This Antioxidant May Be the Next Big Thing in Skin Care

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Scientists have devised a way, using a known chemical antioxidant, to reduce the signs of aging in skin cells and make older cells young again.

Testing an antioxidant known as methylene blue, the researchers may have discovered a powerful new way to invigorate a person’s appearance.

Methylene blue is a medication and a dye. Credit: CEEA Erasmus/YouTube

“Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products,” said senior author Kan Cao, associate professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland.

The University of Maryland research team tested methylene blue on collagen-producing skin cells called fibroblasts, which are critical to the structural health of skin. The first tests used skin cells from middle-aged donors.

When introduced to methylene blue, the fibroblasts “experienced a decrease in damaging molecules known as reactive oxygen species, a reduced rate of cell death and an increase in the rate of cell division throughout the four-week treatment,” according to the study.

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One of the most promising aspects of the study is that the methylene blue treatment wasn’t just a quick fix.

“The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells,” said Cao.

The researchers also tested the antioxidant on skin cells from donors over the age of 80, during which they discovered reduced activity among two genes that indicate aging in cells, suggesting the chemical works on a genetic level.

“I was encouraged and excited to see skin fibroblasts, derived from individuals more than 80 years old, grow much better in methylene blue-containing medium with reduced cellular senescence markers,” said lead author Zheng-Mei Xiong, assistant research professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland. “Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin aging for all ages.”

FDA-Ready Studies Prove Effective

In addition to testing the antioxidant on skin cells from human donors, the University of Maryland researchers also performed experiments on simulated human skin, which includes nearly all layers and internal structures of human skin and is appropriate for testing purposes under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

In these experiments, too, the scientists saw a time-turning reaction.

“This system allowed us to test a range of aging symptoms that we can’t replicate in cultured cells alone,” Cao said. “Most surprisingly, we saw that model skin treated with methylene blue retained more water and increased in thickness – both of which are features typical of younger skin.”

A flask of methylene blue. Credit: Amanda Slater/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The researchers tested the safety of cosmetic creams infused with methylene blue on the FDA-approved skin study and discovered that, even in high doses, the treatment resulted in no negative reactions. That means the next step in the process — putting the treatment on shelves — may not be far away.

“We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue. Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products,” Cao said. “We are also very excited to develop the three-dimensional skin model system. Perhaps down the road we can customize the system with bioprinting, such that we might be able to use a patient’s own cells to provide a tailor-made testing platform specific to their needs.”

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Richard Scott

Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.