Posted on Mar 23, 2009, 3 p.m.
Stem cells have recently become a huge buzzword in the skincare world. But what does this really mean? Skincare specialists are not using embryonic stem cells; it is impossible to incorporate live materials into a skincare product. Instead, companies are creating products with specialized peptides and enzymes or plant stem cells which, when applied topically on the surface, help protect the human skin stem cells from damage and deterioration or stimulate the skin's own stem cells.
Stem cells have recently become a huge buzzword in the skincare world. But what does this really mean? Skincare specialists are not using embryonic stem cells; it is impossible to incorporate live materials into a skincare product. Instead, companies are creating products with specialized peptides and enzymes or plant stem cells which, when applied topically on the surface, help protect the human skin stem cells from damage and deterioration or stimulate the skin's own stem cells. National Stem Cell was one of the few companies who actually incorporated into their skin care an enzyme secreted from human embryonic stem cells, but they are in the process of switching over to use non-embryonic stem cells from which to take the beneficial enzyme.
Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body. When a stem cell divides, it can remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a skin cell. There are two types of stem cells, embryonic and adult.
Embryonic stem cells are exogenous in that they are harvested from outside sources, namely, fertilized human eggs. Once harvested, these pluripotent stem cells are grown in cell cultures and manipulated to generate specific cell types so they can be used to treat injury or disease.
Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult or multipotent stem cells are endogenous. They are present within our bodies and serve to maintain and repair the tissues in which they are found. Adult stem cells are found in many organs and tissues, including the skin. In fact, human skin is the largest repository of adult stem cells in the body. Skin stem cells reside in the basal layer of the epidermis where they remain dormant until they are activated by tissue injury or disease. 1
There is controversy surrounding the use of stem cells, as some experts say that any product that claims to affect the growth of stem cells or the replication process is potentially dangerous, as it may lead to out-of-control replication or mutation. Others object to using embryonic stem cells from an ethical point of view. Some researchers believe that the use of stem cell technology for a topical, anti-aging cosmetic trivializes other, more important medical research in this field.
The skin stem cells are found near hair follicles and sweat glands and lie dormant until they "receive" signals from the body to begin the repair mode. In skincare, the use of topical products stimulates the stem cell to split into two types of cells: a new, similar stem cell and a "daughter" cell, which is able to create almost every kind of new cell in a specialized system. This means that the stem cell can receive the message to create proteins, carbohydrates and lipids to help repair fine lines, wrinkles and restore and maintain firmness and elasticity.1
First to the market in Britain in April 2007 and the U.S. was ReVive's Peau Magnifique, priced at a staggering £1,050. Manufacturers claim it uses an enzyme called telomerase to "convert resting adult stem cells to newly-minted skin cells' and 'effectively resets your skin's "ageing clock" by a minimum of five years'. The product claims long-term use 'will result in a generation of new skin cells, firmer skin with a 45 per cent reduction in wrinkles and increased long-term skin clarity'. Peau Magnifique is the latest in a line of products developed by Dr Gregory Bays Brown, a former plastic surgeon.
In the course of his research into healing burns victims, Dr Brown discovered a substance called Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) that is released in the body when there is an injury, and, when applied to burns or wounds, dramatically accelerates the healing process. He believed the same molecule could be used to regenerate ageing skin and went on to develop ReVive, a skincare range based around it. 2
Hot on the heels of Peau Magnifique was Amatokin by Voss Laboratories. Amatokin was marketed by the same people behind the StriVectin craze and launched exclusively at Bloomingdale's. Amatokin works by stimulating the adult stem cell reservoirs in our skin to help rejuvenate it. From the day we are born, our skin experiences the incremental and cumulative effects of intrinsic and extrinsic aging. When we are young, stem cell utilization for skin rejuvenation functions efficiently. As we age, it reduces significantly. Given the proper environment, these inherent stem cell reservoirs can be stimulated to renew the skin. 3
Studies show that aging and damage from UV rays and pollution cause a decrease in stem-cell production. Pincelli and LVMH laboratories in 2008 identified key ingredients with the ability to protect the stem cells from external factors and produced Dior's Capture R60/80 XP In lab tests, skin samples collected from cosmetic-surgery patients showed more stem cells in the areas where cream had been applied. because it protects existing stem cells from damage, not because it increased the number of stem cells.. Says Dr. Pincelli 'That power is absolutely vital for epidermal regeneration and for maintaining the skin's youthful appearance'. 4
According to Petrikovsky, fetal skin heals in a completely different way to adult
"Adult skin heals via an inflammatory response, involving macrophages and type 1 collagen. On the other hand, fetal skin, when it is healing, relies heavily on the skin's stem cells and fibroblasts". One of the most important differences between adult and fetal skin is the fact that fetal skin heals without scarring. A wrinkle is a small wound, For this reason Petrikovsky has been looking at ways we can activate the adult stem cells in the skin to perform in similar ways to those in fetal skin. One substance he has found that can upregulate the stem cell activity of adult skin is Peptide 199, an amino acid chain derived from the Wharton Jelly, a gelatinous substance found in the umbilical cord. This upregulation ensures the fibroblast dominance over the inflammatory process during skin repair, mimicking the process that occurs in fetal skin, healing without a scar or wrinkle.5
Emerge Labs new Swiss Apple Stem Cell Serum allows plant stem cells to preserve and protect skin stem cells. PhytoCellTech® - a novel plant cell culture technology has been invented to cultivate dedifferentiated callus cells from a rare Swiss apple. These apple stem cells are rich in epigenetic factors and metabolites, assuring the longevity of skin cells. The Skin Stem Cell Serum protects longevity and combats chronological aging while delaying senescence of skin cells, preserving the youthful look and vitality of one's skin.
