skinWe have all fallen victim to cluttering our bathroom shelves with an abundance of cosmetic products with the promise of retaining youthful skin, and feeling deflated when none of them actually do. Well, the solution to this on-going issue could finally be upon us.

Data from a team of investigators at the University of Maryland suggests that thiazine dye methylene blue, previously used medicinally, may slow the ageing of human skin. The findings from the study were recently published in Scientific Reports.

The team tested the methylene blue for four weeks in skin cells from healthy middle-aged donors, as well as those diagnosed with progeria, a rare genetic disease that mimics the normal ageing process at an accelerated rate. Additionally, the researchers also tested three other known antioxidants: N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), MitoQ and MitoTEMPO (Mtem).

Senior study investigator, Kan Cao, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD, commented, “The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells.”

When put to practice, methylene blue outperformed the three antioxidants, improving several related symptoms in cells from both healthy donors and progeria patients. The skin – fibroblasts that produce the structural protein collagen, experienced a decrease in damaging molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), a reduced rate of cell death, and an increase in the rate of cell division throughout the four-week treatment.

To gain a clearer understanding of the results, the researchers also tested the methylene blue in fibroblasts from older donors (+80 years old) for a period of four weeks. At the end of the treatment, the cells from older donors had experienced a range of improvements, including decreased expression of two genes commonly used as indicators of cellular ageing.

“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,” explained lead study investigator Zheng-Mei Xiong, PhD, assistant research professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD. “Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin ageing for all ages.”

Furthering their results, the team used the simulated human skin to perform several more experiments. The 3D model made of living skin cells includes all the major layers and structures of skin tissue, with the exception of hair follicles and sweat glands.

Dr Cao noted, “The system allowed us to test a range of ageing symptoms that we can’t replicate in cultured cells alone. 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.”

What’s more is that there is no concern regarding the safety of using methylene blue with cosmetic cream. The investigators tested the dye on the skin of a model, and the results suggested that it caused little to no irritation, even at high concentrations. Encouraged by these results, the research team hopes to develop safe and effective ways for consumers to benefit from the properties of methylene blue.

“We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue. Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products,” added Dr Cao.

“We are also very excited to develop this three-dimensional skin model system. Perhaps down the road, we can customise 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.”