Stem Cell Skin Cream Beauty Promise
The New Stem Cell Beauty Promise
THE NEWEST BEAUTY FRONTIER
The hottest innovation in medicine may also be the cure for aging skin. But is it safe?
By Melinda Wenner Mayer
Ever since doctors performed the first stem cell transplant in the late 1950s, the so-called blank-slate cells have held a promise that seems almost too good to be true: human body cells that can heal and perhaps cure what ails us. In the intervening decades, stem cell transplants have been used on thousands of cancer patients and are being hailed as a potential cure for Parkinson’s disease, paralysis, and in a new twist, aging skin. As stem cell skin care hits store shelves with claims it can quickly erase wrinkles, we investigate what we know – and what we don’t – right now.
Where Do Stem Cell Come From?
If the idea of human cells in your night cream makes you queasy, relax: You won’t actually find any in your topicals. These creams contain proteins extracted by stem cells grown in a lab. The original stem cells come from various sources. Stemage Skin Care, a company started by a surgeon affiliated with the Washington University School of Medicine, uses stem cells from anonymous bone marrow donors, while Lifeline Skin Care used embryonic-like stem cells made from unused, unfertilized eggs (not from human embryos) donated by in vitro fertilization labs. Your own fat stem cells, which are extracted from your belly or thigh, form the basis for U Autologous creams, sold by Personal Cell Sciences.
How Are They Applied To Skin?
In what might be called the next generation of Botox, some dermatologists are injecting patients with cells extracted from thigh or belly fat to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. In theory, this so-called stem cell face-lift could last far longer than Botox, because stem cells may not only help skin cells regenerate, they also stimulate fat cells in the face to grow and expand (we lose fat there as we age), filling out the face and reducing sagging.
Other stem cell anti-agers are applied topically. Once cells have been grown in sterile conditions, companies bottle what’s left behind (essentially a mixture of growth-inducing proteins) and mix them with antioxidants, moisturizers, and other skin-protecting substances.
How Do They Work, Exactly?
Proteins released by stem cells have been shown to aid in wound healing, so “it only makes sense that the same treatments could work for chronic skin conditions, like wrinkles, sun damage, and redness,” says Fredric A. Stern, MD, a cosmetic surgeon based in Bellevue, WA, who tested the products made by U Autologous in a 2012 clinical trial. The stem cells are thought to encourage cell regeneration, which repairs cells damaged by the sun and aging while also stimulating them to product more collagen and elastin, which thicken and firm skin.
How Good Is The Evidence?
In 2012 clinical study overseen by Dr. Stern, nine middle-aged men and women used the U Autologous cream twice a day on one side of the face. After 8 weeks, computer analysis revealed that the participants had 25% fewer facial wrinkles on that side and also produced more elastin and collagen. Lifeline Skin Care recently conducted a similar study: Daily and nightly use of their Eye Firming Complex reduced the depth of fine lines and wrinkles by 25% after 56 days. However, the results of these clinical trials haven’t been published in peer-reviewed journals, an important scientific stamp of approval. As for stem cell face-lifts, the evidence is scant. In 2011, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons warned that more research is needed to ensure that such treatments are effective and safe
How Much Does It Cost?
The suite of U Autologous creams and serum costs $1,200 to $1,500 per month after an initial $3,000 visit, and 1 ounce each of Lifeline’s day and night serums sell for $340. A 30-day supply of Stemage’s three essential creams sells for $49.95. Stem cell injections cost upwards of $4,000.