The Institute for Biotechnological Research (IRB) has released an anti-aging ingredient based on edelweiss stem cells. "As edelweiss grows in harsh climates it is obliged to produce a number of active substances that help protect against the elements such as UV rays," IRB's Francesca Melandri says. The edelweiss active harnesses the protective substances the plant uses to defend itself against harsh climatic and environmental conditions and uses them to protect the skin,. According to the Italian company. the ingredient, Leontopodium alpinum stems, has high concentrations of leontopodic acids A and B which have strong antioxidant properties. IRB also claims the product has strong anti-collagenase and hyaluronidase actvity, therefore helping to limit the degradation of collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin.
The company uses what it refers to as its HTN technology to produce the ingredients in industrial quantities. A small amount of plant biomass is chopped into tiny pieces and placed in a culture medium. Damaging the plant in this way causes the cells that surround the damage to de-differentiate (to turn back into stem cells) and form a wound healing tissue called the callus.
The callus is then harvested and grown in a cell culture medium and from this IRB obtains the plant stem cells and consequently the secondary metabolites they need for their products.
Although the technology is well known, the challenge lies in successfully scaling up the production of the stem cells to industrial quantities - a problem IRB claims to have solved with its HTN technology. 6
XTEMcell Stem Cell SkinCare has come out with its Cell Renewal Night Cream, Reset Serum, Cell Rebuilding Daytime Cream, and Repair Eye Contour Cream
According to the company, XtemCell's Patented Stem Cell Technology uses active plant cells from rare, 100% organic, nutrient-rich plants to create new cells of the highest in purity and nutrients. These new cells are able to deliver high concentrations of lipids, proteins, amino-acids and phytoalexins. They are easily absorbed into the outermost cells of the epidermis, allowing for almost immediate skin cell renewal, nutrient absorption, and an increase in the skin's level of filaggrin proteins. According to the company, "conventional plant cell extraction is only able to obtain these nutrients in smaller and far less potent quantities. Traditional plant cell cloning uses harsh chemicals or pollutants to reproduce active cells.
XTEMcell products are made from cloned stem cells from the date palm, chosen for cloning because of its unparalleled ability to live and thrive in the desert in the driest, most arid areas and be able to remain hydrated and conserve water. Xtemcell cloned these desirable properties and created a series of age-maintenance skincare products that contain 100% organic stem cells that promote a superior moisturization of the skin.
National Stem Cell is pursuing a different route to younger looking skin. It's subsidiary Decouverte Cosmetique is producing anti-aging products that incorporate tropelastin secreted from human embryonic stem cells. National Stem Cell changed its name to Proteonomix a month after launching a stem cell based cosmeceutical line in Aug 2008.7
The company claims the ingredient enhances the natural formation of collagen and binds with existing protein chains in the skin to make it appear smoother and firmer.
Tropelastin already affects skin appearance naturally in pregnant women. The inspiration for the products came from the natural glow of women post-conception, caused by the release of the chemical from embryonic stem cells.
The company says that the products escape the health risk warning flags out because they do not affect the growth of stem cells. However, the products formulated by Decouverte Cosmetique may be particularly controversial from an ethical or moral point of view because the active ingredient is sourced from human embryonic stem cells. However, National Stem Cell says that all the stem cells used were harvested before 2001 and none were destroyed or created in the development of the products. The company is also in the final stages of discovering how to source the key material from non-embryonic stem cells thereby weakening the ethical barrier to commercialization. 8
Thus we can see that there are already many choices in skin care products with specialized peptides and enzymes or plant stem cells which, when applied topically stimulate the skin's own stem cells. Expect many more good choices to be developed in the years to come!
By Jeanette Jacknin M.D.
1. Stem Cells in Skin Care...www.Carefair.com
2. Coleman, Claire, "Could stem cell cream be future of face care?" www.dailymail.co.uk 3/20/07
3. Ruscitton, Cynthia" Stem Cell Technology Enters the Anti-Aging Skin Care Market", http://www.ezinearticles.com, 4/18/07
4. Hancock, Liz, "Facing the future", www.Telegraph.co.uk., 1/11/08
5. Bird, Katie " Stem cell technology is the â€˜new age of anti-aging' skincare, say top scientists at HBA", www.Cosmeticsdesign.com 9/10/08
6. Bird, Katie, "Edelweiss stem cells could help in the fight against ageing",www.Cosmeticsdesign.com, 10/22/08
7. Montague-Jones, Guy, Biotech firm changes name after stem cell cosmetics launch", Cosmeticsdesign.com. 8/26/08
8. Montague-Jones, Guy "National Stem Cell exploits anti-aging qualities of stem cells", www.Cosmeticsdesign.com, 4/24/08
By Jeanette Jacknin M.D.