Melatonin, the hormone that’s known for helping the body’s sleep cycle, is trending for its ability to rejuvenate the skin. In today’s episode of The Rogue Pharmacist, we talk with co-host Benjamin Knight Fuchs, RPh, about the effects of melatonin, its applications, and what we can expect from using this amazing, and sometimes overlooked, hormone.
Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) presents The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs, R.Ph. This podcast takes an enlightening approach to supporting licensed estheticians in their pursuit to achieve results-driven skin care treatments for their clients. You can always count on us to share professional skin care education, innovative techniques, and the latest in skin science.
Benjamin Knight Fuchs is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist, and skin care chemist with 35 years of experience developing pharmacy-potent skin health products for estheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons. Ben’s expert advice gives licensed estheticians the education and skin science to better support the skin care services performed in the treatment room while sharing insights to enhance clients’ at-home skin care routines.
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0:00:55.2 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello and welcome to ASCP and the Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs. In each episode, we'll explore how internal and external factors can impact the skin. I'm Maggie Staszcuk, ASCP's Education Program Manager, and joining me is, you know it, pharmacist Ben Fuchs. Hey Ben.
0:01:12.0 Ben Fuchs: Hey Maggie. Good to see you.
0:01:13.6 MS: Good to see you. Today we're talking all about melatonin, and I am excited for this podcast because it's really outside the box, and melatonin is more than just an ingredient. It's a really important hormone.
0:01:24.9 BF: Heck yeah. Well, so what do you think of when you think of melatonin?
0:01:27.8 MS: I think about taking it to go to sleep.
0:01:29.8 BF: Yeah, that's what most people think of, taking it to go to sleep, and by the way, it gives you great dreams too. It helps to go to sleep for sure, and it gives you great dreams too, but melatonin is way more than a sleep molecule. In order to understand how important melatonin is, we've gotta understand like how the body works in terms of antagonistic or balancing molecules. So the body is always turning, wants to be in the middle. It's called homeostasis. It wants to be kind of in the middle. So ups get pulled down, and downs get pulled up. And this homeostatic balancing system is controlled or regulated by balancing molecules. So we find that, for example, calcium has a contracting effect. Magnesium has a relaxing effect. Calcium, magnesium are kind of opposing each other. We find insulin has a blood sugar sucking up effect, and glucagon has a blood sugar releasing effect.
0:02:19.1 BF: So insulin and glucagon are two hormones that are in balance with each other. Testosterone is in balance with estrogen. Progesterone is in balance with estrogen. So these balancing relationships can be taken advantage of by dosing or putting certain molecules into your body. It turns out that melatonin has a balancing relationship with a couple of molecules that are associated with stress, or as we talked about in the last program, with vigilance, with awareness. So one of the classic balancing relationships that melatonin has is with a molecule called serotonin. So when we think of serotonin, we think of antidepressants, but serotonin isn't really an antidepressant molecule. It's more like a coping molecule. It's a daytime molecule. Historically, or from an evolutionary standpoint, our threats came in the daytime. That's when you are out and about and doing things. So serotonin makes you aware, it makes you vigilant.
0:03:09.4 BF: One of the best things you could do if you wanna wake up first thing in the morning is look right at the sun for a second. You don't want to burn your eyes or anything, but if you don't want to look right at the sun, look indirectly at the sun because that will stimulate serotonin. Sunlight stimulates serotonin, is a daytime molecule, and you'll have more serotonin for the day. Melatonin is antagonizes serotonin, and while serotonin is a daytime molecule, melatonin is a nighttime molecule, and melatonin is actually in balance with serotonin. And so the more serotonin you have, the more melatonin you'll have. They kind of relate to each other. While serotonin is a vigilance molecule, melatonin is a relaxing molecule. So we take it to sleep, but it has much more benefits than sleep. It helps relax things. It's also, not only in balance with melatonin, it's also in balance with cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
0:03:56.3 BF: So melatonin has a general calming effect on the body. While we take it for sleep, it doesn't just have benefits for sleep. It has benefits for calming, for example, the intestines, and it can be used to treat heartburn. In fact, high doses of melatonin have been used pretty successfully to treat heartburn. Melatonin also has a general immune system stimulating effectiveness, and it's actually part of the COVID protocol. When President Trump had COVID, they gave him melatonin, not to help him sleep, but because it upregulated the immune system. Strengthening the immune system is associated with calming. When we're hyped up, when we have excess cortisol, our immune system becomes suppressed. That's why they give you hydrocortisone cream when you have an immune system reaction. So melatonin has an immune stimulating effect, immune boosting effect. It has a calming effect. It has an antioxidant effect.
