Methylene blue is a common and inexpensive antioxidant that has been used in the clinical treatment of a variety of ailments; it has also recently been shown to have anti-aging effects. Scientists at the University of Maryland have aimed to learn more about the effect that methylene blue has on human skin. They found that it was able to reduce or even reverse several established markers of aging in both synthetic skin tissue and human skin cells in culture. The research has been published in Scientific Reports, and is summarized in the following brief video.
"Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products," explained senior author Kan Cao, an Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at UMD. "The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells.”
The investigators exposed healthy and diseased skin cells from middle-aged patients to methylene blue and three other antioxidants, finding that the methylene blue was better than the others at improving the symptoms of aging in both cell types. The diseased cells were affected by progeria, a disease in which aging is accelerated. The scientists observed a reduction in cell death, a decrease in deleterious relative oxygen species, and an increase in cell division in the skin cells, fibroblasts.
Cao and her team also exposed fibroblasts from donors over age 80 to methylene blue for the same four week period, again finding improvements. The researchers saw a reduction in the expression of two genes often used to indicate aging in cells, senescence-associated beta-galactosidase and p16.
"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, an Assistant Research Professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at UMD. "Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin aging for all ages.”
Cao and Xiong have created a model that simulates the three-dimensional structure of skin and except for sweat glands and hair follicles, includes the major structures and layers of skin. The researchers noted this model, which was used for additional work in this report, could also be used in safety testing required by the Food and Drug Administration.
"This system allowed us to test a range of aging symptoms that we can't replicate in cultured cells alone," Cao explained. "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.”
Cao, Xiong and their colleagues were also encouraged by testing they performed on cosmetic creams that contained methylene blue as they showed little indications that irritation was occurring.
"We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue. Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products. 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,” Cao concluded.