts. I recently saw a patient who, despite using skin-brightening products, saw visible skin darkening in a very short time when taking melatonin for a few weeks.

If you don’t watch your skin very closely, it’s possible you may not even notice this side effect of melatonin. However, if you’re serious about evening out your skin tone, or undergoing pigment treatment, you may want to stop taking this supplement. And while you’re at it, you may also want to avoid caffeine and foods that are high in beta carotene because they can have a skin-darkening effect, as well.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.