Melatonin has strong antioxidant properties (Fischer et al 2012) making it a prime candidate in combating the oxidative stress associated with general hair loss and androgenic alopecia (AGA).
Human hair follicles are able to synthesize melatonin and express melatonin receptors (Kobayashi et al, 2005; Fischer et al, 2008). Studies have shown that these receptors are all in the hair sheath, which aids in the regulation of hair growth and stabilisation of the hair shaft. Further, it has been noted that melatonin can interact with androgen and estrogen receptor mediated signalling pathways. This observation may be highly relevant, given the role of androgens and estrogens in hair growth control (Fischer et al, 2008).
Based on the hypotheses on melatonin’s effect on hair growth, a topical solution of 0.0033% melatonin was developed by ASATONA AG (Zug, Switzerland). Several studies were conducted on behalf of this company to investigate the effect of melatonin on hair loss and results showed treatment to be well tolerated and effective (Lorenzi and Caputo, 2003; Macher, 2003). However, conclusions drawn from these results are limited because some observations were not placebo controlled and were based on subjective questionnaires for the patients.
women with diffuse alopecia experienced an increase in frontal hair counts
Fischer et al (2004) also conducted a study on 40 women with diffuse alopecia or AGA. A 1% melatonin-alcohol solution was applied once daily on the scalp over 6 months. The results showed an increase in anagen hair growth phase in the occipital scalp areas in women with AGA.
Their frontal hair counts were unaffected. However, women with diffuse alopecia experienced an increase in frontal hair counts. This effect might be interpreted as induction of hair growth by prolongation of the anagen phase (Nixon et al 1993).
The value of these findings may be improved by repeating similar studies on larger populations and for longer periods. Moreover, additional hair growth parameters would have to be included before firm conclusions can be drawn on the efficacy of topical melatonin in the management of hair loss (Nixon et al 1993).
What exactly is an antioxidant?
An antioxidant is a molecule that helps prevent or inhibit oxidation in the body. Oxidation is a natural chemical process that occurs in cells as they interact with oxygen. While oxygen is essential for human life, it can also lead to the production of free radicals, which are highly reactive and unstable molecules.
Free radicals can cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA, leading to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to various health issues, including aging, inflammation, and the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating electrons to them, stabilizing them and preventing further damage. They act as “molecular scavengers” that protect cells from oxidative damage and maintain cellular health.
What are free radicals?
A free radical is a highly reactive and unstable molecule that contains one or more unpaired electrons in its outermost shell. This unpaired electron makes free radicals highly reactive, and they can quickly react with other molecules in the body, attempting to “steal” electrons from them to stabilize themselves.
The process of a free radical trying to acquire an electron from another molecule leads to a chain reaction, as the newly created molecule becomes another free radical, capable of causing further damage by reacting with other molecules. This chain reaction is known as oxidative stress, and it can be harmful to cells and tissues.
While free radicals are produced as natural byproducts of various cellular processes, external factors such as pollution, radiation, certain drugs, and toxins can also contribute to an increased production of free radicals in the body.
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Excessive amounts of free radicals can be detrimental to the body and have been associated with various health issues, including faster aging, inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
What happens when you apply melatonin to your skin or your scalp?
When applied topically meltonin should protect cells from free-radical damage because its a powerful antioxidant. However, it may also stinulate hair growth because hair follicles contain melatonin receptors, which means melatonin can bind to the follicles causing them to change their behaviour. Think of this like a communication system. Some studies I’ve read have suggested that melatonin may increase hair growth by extending the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle and reducing the shedding and resting phases. If this is the case, it may enable the hair to grow for a longer period, which may also result in thicker hair.
Since each hair folicle is capable of producing up to 5 hairs, if we can keep each follicle in the growth phase for longer we should be able to increase the probability of growing more hairs per follicle.
- Fischer, T.W., Andrzej Slominski, Tobin, D.J. and Paus, R., Melatonin And The Hair Follicle, Journal of Pineal Research, 2008 Jan; 44(1): 1-15
- Fischer, T.W., Burmeister, G., Schmidt, H.W. and Elsner, P., Melatonin Increases Anagen Hair Rate In Women With Androgenic Alopecia Or Diffuse Alopecia: Results Of A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial, Br J Dermatol 2004 Feb; 150(2):41-5
- Fischer, T.W., Trüeb, R.M., Hanggi, G, Innocenti, M. and Elsner, P., Topical Melatonin For Treatment Of Androgenic Alopecia, Int J Trichol, 2012; 4(4):236-45
- Kobayashi. H., Kromminga. A., Dunlop, T.W.., Tychsen, B., Conrad, F. and Suzuki N, A Role Of Melatonin In Neuroectodermal-Mesodermal Interactions: The Hair Follicle Synthesizes Melatonin And Expresses Functional Melatonin Receptors. FASEB J.2005; 19:1710-2.
- Lorenzi. S. and Caputo, R. (2003) Melatonin Cosmetic Hair Solution: Open Study Of The Efficacy And The Safety On Hair Loss (Telogen) Control And Hair Growth (Anagen) Stimulation. MEL-COS-ASO1. Data on file. Asatona AG, Switzerland.
- Macher, J.P. (2003) Pharmacokinetics And Clinical And Biological Tolerability Of Repeated Topical Application Of A Melatonin- Containing Cosmetic Hair Solution In Healthy Female Volunteers. A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross Over Design Study. Clinical Study Report. MEL-COS-1. Data on file. Asatona AG, Switzerland.
- Nixon, A.J., Choy, V.J. and Parry, A.L., Fiber Growth Initiation In Hair Follicles Of Goats Treated With Melatoni, J Exp Zool 1993; 267:47–56.