Stem cells — myths or medical breakdown

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Stem cells — myths or medical breakdown

Years ago, stem cells and growth factors became hero ingredients in skin care formulations. Some brands have claimed plant-based stem cells helped reproduce human stem cells and growth factors directly changing the behavior of human DNA. I would like to share with you a few facts on stem cells in skincare products.

Let’s start by clearing up some confusion about the roles that stem cells and growth factors performed in regenerating skin. Human biology versus skincare ingredients;

Growth factors are proteins that regulate cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation under controlled conditions, maintaining healthy skin structure.

Growth factors are secreted by all cell types that make up the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and dermis (the layer of skin between the epidermis and subcutaneous tissue), including keratinocytes, fibroblasts and melanocytes.

Growth factors are naturally occurring regulatory molecules. They stimulate cell and tissue function through influencing cell differentiation by changing their biochemical activity. Regulating the rate of proliferation – certain beta glucans are in this class, enhancing dendrite strength in the Langerhans cells, turning the macrophages at the end of each dendrite into a weapon of mass destruction against free radicals, bacterial attack, viral and even parasitic invasion!

Medical stem cell implantation plays a role as back-up support to the implanted cells and potential auto-immune rejection. So far there have been many successes aspirating fresh stem cells from hip  bones and re-injecting them into injured areas such as a torn meniscus. These a mesenchymal stem cells, cells that can develop into distinct mesenchymal tissue such as bone, tendons, muscles, adipose tissue cartilage, nerve tissue, blood and blood cells.

However, this is a far cry from crèmes, serums etc. in skin care.

The most common question that I am asked about stem cells is how do the plant stem cells in  a crème or gel serum  work with your own stem cells…well the answer is THEY DON’T.

As a way of inflicting miniature wounds, technicians scratch cultured plant tissue. This damage stimulates the plant’s stem cells to re act and heal, inducing the formation of new stem cells on the wounded surfaces. After slow replication and division on the outside, new cells fashion a large accumulation of colorless cells, known as callous. Cells composing the callous divide into cells that do not carry the specific features of individuated plant cells. This callous is used as an ingredient in facial crèmes.

In actual fact it is the pluripotent(human) downstream differentiated plant cells are ones that possess the biochemical machinery required to produce the myriad of  regenerative activity in the human body including the skin.

Stem cells that would be included in extracts derived from plants that have pharmaceutical or other value (e.g. quinine, digitalis, aloe vera, etc.) would not be active—although the other botanical micronutrients may very well be! Think of them as “skin food” not stem cell therapy.

Plant totipotent stem cells do not produce substances capable of affecting other cells. Callouses are forced upon living plant stems to encourage new baby cells, harvested and then put into crèmes as “stem cell therapy”. Even rubbing human stem cells on the skin would never work. They have to be alive in the product despite any effective delivery mechanism. Plant stem cells have nothing to do with the human genetic blue print. There has been some argument that these “callouses” or other plant stem cell extracts have many micro nutrients that benefit skin. This is no more true than other aspects of a plant, which includes roots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruit.

A potent botanical offering into skin cells that evoke an ionic transfer, a cellular impact of a physiological change (or I should say  a reverse to homeostasis), depends largely on where the plant is grown, how it is prepared for extraction   and how it is processed into a product with bio-availability that is still active. AND the delivery system into the skin.

We should look at which Phyto chemicals that skin cells respond positively to and what they recognize, how we can influence and support growth factors and life cycle of cells.

My methods have always been to work with the body’s chemistry

Even if plant stem cells DID have a biological energy kick start, many research papers have concluded that stem cells are just too large to penetrate the lipid barrier of the epidermis, even if they could be somehow kept alive in a crème, serum etc.

There is hope in stem cell research for total skin revision however. Keep in mind that every time we do any kind of aggressive exfoliation we are calling upon stem cells in the healing process. However, this is normally not very well controlled or targeted and the healing is spotty or focused on only the areas of the epidermis where trauma is the most virulent.  Rebecca James Gadberry dissertation on Epigenetics points this out.

Using our OWN skin stem cells, of which we have a rich supply at any age, although the amount decreases slowly with time,  requires  the following steps:


  • Getting to them with minimum inflammatory response (although some is needed)
  • Getting the stem cells OUT of their “house” and on a genetic pathway to another “house “in the skin such as a keratinocyte or a fibroblast cell.
  • Maintaining the differentiation over a period of time—47 days at least, until fresh epidermal tissue is maximized.

There are so many variables but an over-night epiphany made me feel it could be done, so I recruited an international team of doctors, botanists and biochemists to take a leap of faith on a project like this with no commercial aspect other  than to see if it can be done.

I feel that these types of protocols will strengthen the integrity of the skin in a fundamental way as apposed to a dramatic “ta da!”  way, as seen right after a deeper “peel”. In cases of loss of turgidity, or concavities in the skin that follows absorption of injected fillers and adipose fat tissue transfers, the tissue will appear more elevated and fuller. I also see it as an excellent post plastic surgery addition, where undermining and tissue placement will look more even and plumper, any ripple effect banished with improved skin structure.

There are many types of stem cells with a variety of special functions. All are Inter-connected but organ specific. It is like a large puzzle that is there and has been since the birth of our plant. We are just now finding a few pieces of the puzzle and seeing where they go.

The two main types of stem cells are embryonic stem cells (ES) and adult stem cells (such as somatic stem cells). Other sub types such as induced pluripotent stem cells (PCS’s) are lab produced by re-programming adult cells to express ES characteristics.

In skin, tissue specific (or somatic) are more specialized than embryonic stem cells. Typically, these types of stem cells can generate different cell types for the specific tissue or organ in which they live.

In skin research so far here are terms you should know and research. You may be able to put two and two together and come up with an answer nobody else has thought of yet! The field is wide open.

  • Adult Stem Cells
  • Blastocyst
  • Bone Marrow Stromal Cells
  • Cytoplasm
  • Fibroblast
  • Langerhans Islets
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells
  • Multipotent
  • Mesenchymal
  • Somatic Stem Cells
  • Teratoma
  • Tissue Specific stem cells
  • Totipotent
  • Progenitor cells

This is the tip of a very large ice burg, but I encourage everyone to arm themselves with the available yet ever changing knowledge which in turn, will make cosmetic manufacturers more conscious of what is real and what is buzz word phony!

It has long been my contention as I look back from now, from this year, that the cells of the body are not programmed to die easily. They are programmed to stay alive as long as possible given the right maintenance and environmental surroundings.

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