Stem cells have made headlines in the scientific and medical realms for over a decade, and with good reason. Some can grow into any type of cell in the body. The therapeutic potential is staggering, and researchers are working towards using stem cells to treat everything from diabetes to spinal cord injuries.
Despite products with names such as Stem Cell Therapy and StemCellin, or ingredients that include “stem cell extract” and “stem cell conditioned media,” none of the beauty creams actually contain stem cells. And, none are proven to affect your own stem cells.
So, what’s going on here? What’s in these products, if not stem cells? YouBeauty explains what’s inside, why it could be dangerous and how stem cell beauty companies are skimping on science.
Meet the Stem Cells
Before we delve into the beauty creams, a brief biology lesson. Stem cells come in several varieties: embryonic (ESC), adult (ASC), induced pluripotent (iPSC) and human parthenogenetic (hpSC). All can develop into other cell types, or differentiate, but not all are created equal. And, just two relate to stem cell beauty products.
In research, ESCs come from embryos that are made from an egg fertilized outside the body, in vitro. Embryos develop from just a small cluster of cells into an entire body, thus ESCs have the potential to differentiate into nearly all cell types, from brain to heart to liver. This quality, called pluriopotency, means they could potentially be used to treat any type of diseased or injured organ or tissue.
ESCs, besides being difficult to grow, face an ethical quandary: using them destroys embryos, which is why they’ve ignited in political debate. In the past few years, researchers introduced two methods that attempt to mimic ESC’s pluripotency sans embryo, which could eventually avoid these thorny issues. One uses a cocktail of genes to reprogram differentiated cells back into an ESC-like state (iPSC). The other uses human parthenogenetic (translation: virgin birth) embryos, which come from non-fertilized eggs, but retain some characteristics of a normal embryo (hpSC). But, ongoing research must confirm the characteristics and safety of both cell types before they can replace ESC in research. There’s a long way to go.
The last type, the adult stem cells (ASCs), reside throughout the body in fat, bone marrow and skin, among others. ASCs are responsible for regenerating diseased or injured tissues. They are not pluripotent but multipotent, meaning they differentiate into limited cell types. Bone marrow cells, for example, can develop into bone, cartilage and tendons, while skin stem cells form hair follicles and the topmost layers of skin. Skincare companies mainly utilize ASCs.
Packaged Stem Cells