The following is a guest post from CEO Ada Polla, the CEO of a brand we love, Alchimie Forever. In addition to her duties as CEO, Ada still finds time to be involved in several ventures such as the Washington Spa Alliance and Fashion Group International (DC chapter), the editorial board of GCI Magazine and as a committee member for the International Spa Association. We thank Ada for her sharing her time and expertise with us.
Every couple of years, our industry comes up with a new buzz word, a hot topic that everyone is talking about and that promises to revolutionize skin care. For the last couple of years, that buzz phrase has been “stem cells.” Last week, I spoke about stem cells at the International Esthetics, Cosmetics and Spa Conference (IECSC) in NYC. Here are some highlights:
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells characterized by self-renewal (they can multiply to produce new stem cells) and by differentiation: upon exposure to tissue-specific biochemical signals, they turn into tissue-specific specialized cells (see image below).
Stem cells play a key role in tissue development, regeneration, and cellular renewal. There are two major categories of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells have the extraordinary potential to form all tissues of the body. They can be found in the early embryos (human embryos between 0 and 3-5 days) and are also present in the umbilical cord blood collected at birth.
Adult stem cells have been found in most tissues and organs of fetuses, children, and adults, including the skin. They contribute to tissue quality and ensure tissue renewal. Adult stem cells are somewhat less powerful than embryonic stem cells, as they are already “pre-determined”, i.e., engaged in a certain direction for differentiation. Their potential is thus more limited: you cannot create a whole human being with a single adult stem cell.
In adults, stem cells are not randomly distributed, but are concentrated in tiny regions called “niches.” In the skin, “niches” are found in hair follicles which maintain skin stem cells in a non-differentiated state. The epidermis stem cells are essentially located in the erector muscle of hairs. Skin stem cells may migrate either towards the surface of the skin to regenerate the epidermis or towards the base of the hair follicle to give rise to its constituents. Skin stem cells also continuously renew the skin.
Do Cosmetics Brands Use Actual Human Stem Cells?
While there are a number of brands on the market touting the use of human stem cells, read the fine print. No cosmetic brand is currently using whole human stem cells. Instead, they are using human stem cell extracts. That one additional word is key, indicating that the formulations are based on growth factors. Typically, should skin stem cell extracts be used, you will have a product containing epidermal growth factors (which can only be found in human skin stem cells), which will have powerful rejuvenation and repair benefits to the skin.
What about plant stem cells?
All plants contain stem cells that are located at their apical and root meristem. The meristems are composed of stem cells capable of generating an entire organism. Plant stem cells are found in those regions of the plant where growth takes place. There are nearly inexhaustible reservoirs of undifferentiated cells capable of self-sustaining and of providing precursors for differentiated cells.
It is therefore possible, from only small fragments of a plant’s meristem, to create multiple copies of the same plant, as well as to produce plant stem cell extract. Why should we care about plant stem cells? Well, plant stem cell extracts have already an anti-wrinkle effect on human skin (in vitro and in vivo).
Do Any Stem Cells in Particular Show Promise?
Plant stem cells contain molecules that help the skin’s repair and rejuvenation systems. While all plants indeed have stem cells within them, the most discussed in cosmetics today are edelweiss, the “magical apple,” and lilac stem cells.
The Edelweiss plant (which originates in Switzerland) is of interest even beyond stem cells as it is able to grow in extremely arid climates (minimal water, freezing temperatures). Specifically, the edelweiss plant contains various leontopodic acids, which have extremely high antioxidant activity. As the data below indicates (from IRB, the Italian manufacturer of Edelweiss stem cells), stem cell extracts from this plan show stronger antioxidant activity than many natural antioxidants including resveratrol and vitamin C in vitro, and fabulous clinical results (reduction of wrinkles) in vivo.
Beyond the edelweiss plant, much has been written in the press about the “Magical Swiss apples” (I love all of this talk of Switzerland!). The supplier of Uttwiller Spatlauber applies is Mibelle, also from Switzerland. You will find brands including 3Lab and Sonya Dakar touting the benefits of these magical apples, which also focus on rejuvenation and anti-aging.
Finally, lilac stem cells are also of interest, for their anti-inflammatory benefits (the supplier in this case is Covalence Laboratories, from Arizona). This extract is particularly suited to acne-prone skin.
In conclusion, plant stem cells represent the latest tool in our fight against skin aging. They do not mean that all our current tools (retinoids, peptides, antioxidants, vitamins, and more) need to be discarded. On the contrary, as is true often in cosmetics, a multitude of tools combined on the skin will an optimal therapeutic result. Incorporate plant stem cell products in your routine, but don’t throw away all of your other products!