Stem Cell in Skin Care: Hope or Hype? (Part 2)
Skin Cells as Stem Cells. In 2007 Dr. Shinya Yamanaka's team announced that they succeeded in turning human skin stem cells into the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells. This means stem cell research is now possible without the controversial use of human embryos. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka was awarded the Millennium Technology Prize for the discovery, which could potentially help repair damage to heart, bones and muscles, and combat Parkinson's, diabetes, and blood diseases.
Stem Cells on Skin. While skin stem cells have found use in treating diseases, stem cells in skin care products have been largely based on hype rather than science. The concept of topically applying stem cells, through cream, serum, mask, or facial procedure, with a promise to “replenish dying cells and regenerate dying tissues” simply does not wash.
First and foremost, stem cells are highly unstable. Second, they will not enter skin without an effective liposomal or nano delivery system. And as mentioned in Part 1, plant stem cells simply cannot relate with human stem cells. Plant stem cells can be useful, being excellent antioxidants, but marketing hype has made the public imagining benefits bigger than reality.
If we look at skin care products with stem cell therapy claims, the ingredients list have either plant stem cell, human stem cell extract, or ovine (sheep) placental extract. Products with plant stem cell may fetch as much as $400, with human stem cell claim, up to $2000. These high-end products can work wonders and can improve skin condition. Why not? They should, but not because of stem cells. It's because they contain a cocktail of anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants, sodium hyaluronate, retinol, and peptides.
What Works. At the moment, the most effective stem cell source is the patients’ own cells – called autologous human cells. It is also the safest. Stem cells are harvested from bone marrow, peripheral blood, and skin removed after a tummy tuck operation. These stem cells are not only able to cure diseases; they are also used for aesthetic purposes.
Non-autologous human stem cells can be retrieved from human placenta - typically tossed as medical waste after birth. The human placenta, a rich source of stem cells, is preserved immediately after birth and the processing starts in the delivery room.
Conclusion. Stem cell therapy is undergoing fast paced development, with the ethical issue now a thing of the past. The focus of the researches, as they should be, is on repair of body tissues and treatment of diseases. Effective and safe applications in dermatology do exist, and we expect better and more economical options in the coming years. However, we should be wary of marketing hypes, especially in the absence of regulations governing stem cell claims.
This was published in the August 7, 2012 issue of Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle Section. The author is the CEO of SkinStation. He received the 2011 Outstanding Chemist Award from Professional Regulations Commission for his achievements in the field of cosmetic chemistry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org