0:04:44.1 BF: And for the skin, it is especially important for protecting the skin from assaults, from radiation, from ultraviolet radiation, from environmental toxins. It has a general health promoting effect on the body. Melatonin deficiencies are very common, especially as we get older and especially as our stress hormone levels build up. Because melatonin is being used to balance that cortisol, if cortisol stays elevated, you're gonna run outta melatonin to balance out the cortisol. So you want to think of melatonin as a general soporific, a calming molecule, even though it's ideal for helping you sleep, although it helps you fall asleep, but it doesn't necessarily help you stay asleep. So a lot of people will take melatonin and they'll find that they go out, they're drowsy, but then they wake up in the middle of the night. That's because in the middle of the night, a lot of people will have either a nightmare or their blood sugar will drop, both of which will cause cortisol to spike.
0:05:39.2 BF: And I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but you bounce outta bed and you can't fall back asleep. And that usually has to do with either a drop in blood sugar, which occurs in the middle of the night, or something that you just thought about in your sleep and you had some kind of nightmare and that spiked your cortisol. So melatonin can help you fall asleep, but it doesn't necessarily help you stay asleep. But you wanna think of melatonin, not necessarily as a sleep molecule, but you wanna think of melatonin as a calming molecule. You can naturally up-regulate your melatonin by increasing your serotonin, and sunlight is the best way to increase your serotonin.
0:06:09.3 MS: One of the things that I've heard is that you should limit the amount of melatonin you take because that will affect your ability to naturally create it.
0:06:16.2 BF: Yes, yes, that's true about all hormones. When the body's getting it exogenously, it has a tendency to drop its own natural production. Now, that can be an issue if you're young and you're using melatonin and you're making a lot of melatonin, but as people age, they don't make as much melatonin. So the decrease in melatonin is not as significant in an older person whose melatonin levels are so low compared to the melatonin that they're getting in their body. So as you age, that becomes less significant. But if you're a young person and you're making melatonin any way, you probably don't want to take too much or you want to skip days kinda thing, 'cause you don't wanna suppress your body's natural melatonin. That's true about all hormones. So as we age, our hormone production naturally decreases, it becomes less significant. But for younger folks, I would say take time off or take days off from your melatonin or use lower doses.
0:07:00.7 BF: And by the way, you can take pretty high doses of melatonin. The protocol for GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease for melatonin is like 16 milligrams a day. And the average dose of melatonin is like 2 or 3 milligrams of melatonin. You want to consider though melatonin to be a really, really important anti-aging molecule. It's one of the most important anti-aging molecules, and it's so interesting to me how cheap it is. I mean, you can get like six months worth of melatonin for $20 at the health food store if you're taking 3 milligrams a day. So it's really, really cheap and it's a wonderful anti-aging molecule. And it's good for your skin too, not just taking it internally, but also topically, and I use melatonin in some formulations.
0:07:37.7 MS: How is melatonin having an effect on GERD or acid reflux?
0:07:41.4 BF: Well, that's a great question. Remember melatonin is a calming molecule. Serotonin, which is melatonin's antagonistic molecule, speeds things up. It increases motility, the movement of the digestive tract, the movement of the intestine. Melatonin has a calming effect on all of that, and that's how it's used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Not just GERD, but irritable bowel syndrome, hyperspasmocity, a spastic colon, because of its general calming effect on the body. So the sleep idea is an extreme example of the calming effect of melatonin. So it's not... We think of it as a sleep molecule and it does promote sleep and it's levels go up as nighttime approaches, but it's more like it's a relaxing molecule.
0:08:24.9 MS: So if you're taking melatonin, whether it's for sleep or something else like GERD, do you have to be doing something to then also increase your serotonin and counteract those effects of melatonin?
0:08:37.1 BF: Well, it's probably a good idea to make sure that... Well, serotonin is turned into melatonin. So serotonin production, the more serotonin you have, the more melatonin you're gonna make. So yeah, increasing your serotonin is a great way to increase your melatonin, because melatonin comes from serotonin. And like I said, sunlight is one of the most powerful ways that you can increase serotonin. In fact, there's... Melatonin is made in the pineal gland, which is a gland that is linked to the eyes. In fact, the pineal gland has been called your third eye, and in fact, there's actually eye tissue, or light sensitive tissue, we'll say, in your pineal gland. Isn't that interesting? Deep in your brain, you have tissue that's sensitive to light, and in response to that light, serotonin is produced. Serotonin is also associated with psychedelic or spiritual experiences.
