The latest buzz-phrase in skincare seems to be “stem cells”. Here’s the nitty gritty on what they are and how they’re relevant to skin…
What are stem cells?
Your body is made up of lots of different cells with different functions – some types of cells include red blood cells, nerve cells and muscle cells. But as you might know, all of us humans started off as one cell, which split into two, then four and so on, and eventually those few identical cells turn into all the different cells in the body. These cells, which have the ability to turn into any other type of cell, are known as stem cells.
As well as in embryos, there are stem cells in adult bodies, ready to multiply and replace a range of different dead or damaged cells, but these are usually buried amongst lots of other regular cells.
How are they relevant to skincare?
As skin ages, it thins, which means the skin looks less plump, it starts sagging, and fine lines and wrinkles appear. Therefore, in theory, if you can make the stem cells in skin multiply faster, more skin cells will be produced, and skin will appear more youthful.
What about plant stem cells in moisturisers?
As far as I know, there isn’t any sort of good explanation for adding plant stem cells in creams. Plant cells are completely different from human cells, and therefore can’t create new skin cells.
Examples of products which supposedly work on stem cells in skin include:
O Cosmedics Stem Cell & EGF Booster
This contains 3 peptides which are touted to mimic chemicals that are naturally in the body to trigger stem cell proliferation, increase fibroblast activity (fibroblasts are cells which produce the major structural components of skin) and inhibit cell death. The active ingredients are contained in microcapsules which have been shown in in vitro fluorescent tagging studies to allow peptides to penetrate the skin. In vivo studies on humans are in progress.
Jeunesse’s Luminesce range
This range’s key ingredient is a different mix of actives extracted from cultured cells. Adult stem cells are collected and grown, then the mix of signalling molecules that they produce (including cytokines and growth factors – about 200 of them) is extracted and put into the products. This is supposed to encourage stem cells to activate by replicating the environment in which youthful stem cells naturally live. I’m not completely convinced by the explanation of how it works, but skin imaging studies on people who have used the products show dramatic improvements.
Overall, I think products targeting stem cells represent an exciting new era in anti-ageing skincare. However, despite the amazing results that stem cell-targeted treatments give, I’m not convinced that enough studies have been done on their safety. Using powerful treatments in general tend to come with more powerful side effects. For example, some cytokines which act on stem cells may also act on normal cells in unexpected ways, such as some which are thought to speed up the growth of cancerous cells – this is a particular concern when you’re using a largely unknown mixture of many chemicals (even if they’re naturally produced). That’s not to say that it’s necessarily worse than going under the knife though! Hopefully, by the time I’m in the anti-ageing target market, we’ll have a better idea of the risks involved.