There are certain things my mother always taught me not to talk about at the dinner table: Sex. Money. Politics.
But if you’re in a place where you are eating with, say, dermatologists, aestheticians, and skin care scientists, one area that is newly taboo is plant stem cells. Long believed to be hokey, there is slight evidence indicating that topical application of enough of these cells can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by about 15% after 4 weeks (Inside Cosmeceuticals, 2009). That’s about nearly results studies with retinoids typically exhibit, indicating that these therapies may really show some degree of promise.
But if plant stem cells work, how do they work?
- The actions of both human and plant stem cells are dictated by the environment, not by the cells’ internal programming. For instance, isolated plant stem cells are able to form entire plant organs when exposed to the right signaling factors (Cell, 2003).
- Plant stem cells are able to detect genetic damage in their environment, and kill off those damaged cells before the damage spreads (Science Daily, 2009).
- Small but significant changes have been detected in human skin after using plant stem cells. After two weeks of using a product containing these plant stem cell extracts, consumers have seen a significant reduction in the depth of crow’s feet wrinkles by 8 percent; the reduction in the depth of crow’s feet after four weeks reached 15 percent (Inside Cosmeceuticals, 2009). Unfortunately, this study did not compare the effects to those with a placebo cream.
Skeptics Still Abound
As with any new technology (and especially one that sounds as hokey as this does initially), plant stem cells still have their fair share of skeptics. Questions they commonly ask include the following:
- How can human cells possibly signal reparative messages to plant stem cells? When found within plants, plant stem cells react different ways when they are located in different parts of the plant. In fact, the same stem cell can stimulate growth or destruction, depending on the other signaling factors in the environment (Plant, 2006). We need to know if and how human cells can communicate with plant stem cells to determine their effects, and to later enhance or maximize their potential.
- There has been little published research on the effects of plant stem cells for the skin, besides the study mentioned in Inside Cosmeceuticals. More research needs to be done before we can call plant stem cells the next retinoid.
- Most stem cell extracts are from plants with antioxidant activity. We need to know if the benefits of using stem cells are imparted from the antioxidants or an actual reparative mechanism triggered by the plant stem cells.
Do Cosmetics Brands Ever 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.
Brands like Age Advantage and Alchimie Forever use plant stem cells derived from the Swiss apple.
As a part of a regimen…
So long as you continue to use a cleanser, toner (optional), and potent antioxidant serum by day, using a sunscreen or moisturizer with SPF and plant stem cells like Alchimie Forever Daily Defense Cream SPF 23 is fine. (Those who are ultra-religious about their skin care may wish to apply another physical sunscreen with zinc or titanium oxide over top).
If you wish to incorporate plant stem cells into your nightly regimen, I recommend cleansing, toning (optional), and then using a retinoid. I would not recommend any plant stem cell cream with acidic components like L-ascorbic acid or any alpha hydroxy acid because this takes retinol out of its optimal range for conversion to its active form, tretinoin.
If you are the type of woman (or man) who wants to try the latest and greatest in skin care, then I see no problem in using plant stem cells.
In general, I put plant stem cells in the same class as skin care with growth factors and DNA repair factors — these are ingredients that have all shown significant potential in peer-reviewed, independent research studies in respectable journals. But at the same time, the technology is early, so the research on these ingredients is limited.
I view these special ingredients as “superfoods” for your skin. Just like with a diet, where you need your vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids, in skin care, you need your retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide, antioxidants, and sunscreen. But just like you can give your diet a boost with superfoods like kale and chlorella, preliminary evidence suggests you may be able to boost your skin care regimen with use of plant stem cells, growth factors, and DNA repair factors. Just be careful you don’t rely on these solely — you still need to protect your skin from the sun and increase cell turnover!
What are your thoughts on plant stem cells? I’d love to know! Let me know in Comments!