Do Stem Cells in Skin Care Products Really Make a Difference?

Personal/Inspirational, Skin Care

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 - how they work 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.

Plant stem cellsIt 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.

Stem cellsstem cells 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.

Bottom Line

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!

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  • I mean stem cell lol The product is amazing i love it

  • tammy

    Hi, I have excellent proof to the plant skin cell facial prep it really amazed me how clear and nourish and young my face is. I have used this product ever since it was out on the counter I look amazing and proud to say it dose work!

  • Some of the best and most recent technology on stem cell extracts is coming from Lifeline Skin Care. See:

  • The value of stem cells therapies in human health has been real for several decades starting with bone marrow transplantation to treat leukemia. The mechanism was simple – destroy all bone marrow with total body radiation, then “rescue” the patient by engraftment of donated bone marrow. Unless it was donated by an identical twin or immunologic markers were very closely matched (remembers the publicized searches for suitable donors?), immunosuppression was required. It was the stem cells in the donated bone marrow that performed the tlife saving miracle. And now the media is filled with stem cell progress in growing bone, tracheal segments, cartilage and other organ parts, as well as promising treatments for heart attacks, strokes, brain tumors, spinal cord injuries, etc.Stem cells indeed are the future of innumerable medical therapies.

    FYI – the human stem cell that is being used in these therapies is primarily bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells. They have been shown to have the proper cytokine profile to enhance enhance healing, control inflammation, and stimulate tissue proliferation in the suitable fashion. In fact, these cells are now known to leave the bone marrow, arrive at sites of injury, participate in repair and healing by controlling and directing other cells to remove debris (white cells from the blood), produce collagen and matrix (fibroblasts), differentiate into local tissue cells (resident stem cells at the site of injury and some of the migrant bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells) and then some return back to the bone marrow to be ready to spring into action once again later. These are the 911 emergency responders of the human body or as some say ” the duct tape”.

    Plant stem cells are found in miniscule amounts and are inactive cells found in meristems that only respond to signals (auxins, cytokinins) provided by the plant when the production of new cells is needed. Plant stem cells ride on the train, they do not drive it, which is not the case with human stem cells, they do drive the train.

    So what can plant stem cells do to directly influence human cellular behavior via their magical biochemical messengers? Nothing. Human cells are not going to “listen” to plant stem cells even if they did have a “voice”. They don’t have same chemical language, they’re different from one another. There’re actually from different “kingdoms”. Remember from biology the “plant kingdom” and the “animal kingdom”?

    So what can plant stem cell do? They can be cultured. They can, with the proper stimuli, evolve into a complete organism i.e. a plant. They can be ground up and sold to gullible consumers as a bona fide “stem cell” therapy because very few people understand the biology involved. And they may have antioxidant value even if they are mashed and ground to a pulp. Plants do affect human cells, no question about that. Recall that some parts of plants are deadly if ingested…but we’re talking about applying plant stem cells to human skin and expecting the skin to take notice, and action. Ain’t gonna happen.

    Please, please, please. Someone show me a valid peer-reviewed published article in a respected medical journal that shows any plant derived stem cell having any in vivo (i.e. on a living human subject) value in doing anything of substance to the skin. If these magical little cells are as miraculous as the marketing sharks would have the naive consumer believe, shouldn’t we see dermatologists prescribing them and getting paid to do so? In my humble opinion, Swiss apples and road “apples” may have a lot in common.

  • Shawn

    Ada: Having antioxidant activity doesn’t make it a stem cell or even very special (how many thousands of plain old plants do we have that can claim that?). And a 15% reduction in wrinkle depth is imperceptible to the human eye. Not a very stellar result. A lot has been written recently about scams from the beauty ingredients industry, and plant stem cells is the poster child. Can you supply any valid research (like from PubMed, not a manufacturer) that plant stem cells or their “extracts” can do anything for human skin? Real proof, not hype?

  • jom

    Plant stem cells are bogus. For an excellent article on plant stem cells please read

  • Angela

    What are some of the best stem cell/efg products on the market? What products contain the edelweiss plant/leontopodic acid? Any similarities to Origins Plantscription? or Khiels new Resurrection Flower—the Haberlea rhodopensis aka Rose Arctica?

    • Donna Vernon

      Have you tried Lumavera? I think it has most of those ingredients you listed. It feels really good on my skin and I have noticed an improvement. I’d better check on the ingredients! It’s at

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