A common antioxidant used as a dye in laboratories could one day be added to skin care products as way to slow the signs of ageing, a recent study on the effects of a chemical called methylene blue on human skin cells suggests.
The compound did a better job of helping cells called fibroblasts survive longer, divide faster, and show fewer indicators of ageing than several other antioxidants.
“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 researcher Zheng-Mei Xiong from the University of Maryland. ‘Cellular senescence’ is the term used to describe when normal cells stop dividing.
Fibroblasts are part of a family of connective tissues responsible for producing materials such as cartilage or bone.
In our skin, fibroblasts produce long fibres of collagen – a key component in making your skin tough enough to resist tearing – and a protein called elastin, which adds flexability to your skin so it can stretch and pull back together.
As we age, fibroblasts produce lower amounts of collagen and higher amounts of an enzyme that breaks it apart.
Broken collagen fibres aren’t as effective at giving skin a solid structure as intact fibres. They also don’t give fibroblasts something to grip onto, causing them to collapse and make even less collagen, in a feedback cycle that leads to thin skin that tears easily.
Fibroblast cells also produce lower amounts of elastin over time, preventing the body’s layer of skin from pulling back into a smooth, wrinkle-free surface.
Unfortunately, fibroblasts tend to divide only about 60 times before switching off, mostly because their DNA suffers increasing amounts of damage as they replicate. They also tend to stiffen with age, making it hard for the cells to move through the skin.
Lots of things can increase the damage to a fibroblast’s DNA, from the ultraviolet…