The United States skin care industry is huge, and expected to reach nearly $11 billion by 2018. One of the biggest sellers are products that help preserve and promote youthful skin. Researchers at the University of Maryland believe they've found an antioxidant that promotes signs of skin health and may preserve the appearance of youthful skin.  

In a study published online in Scientific Reports, the team reported that a chemical called methylene blue helped to slow down, and even reverse, some signs of skin aging in both cultured human skin cells and simulated skin cells. The chemical caused skin cells to retain more water and increased their thickness, as well as decreased the expression of two genes commonly used as indicators of cellular aging.

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"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," lead study author Zheng-Mei Xiong, said in a recent statement. "Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin aging for all ages."

The team tested the chemical on a form of simulated human skin developed by two of the researchers. This simulated skin allowed them to test a wide range of aging symptoms that couldn't be replicated in cultured skin cells. They also tested the chemical on cultured skin samples from healthy middle-aged donors; donors aged 80 and older; and donors with progeria, a rare genetic disease that accelerates aging. Not only did methylene blue perform better than three other known antioxidants, but the chemical was also well tolerated and did not irritate the skin.

"Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products," said senior author Kan Cao, in a statement. "The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells."

Methylene blue is already used for a number of medical treatments, such as the blood condition methemoglobinemia, urinary tract infections, and to help dye certain body parts to be seen better during surgery or on an X-ray, Drugs.com reported.

According to Cao in an email to Medical Daily, there are currently no skin care products on the market that contain methylene blue, and this is an avenue the researchers are hoping to pursue.

“Antioxidants are popular in cosmetic skin care formulation. Methylene Blue, according to our study, can be considered an antioxidant,” explained Cao. “However, it seems to carry additional... anti-aging benefits beyond a normal antioxidant....”

In addition to eventually using the product in animal and then human testing, the team would also like to incorporate bioprinting technology into their research. 

“With the fast-developing 3D bioprinting technology, the future will be (to) grow and bioprint customer's own skin tissue for personalized analysis,” explained Kao. “We can apply the methods described in the paper to determine the dosage, potential side effects and maybe conduct a screen for the best formulation for each individual.”

Source: Xiong AM, O’Donovan M, Sun L, Chio JI, Ren M, Cao K. Anti-Aging Potentials of Methylene Blue for Human Skin Longevity. Scientific Reports . 2017

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