The breakthrough improved physical and genetic ageing markers in experiments with human skin cells and simulated skin tissues.
The anti-oxidant chemical was found to have long term anti-ageing effects that were not just temporary, according to US researchers.
It is hoped that the anti-oxidant -called methylene blue – a common inexpensive and safe chemical found in dyes could be added to skin cream to halt ageing.
In tests methylene blue was found to slow or reverse several well-known signs of ageing when tested in cultured human skin cells and simulated skin tissue.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Senior author Professor Kan Cao, an expert on cell biology and genetics at the University of Maryland, said: “Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful anti-oxidant for use in skin care products.
“The effects we have seen are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells.“
The researchers tested 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.
Methylene blue improved several age-related symptoms in cells from both healthy donors and progeria patients.
Skin cells experienced a decrease in damaging molecules, a reduced rate of cell death and an increase in the rate of cell division throughout the four-week treatment.
The researchers then tested methylene blue on older donors aged more than 80 for a month. 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 aging.
Co-author Professor Zheng-Mei Xiong said: “Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin ageing for all ages.“
The researchers also used simulated human skin to perform several more experiments.
Prof Cao said: “This 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.“
The researchers also used the model skin to test the safety of cosmetic creams with methylene blue added.
The results suggest that methylene blue causes little to no irritation, even at high concentrations.
Encouraged by these results, the researchers hope to develop safe and effective ways for consumers to benefit from the properties of methylene blue.
Prof Cao said: “We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue.
Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products.