Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that’s associated with sleep, but did you know current research also shows it may help with hair growth?
In this post, I’ll introduce you to melatonin and its uses.
First, I’ll breakdown the two major ways melatonin is believed to help with hair growth.
Second, I’ll discuss the symptoms of a melatonin deficiency and the side effects of melatonin supplementation.
Last, I’ll share three natural ways you can increase your body’s melatonin levels.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced within animals that regulates sleep and wakefulness. The hormone is produced by the pineal gland.
While our bodies do naturally produce this hormone, there are over-the-counter supplements available for individuals with insomnia. A low dose of the supplement, when taken orally, can promote healthy sleep patterns.
Interestingly, melatonin has also been shown to positively benefit hair growth in individuals with hair loss.
How Melatonin Promotes Hair Growth
While the exact mechanism for melatonin’s effects on hair growth aren’t known, we do know a few things about the hormone based on recent scientific findings.
It Induces Anagen Phase
There are three main phases within the hair growth cycle. They are:
- Anagen (active growth)
- Catagen (transition)
- Telogen (rest)
In individuals with Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), sensitivity to DHT can lead to miniaturization of the hair follicle. This occurs due to inflammation, and the hair strand is no longer able to protrude from the follicle.
This shortens the anagen phase and leads to hair follicle miniaturization associated with the condition.
There are many treatments – both internal and topical – that have been shown to effectively induce anagen phase hair growth in patients with AGA. In 2004, melatonin was added to the list of topical hair loss treatments thanks to a research study from Germany.
Forty women with AGA or diffuse alopecia were included in the study. The women were split into two groups (randomized). Group 1 received a daily application of 0.1% melatonin, and group 2 received a daily application of a placebo. This went on for 6 months.
Throughout the study, blood samples were collected and trichograms were performed to assess progress.
The most promising results were seen in occipital hair growth for females with AGA, and in frontline hair growth for females with diffuse alopecia:
The percentage of hairs in anagen phase after 6 months of treatment was significantly increased from before treatment, and it was also improved over patients who received placebo.
While the mechanism is not clear, researchers believe that this study proves that there is a component with melatonin that induces anagen phase in hair follicles.
It’s a Potent Antioxidant
Antioxidants are essential to the health of the body, as they help to combat free radicals.
Free radicals are rogue molecules. These molecules are incomplete, and therefore steal electrons from other molecules. The molecules they steal from are those that support surrounding structures, such as the skin, hair, and organs.
When the electrons are stolen, the surrounding structures begin to break down. This occurs as a natural part of the aging process (which is why hair thinning and wrinkles are prevalent as you age).
While the aging process can’t be stopped, antioxidants can help to slow the process (including balding).
Melatonin is a known antioxidant, and one that can effectively combat free radicals (and aging) in the body.
Additional Studies on Melatonin for Hair Growth
A Swiss pharmaceutical company conducted a series of studies between 2003 and 2006. These looked at melatonin as a potential treatment for male and female androgenetic alopecia (AGA) (6). The topical was a liquid solution with 0.0033% melatonin.
The first study in France examined whether the repeated application of the topical disrupted endogenous melatonin production. The results showed that was not the case. The topical melatonin was well-tolerated.
The second study took place in Milan. Fifteen men and 15 women with AGA applied the solution once daily for a minimum of 90 days. According to the company’s report, there was a “significant reduction in the severity of alopecia” after only 30 days. There was a further reduction after the full 90 days. Unfortunately, it is not clear how this reduction was measured.
The third study was also in Milan. Thirty-five men with early-stage AGA applied the topical daily for six months. The researchers took hair counts in a prescribed area of balding scalp. After six months, 58% of the men had an increase in hair density. The average hair count increase was 42%.
The fourth study was conducted in the United States. It relied on the self-reports of women who used the topical. The women’s hairstylists were also questioned. The results were encouraging, but self-reports are notoriously unreliable.
