Often the word “miracle” is applied to the act of giving birth, but now it’s being applied to the use of afterbirth — or placenta — in skin care products. Usage of “miracle” in birth is apropos, but generally speaking, I advise skepticism when it comes to the word in skin care. We tend to become jaded to the proven ingredients, particularly emollients. But, scientifically speaking, it’s often these that provide the stellar results we’re looking for even though we get caught up with the newest and craziest ingredients. Especially when celebrities tout them. But just as celebrities have often won the genetic lottery in looks, a combination of genetics and overall health care and skin care routine likely play a much larger role in their overall appearance than a single ingredient. And a celebrity is not a dermatologist; a certified specialist’s recommendations should hold far more weight than your favorite star. Placenta has been a pretty big trend, but there’s been little analysis on the scientific side of things.
What Is Placenta?
The placenta acts as an intermediary between mother and baby.
The placenta, which is expelled after birth, is an endocrine organ that serves several purposes as a means of transportation between mother and child (Colorado State
). It lines the uterus and while it sends nutrients and oxygen to the fetus from the mother, it sends waste products to the mother, all without the blood supplies crossing (American Pregnancy Association
). The placenta is also responsible for the production of steroid hormones, progesterone and estrogen, and protein hormones, chorionic gonadotropins, placental lactogens, and relaxin.
Where Does Placenta in Skin Care Come from?
Placenta in beauty products doesn't only come from humans, it can also come from certain animals, such as sheep.
One thing we often forget about when it comes to ingredients are the ethical considerations. While placenta may be “natural,” it also has to come from somewhere. While some skin care companies derive their products from ovine — or sheep — placenta, others get it from humans (PR Web
). Mila Skin Care gets its placenta from maternity wards in Russia, and Shiseido won’t give up the secret to where it gets its placenta (Time
). While some feel comfortable with placenta that comes from humans, others are only comfortable using placenta that’s derived from animals, such as sheep, pigs, or goats. The actual information about the placenta taken from Russia — whether the women give consent, whether they’re given restitution, etc. — are difficult to find.
Is Placenta Good for Your Skin?
Hormones topical creams, such as estradiol, may be prescribed to help women dealing with difficult symptoms of menopause, but they can also increase the risk of certain cancers.
There’s been an increase in using hormones to stave off aging, though licensed physicians do often not prescribe hormones for this reason. The increase has happened because replacing these hormones in the body has been found to help in smoothing wrinkles and improving hair growth (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists
).It awaits to be determined with scientific study whether placenta is positive or negative when applied to skin. On the one hand, placenta contains a number of nourishing components that could be beneficial for skin, on the other hand, the hormones might not be as great as some might think (MSNBC
). While medical professionals may prescribes topical creams, such as estradiol, in order to treat symptoms of menopause by replacing estrogen in the body, these creams can increase the risk of certain cancers (MedLine Plus
). Unless someone is suffering from a hormonal imbalance or other serious issues stemming from hormones, doctors often don’t prescribe hormones simply for aging. Will placenta have such negative effects? No scientific study has looked into what happens when placenta is applied regularly. And it’s possible that the intensive sterilization process the placenta goes through, which some companies claim removes the hormones, renders the placenta less potent.
With so little evidence, it’s impossible to say that placenta is a skin care miracle. In fact, it’s difficult to say that it’s beneficial without any scientific studies to back up the claim of many skin care companies. In addition to this, there may be ethical reasons why one would choose to eschew the usage of placenta. For one, there could be more transparency on the deals made to obtain human placenta. Also, people may want to eschew products containing placenta for the same reasons that they avoid any product made with animal products: because it is, in some way, against their personal moral code. For those who are still interested in placenta, it’s important to consider whether it’s worth the cost of the product. As of now, there’s little science to suggest that placenta will do much for skin, so, for now, it might be best to stick with those tried and true ingredients.