Melatonin: A Cutaneous Perspective on its Production, Metabolism, and Functions

J Invest Dermatol. 2018 Mar;138(3):490-499. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2017.10.025. Epub 2018 Feb 7.


Melatonin, an evolutionarily ancient derivative of serotonin with hormonal properties, is the main neuroendocrine secretory product of the pineal gland. Although melatonin is best known to regulate circadian rhythmicity and lower vertebrate skin pigmentation, the full spectrum of functional activities of this free radical-scavenging molecule, which also induces/promotes complex antioxidative and DNA repair systems, includes immunomodulatory, thermoregulatory, and antitumor properties. Because this plethora of functional melatonin properties still awaits to be fully appreciated by dermatologists, the current review synthesizes the main features that render melatonin a promising candidate for the management of several dermatoses associated with substantial oxidative damage. We also review why melatonin promises to be useful in skin cancer prevention, skin photo- and radioprotection, and as an inducer of repair mechanisms that facilitate the recovery of human skin from environmental damage. The fact that human skin and hair follicles not only express functional melatonin receptors but also engage in substantial, extrapineal melatonin synthesis further encourages one to systematically explore how the skin's melatonin system can be therapeutically targeted in future clinical dermatology and enrolled for preventive medicine strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Hair Follicle / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / pharmacology
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Melatonin / analysis
  • Receptors, Melatonin / physiology
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Melatonin