Stem Cells

Stem Cells and Skin Care

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The latest skin care “must have” ingredient is plant stem cells. Now if you’re asking yourself why exactly you need, or want to be using, these substances which are technically called meristem cells on your skin, this article is written for you.

So first of all what exactly are “stem cells”? Well, the simple answer is stem cells are precursor cells. They are essentially blank cells that can be turned into any other type of cell. They stay dormant until they are triggered to become specialized. Scientists refer to them as “pluripotent”. That means they are potent in many different ways. Stem cells in other words are like magical raw material “master” cells that may be transformed into bone cells, OR skin cells, OR brain cells, OR any other of the 220 different types of biological cells. That’s pretty cool. This pluripotent property makes stem cells the ideal raw material for the body to use to repair various organs and tissues in the case of injury, damage, or simply wear and tear. And it makes them potentially very useful for medical treatments that can restore and regenerate the health of bodily systems that contain cells damaged from disease.

Plant Stem Cells

SuperManu – Own work, by Clematis 1) Meristem; 2) Columelle 3) Lateral part of the tip; 4) Dead Cells; 5) Elongation zone

The skin which is turning over and subject to more damage than most other systems in the body understandably contains large concentrations of stem cells. Thus manufacturers of skin care products have become intrigued with the use of these elements for their potential use in skin care products.

Can topically applied human stem cell-containing products really have an effect on the skin? Well, that an interesting question that is unfortunately impossible to answer. That’s because human stem cells are tightly regulated by the FDA. As of April 2014, the FDA has not approved any stem cell-based products for consumer or patient use, other than blood forming stem cells designed for the treatment of certain blood cancers and some inherited metabolic and immune system disorders. And the FDA takes the illegal marketing of these kinds of products very seriously. In December 2011, three men were arrested and charged with 15 counts of criminal activity related to manufacturing, selling and using stem cells without FDA approval.

Thus the entrance of plant stem cells (technically called “meristem” cells) onto the skincare product stage. Cosmetic companies always looking for something new to market and sell, but legally prevented for exploiting the possible benefits of human stem cells in the creams and lotions have turned to the use of plant-derived stem cells which suffer no limitation from government intervention.

Meristem cells, like their human counterparts, are unspecialized and pluripotent. Like our stem cells they are chameleon-like and can become any other cell. Except, obviously they can only become any other plant cell. They can become root cells, or leaf cells, or pistol or stamen cells. They are, after all, the precursor masters cells for PLANTS.

What’s more, it’s really not possible to include active plant stem cells in a skin care products. Plant stem cell like all cells requires a growth medium; the right kinds of chemical and pH conditions. In addition to that, the anti-microbial and anti-oxidant systems required for preservation of most cosmetic products are toxic to stem cells (and really all cells).

What most manufacturers are able to do is include extracts of plant stem cells in their wares. Plants are cut to trigger the production of chemicals that form a healing tissue called a callous which contains undifferentiated meristem cells. The cells from this callous are then fed and grown in the lab where the callouses concentration of active substances is increased by up to a thousand times. The callous is then added to a liquid, typically water, glycerin or glycol, which serves to dissolve the actives that have been nurtured in the laboratory. This active material containing liquid which is essentially a type of tea is then used as a raw material for the production of supposed stem cell containing skin care products. What is important to recognize is this extract contains no meristem cells but simply the contents of these cells which have been dissolved in the liquid medium

This is not to say however, that there isn’t any upside using these kinds of ingredients. Even though it is not possible to get any actual stem cell benefits from meristem cells, there is a lot of nutritional value. That’s because stem cells, and the liquids they are extracted into, are absolutely packed with vital growth inducing environmental protecting and anti-aging active materials that can be exploited by human skin. Amino acids, trace minerals and bioflavonoids. In addition complex sugars and growth factors can help improve cell-to-cell communication, therefore helping maintain an overall healthy skin environment.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care