Experiments with human skin cells and the simulated skin tissues suggest that Methylene Blue has a great potential for skin care.
(These cross-section images show three-dimensional human skin models made of living skin cells. Untreated model skin (left panel) shows a thinner dermis layer (black arrow) compared with model skin treated with the antioxidant methylene blue (right panel).
The researchers, from the University of Maryland (UMD), have demonstrated that the chemical—an antioxidant called methylene blue (MB) — has a great potential for skin care and it could slow or reverse several well-known signs of aging. The study was published in the journal “Scientific Reports” on May 30, 2017.
Oxidative stress is the major cause of skin aging that includes wrinkles, pigmentation, and weakened wound healing ability. Application of antioxidants in skin care is well accepted as an effective approach to delay the skin aging process. Oxidative stress is basically an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.
“Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products,” said Dr. Kan Cao, 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.”
In this study, MB was tested on skin cells, from healthy middle-aged donors, as well as those diagnosed with progeria—a rare genetic condition that causes a person to age prematurely. The researchers have also compared three other known antioxidants N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), MitoQ and MitoTEMPO (mTEM) along with Methylene Blue. Interestingly, MB was the most effective in improving several age-related symptoms.
The investigators speculate that MB exerts its potent antioxidant effects through multiple pathways like blocking oxidant production and boosting antioxidant defense. MB possesses unique properties, including a wide solubility in both water and organic solvents. These properties allow MB to enter easily through bilayer membranes of skin cells and reach different cellular compartments.
“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 Dr. Zheng-Mei Xiong, lead author of the study and an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at UMD.
One of the most important functions of the skin is to provide a barrier to protect the body against environmental insults and to prevent excess water evaporation.
Next, UMD Investigators have performed several experiments on the simulated skin (a system developed by Cao and Xiong)—a three-dimensional 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. “This system allowed us to test a range of aging symptoms that we can’t replicate in cultured cells alone,” Dr. 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.”
“We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue. Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products,” Dr. 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 bio-printing, such that we might be able to use a patient’s own cells to provide a tailor-made testing platform specific to their needs.”