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Science finds new fix for UV-damaged skin in arthritis treatment

For many women, accumulated sun exposure has already permanently damaged their skin cells, causing them to overproduce pigment that shows up as unsightly dark splotches and uneven skin tone over time. But new research indicates that glucosamine - a compound best known for treating arthritis – can actually help stop the formation of new age spots, and help fade existing ones.

"These findings on glucosamine may impact the way dermatologists treat UV-related skin damage in the future. Right now we have prescription and surgical options, which some people aren't willing to try," says Alexa Kimball, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology, Harvard Medical School and lead researcher on one of the studies testing glucosamine. "It's exciting to see this level of research being done on topical cosmetic applications of glucosamine, and the promising results."

An International Consensus on Glucosamine Skin Benefits In early 2006, a group of leading dermatologists from around the world and Procter & Gamble Beauty scientists convened in Rome to review and discuss the glucosamine data. The panel determined that n-acetyl glucosamine, a more stable form of glucosamine, reduced the amount of melanin in skin cells, meaning there was less excess pigment in the skin to cause age spots. Additionally, the panel concluded that a formulation of n-acetyl glucosamine and niacinamide, a vitamin B derivative, significantly reduced the amount and appearance of hyperpigmentation, age spots and uneven melanin distribution. Researchers paired n-acetyl glucosamine with niacinamide because they knew that niacinamide had similar effects on slowing down pigment production and hypothesized that the two might work better together.

The panel reviewed data from three studies involving the n-acetyl glucosamine /niacinamide formulation. Tissue studies showed a reduction in melanin and an increase in collagen – a key structural protein in skin. Three double-blinded placebo- controlled clinical studies involving more than 200 subjects, including a study supervised by Dr. Kimball, showed improvement in hyperpigmentation and skin tone and a decrease in the size of age spots. The research is set to be presented in July at the "Academy '06" meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), and was first presented at the AAD annual meeting in March 2006.

Skin Biology Gives Researchers Clues for Developing New Treatments The interest in glucosamine as a possible treatment comes in part from what scientists already know happens on a cellular level when skin is exposed to UV radiation. Chronic UV exposure can damage melanocytes, cells in the skin responsible for producing melanin, in a variety of different ways. Often, this damage can lead to a loss of cellular control, and the production of chemicals that allow the cells to keep producing more and more melanin – which eventually leads to age spots and uneven discoloration. Additionally, as skin ages, cell turnover slows down and melanin "dust" – microscopic particles of melanin – can become trapped in the upper layers of skin, resulting in a duller appearance.

Researchers are familiar with these processes and that has helped them focus on substances - such as n-acetyl glucosamine - that are known to interrupt the UV-triggered chemical signals that turn on melanin production. Skin care products that utilize signal-blocking ingredients currently exist in the marketplace, but products with n-acetyl glucosamine/niacinamide - which block melanin at two different points in the pigment producing process - are among the newest and most studied.

"Pigmentation is an appearance issue that strikes an emotional chord for women, and even though we're constantly telling our patients about the importance of UV-protection, once the damage is done, we need to be able to provide them with ways to help," says Dr. Kimball. "The level of research and validation on topical cosmetic application of glucosamine will help it stand apart from other ingredients when it comes to improving tone and treating hyperpigmentation."

Shirley Johnson | EurekAlert!
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