Glucosamine is currently used in the treatment of arthritis patients in the US, but a series of studies that were presented at the Acadamy's annual meeting indicate that the topical application of the supplement can normalize pigment overproduction in skin cells, something which is normally due to UV exposure.
Glucosamine is extracted from the shell of crabs, lobster and shrimps, and also marketed by Cargill is a non-animal, non-shelfish derived product. Chondroitin sulfate is extracted from animal cartilage like shark cartilage.
They are the most commonly used supplements for osteoarthritis, with estimated sales of $730m in the US in 2004.
Alexa Kimball, assistant professor of dermatology at the Harvard Medical School headed one of the three studies into the topical use of glucosamine. She says that although plenty is known about the substance's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, little is known about its effects on skin health.
However, she believes that the latest findings from the studies suggest that the topical applications for the substance could be far-reaching.
"These findings could impact the way dermatologists treat UV related skin damage," Kimball said.
Likewise, it is also suggested that the glucosamine could have personal care applications, most likely as an active ingredient in anti-ageing or sun care products.
The presentation included data from three studies that focused on a formulation including N-acetyl glucosamine, which is a more stable version of the supplement.
N-acetyl glucosamine is a substance that inhibits glycosylation of pro-tyrosinase - a key process in melanin overproduction in UV damaged skin cells that can lead to a host of related conditions such as liver spots and freckles.
In vivo and in vitro studies suggest that topical application of N-acetyl glucosamine can help improve skin tone, barrier function and hyperpigmentation.
The efficacy of the formulation was further backed up using data from SIAscope, a non-invasive skin imaging system developed by UK company Astron Clinica, which enabled the scientists to view the effects of the treatment on pigment producing cells in the face for the first time ever.
Two studies, one on a group of Japanese women aged 25-55 and one on a group of Caucasian women aged 35-65, concluded that N-aceytl glucosamine and N-acetyl glucosamine and nicinamide were more effective in reducing hyperpigmentation compared to a placebo and a nicinamide complex respectively.
Another study supervised by Dr. Kimball, chose 200 subject aged 40-60 with facial hyperpigmentation. The first 100 were given an SPF-15 moisturizing sunscreen lotion and a moisturizing cream with an N-acetyl glucosamine and niacinamide complex, while the other 100 used the same sunscreen and moisturizers without the supplements.
All the subjects were tested for effects of pigmentation and the results showed that there was a clear improvement in the effects of hyperpigmentation in the subjects who had used the supplemented moisturizer and sun screen.
The 200 subjects that had used the supplemented products were then tested using the SIAscope and the results showed a distinct reduction in both hyper-melanized spot size and heterogeneity of melanin distribution.
"This SIAscope technology allow us to non-invasively measure and understand biological components that comprise skin tone. It is an amazing clinical tool to help us evaluate new treatments and their ability to improve skin," said Dr. Paul Matts principal scientist from P&G Beauty.
Likewise, the study also tests for the effect of N-acetyl glucosamine and nicinamide in in vitro human skin cultures as well as clinical trials on women aged 35-60 with moderate to fine wrinkles.
The study found that the two complexes stimulated the production of hyaluronic acid, a key process in the rehydration of skin, as well as increased collagen expression.
The tests showed that in human subjects the improved hydration brought about by the complexes led to a visible reduction in the fine lines and wrinkle of the women who tested the formulation, particularly in the eye area of the face.
The researchers have hypothesized that this action was brought about by the role that glucosamine play in hyaluronic acide synthesis and leads the team to believe that it could be a highly effect anti-aging treatment.