0:09:26.3 BF: So it's thought that the pineal gland, Descartes, the philosopher Descartes, called it the seed of the soul. And the pineal gland is where serotonin and the melatonin are made. They're made in other places too. In fact, the skin makes them, and the digestive tract makes them. And by the way, serotonin, even though we think of it as a mood hormone, is really mostly a blood hormone. Sero means blood, and serotonin helps us handle stress. That's its real role, is to help us deal with stress, deal with the stresses of life. So increasing your serotonin levels is a great way to increase your melatonin levels. And not only is sun exposure a great way to increase your serotonin, but getting the sun through your eyes so that it can hit the pineal gland is a great way to increase serotonin. And it's thought, and this makes sense, that one of the reasons why people have serotonin deficiencies, why so many people have serotonin deficiencies and are dealing with the mood impacts of low serotonin, is because we wear sunglasses.
0:10:17.4 MS: Interesting. So from a skincare perspective, is melatonin also calming the skin?
0:10:22.3 BF: Yes. Yes.
0:10:22.6 MS: Would you be applying that topically or?
0:10:24.9 BF: Yes. Yes.
0:10:25.2 MS: Really?
0:10:25.5 BF: It has a calming effect on the skin. It's made in skin cells. Melatonin is actually made in skin cells, and that's exactly what it does. It has a calming effect on the skin. That's why, for assaults on the skin, like solar radiation assaults or any kind of radiation, electronic radiation assaults or environmental assaults, melatonin has a kind of calming effect to keep the skin cells from becoming hyped up.
0:10:48.5 MS: Huh. Would you combine melatonin with other ingredients for best results?
0:10:55.2 BF: Heck yeah. Heck yeah. Niacin is great to go. We talked about niacin on the last program. By the way, there's a very important relationship between niacin and melatonin, and both have anti-stress effects. Both niacin and melatonin have anti-stress effects on the skin. Both are important for healthy skin barrier, for example. And interestingly enough, niacin, because of its relationship to tryptophan or to serotonin, also has a relationship to melatonin. So under conditions of niacin deficiency, your serotonin levels will drop because tryptophan will be shunted into making niacin so it won't be available to make serotonin. When serotonin levels drop, your melatonin levels drop. So there's a really important relationship between niacin and taking niacin and melatonin. By taking niacin internally, you can allow your body to use the tryptophan for making serotonin, which will in turn help you make melatonin. Does that make sense? It's kind of confusing.
0:11:50.0 MS: It is confusing.
0:11:51.4 BF: And the bottom line is, by using niacin, you'll spare your tryptophan for making serotonin, which will allow you to make more melatonin.
0:12:00.5 MS: Is everybody gonna respond to melatonin differently?
0:12:03.4 BF: No.
0:12:03.4 MS: Or are there side effects that anyone should be concerned about?
0:12:05.5 BF: The side effects are drowsiness. It's about as non-toxic as you can get considering it's a hormone. I've never heard of melatonin toxicity actually. I don't think there is any melatonin toxicity. And I suppose you could take like a ridiculous amount, but you'll just get drowsy, and that is the only downside. That's why you don't wanna take melatonin during the day 'cause it will make you drowsy. But for people who are hyped up or people who are withdrawing from opiates, when you withdraw from opiates, you get an activation of your stress nervous system, melatonin has a nice calming effect. Anytime you're hyped... A blood pressure lowering effect. Anytime your symptoms are the signs of a hyped up nervous system, melatonin can have a nice calming effect in your body. So you don't wanna take too much. 3-6 milligrams, something like that, and that's even a kind of a high dose. Unless you're actually treating GERD or treating intestinal spasmosity, then you wanna take higher doses. But for most people, 3 milligrams is plenty. 3-6 milligrams is even a little bit high.
0:13:00.6 MS: That concludes our show for today, and we thank you for listening. But if you just can't get enough of Ben Fuchs, the ASCP Rogue Pharmacist, you can listen to his syndicated radio program at brightsideben.com. For more information on this episode or for ways to connect with Ben Fuchs or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes.