If you’re like me, you prefer natural products. Labels that boast “free of artificial flavors and dyes” are selling points. And you definitely try to stay away from chemicals. I’m sure you’d never expect to see me recommending products that contain a chemical dye. But believe it or not, that’s exactly what I’m about to do. Here’s why.
There’s one chemical dye that is actually good for you. It’s called methylene blue – and it’s been around since 1876. Despite its name, it starts out as a dark green powder. It turns blue if you dissolve it in water. It has a variety of uses in the medical field. In fact, it does everything from staining tissue samples to keeping fish eggs fresh.
Wait – keeping fish eggs fresh? You would expect a dye to stain tissue samples. But why does it keep bacteria and fungi away from fish eggs? Or help treat issues that include schizophrenia, kidney stones, and even herpes infections? Clearly, this is no ordinary dye.
Unlike most chemical dyes, methylene blue actually functions as an antioxidant. And because of this, it’s able to improve the health of a variety of cell types – including skin cells. In fact, new research is discovering just how powerful it can be in protecting and even enhancing the skin.
Methylene Blue and Your Skin
Researchers at the University of Maryland have been investigating this chemical. They know it to be both inexpensive and safe, making it a good candidate for skincare products – especially if it can do more than just make the color attractive.
To test it, the researchers gathered skin cells from two groups of people. Healthy middle-aged adults made up one group. The other group of donors had a rare genetic disease called progeria. Progeria causes people to age much more rapidly than normal. So testing their skin cells can provide key information about a product’s effects on the aging process.
The researchers exposed skin cells from both groups to methylene blue for four weeks. They also exposed them to three other common antioxidants.
Methylene blue significantly outperformed the competition in both the healthy and the progeria cells. As we age, our skin cells experience damage from free radicals. Skin cells die off. And cell division slows. This detracts from our appearance.
Methylene blue, however, reduced the number of free radicals. It slowed the rate of cell death. And it sped up the cell-division process. These changes help skin from showing your age.
Helps the Skin of Those Over 80
The researchers decided to test it again – with a harder challenge. This time, they gathered skin cells from donors over the age of 80. Once again, the cells experienced a number of improvements in age-related markers. In particular, two genetic indicators of cellular aging decreased. So it seems that the dye can outpace the aging process even into the senior years. The researchers believe that these age-slowing effects will certainly occur in younger skin as well.
Still, the researchers wanted to perform additional tests. So they created a simulated skin model made of living skin cells. Their model has all the normal layers and structures of skin tissue. It’s just missing hair follicles and sweat glands. It allows them to see in greater detail how a product affects the skin.
Sure enough, methylene blue continued to be a winner. The researchers found that treating the skin with methylene blue helped it retain more water. And the skin actually got thicker. Since skin thickness typically decreases by 6% on average every decade, this is a particularly helpful benefit. It even promoted wound healing in the skin. These changes help skin appear more youthful. And the positive changes aren’t just temporary – they actually change the skin cells permanently.
Next, the researchers formulated cosmetic creams that included methylene blue. They tested these on the model too. They found that even if they used high concentrations of the dye, the model showed little to no irritation. It seems that methylene blue is not only safe but also beneficial. Thanks to this research, we know it’s actually a way to help our skin turn back the clock.