The final study in the series was a large-scale, multi-center study across 200 dermatology centers in Milan. It recruited 901 balding men and 990 women. According to the medical investigators, two-thirds of patients (66%) improved after 90 days. This assessment was based chiefly on the hair pull test. This is a very simple test where the doctor takes a few strands of hair between his thumb and forefinger and gently but firmly pulls. If an excessive number of strands are removed, this suggests hair loss.
Signs of Melatonin Deficiency/Dysfunction
With more and more individuals interacting with their electronics and spending the majority of their day indoors, melatonin deficiency has become a common problem. This can result in some less-than-pleasant symptoms.
The main signs of melatonin deficiency include:
- Lack of dreaming
These signs, however, can lead to more serious health conditions if not treated. For example, untreated insomnia can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Irregular menstruation
- Blood clots
- Heart arrhythmia
If you suspect you suffer from melatonin deficiency or dysfunction, you should consult with your physician. There may be an underlying cause of your deficiency that your doctor can most effectively help you address.
Side Effects of Melatonin Supplementation
While supplementing with melatonin can be beneficial, it of course has a few side effects that go along with it.
The use of melatonin supplements should be avoided (or closely supervised by a physician) if you have blood sugar conditions, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, or a seizure disorder. Similarly, those with a bleeding disorder or those who’ve received a transplant should avoid supplementation.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, consult with your obstetrician prior to supplementing.
Retailers sell melatonin in a wide range of preparations. Consumers have the option to supplement orally in the form of pills, capsules, and tablets. These typically range from one to 10mg in strength. There is also bulk powder and even gummies for children.
Unfortunately, for hair growth, the oral forms are unlikely to be helpful. Men and women with hair loss should turn to topical application of melatonin on the scalp.
The solution used in the Swiss studies is not available for sale. Topical melatonin solutions for hair loss are altogether rare. Some compounding pharmacies offer ready-made solutions. Other companies offer melatonin-based solutions that also combine other active ingredients. The consumer can try these out and evaluate the results.
How to Naturally Increase Melatonin Levels
To boost melatonin levels and promote hair growth, you have a few natural methods at your disposal.
Take a Melatonin Supplement
Melatonin supplements are commonly taken by individuals with insomnia to induce sleep. However, even if you don’t think you have sleep issues, melatonin can still be a beneficial supplement.
However, I recommend you start off with a low dose.
As melatonin supplements are considered a nutritional supplement and not a medication, the dosages contained within these supplements can be quite high. This can mess with your body’s natural circadian rhythm and cause issues down the road.
If you go the supplement route, I recommend just 1mg of melatonin each night. This can be difficult to do with capsules, but tablets, powders, and even liquid forms can also be purchased.
Avoid Artificial Lighting
If you work in an office environment, this can be difficult. However, avoiding artificial lighting (and increasing natural lighting) can increase melatonin production.
The best time to do this is a few hours before bed.
Avoid electronics (television, computer, tablet, and cell phone) and instead focus on non-electronics activities. You can still use a table lamp or other soft light to do these activities (such as read, write, or do a puzzle).
If you can, I also recommend increasing your natural light “intake” during the day. This means leaving your blinds open and only using other forms of lighting when necessary. Additionally, you can use your lunch break to take a walk outside.
Consume Melatonin-Rich Foods
While melatonin is largely produced within the body, you can also consume it.
Melatonin occurs naturally in a number of foods. These include:
- Tart cherries
- Goji berries
While you shouldn’t eat immediately before bed, you can consume these foods throughout the day to naturally increase your body’s melatonin output.
While some hormones within the body (such as DHT) can lead to follicle miniaturization, others (like melatonin) can actually promote healthy new hairs.
This is why I believe it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor about any possible hormonal imbalances. With your hormones under control, you can then work to regrow your hair.
Talk to a qualified medical professional about your hair loss and get the right FDA approved treatment for you.