The highly competitive cosmetics industry is always looking for the “next best ingredient(s)” that can fight the aging process and this led to a sizable increase in the number of anti-aging products on the market. With this is coming an increased number of active ingredients developed for this category; one of these ingredients is stem cell extract.
This is an ingredient that must be assessed carefully, as marketing claims often push the limits of the available science.
Among the plant stem cell extracts that are well supported by science are lilac, grapes and Swiss apples (1).
What are stem cells?
The concept of stem cells originated at the end of the 19th century as a theoretical postulate to account for the ability of certain tissues (blood, skin, etc.) to renew themselves for the lifetime of organisms even though they are comprised of short-lived cells. Stem cells’ isolation and identification happened many years later though.
Stem cells have received a fair share of attention in the public debate — mostly in connection with their potential for biomedical application and therapies. While the promise of organ regeneration have captured our imagination, it has gone almost unnoticed that plant stem cells represent the ultimate origin of much of the food we eat, the oxygen we breathe, as well the fuels we burn. Thus, plant stem cells may be ranked among the most important cells for human well-being.
A stem cell is a generic cell that can make exact copies of itself (daughters) indefinitely. These daughters can remain stem cells or further undergo differentiation (2). Such that a stem cell has the ability to make specialized cells for various tissues in the body, such as heart muscle, skin tissue, and liver tissue.
Plant Stem Cells
Because of their self-renewal functions, stem cells are the most important cells in the skin, as they are the source for continuous regeneration of the epidermis. Stem cell cosmetics are developed based on stem cell technology, which involves using extracts or culture media of stem cells. However, cosmetics containing human stem cells or their extracts have not been released into the market due to legal, ethical, and safety concerns. Meanwhile, plant stem cells, which circumvent these problems, are highly regarded in the cosmetics industry for improving culture technology.
The EU prohibits the use of cells, tissues, or products of human origin in cosmetics; stem cell therapy for anti-aging has not been approved or been deemed safe or effective in USA by the FDA. Furthermore, its use outside of a clinical research trial (which would be listed at www.clinicaltrials.gov) is prohibited. Whereas the Korea Food and Drug Association has allowed the use of sources originating from stem cell media in cosmetics since 2009 (3).
So, any cosmetics marketed as containing stem cells found on US market (should) contain stem cells extracted from plants.
A major difference between animal and plant stem cells is that plant stem cells provide cells for complete organs (branches, leaves, etc.), compared with the animal stem cells, which regenerate cells restricted to one tissue type.
Plants have nowhere to run when times get tough, so they must rely on an inner body plan to generate developmental responses to environmental changes.
Research by many labs in the last decades has uncovered a set of independent stem cell systems that fulfill the specialized needs of plant development and growth in four dimensions. In some long-lived plants, such as trees, plant stem cells remain active over hundreds or even thousands of years, revealing the exquisite precision in the underlying control of proliferation, self-renewal and differentiation.
Plant stem cells in cosmetics
There is some confusion around the term “stem cell” due to the marketing verbiage used by the cosmetic companies. In topical cosmetics the formulations don’t contain stem cells straight out of the plants. They are actually a range of plant stem cell extracts, which are manufactured using a cell culture technology. This technology consists of many and complicated methods that should ensure growth of plant cells, tissues or organs in the environment with a microbe-free nutrient. The plant cell technology allows synthesis of the biologically active substances that exist in plants, but are not commonly available in natural environment or are difficult to obtain by chemical synthesis.
The extracts obtained through this technology from the plant stem cells are currently used for production of both common or professional care cosmetics (4).
Apple stem cell extracts used in hair care
The beneficial apple properties are known for centuries. Apples are cultivated today only for their taste, but earlier the main criterion of the type selection was the “shelf life” of the fruits.
One of such apple-tree types is Uttwiler Spatlauber which is growing in Switzerland. This is a type cultivated solely due to a possible long-time storage of fruits, which remain fresh even for several months. Some trees come from the plant cutting sets planted during the 18th century!!!
The stem cell extracts are made in 2 main steps: first, the tissue material is obtained from apples (collected from a cut surfaces of the apples). Secondly, the material is going through a complicated biotechnological process to make the stem cell extracts that contains certain active ingredients. These are actually the ingredients used in formulations marketed as containing stem cells (5).
Swiss biotech company Mibelle Biochemistry created the product named PhytoCellTecTM Malus Domestica, that is a liposomal formulation (extract) derived from the stem cells of the Uttwiler Spatlauber apples. The company has published in vitro experiments done with hair follicles that showed the ability of the Uttwiler Spatlauber stem cell extract to delaying of the tissue atrophy process (6); this ingredient delays hair aging.
Formulations for healthy hair
We are working with abril et nature one of the leading European laboratories specialized in the research and development of premium hair care products for beauty salons and stylists, to bring their products to our members. Among other high end lines, they produce a “Stem Cell” line that contains stem cell extracts from the same Swiss apple variety, Uttwiler Spatlauber. In addition to the plant cell extracts, the formulations contain other active ingredients, antioxidant oils (from argan, Damascus rose, green tea, black tea and wheat germ) and co-polymers oil-protein, which restore the cortex protein structure.
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- Thomas Laux, Cell, Vol. 113, 281–283, May 2, 2003.
- Sung Hyun Choi, Jisoo YunSang Mo Kwon, Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, August 2015, Volume 12, Supplement 2, pp 78–83.
- Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica in Drug Research, Vol. 71 No. 5 pp. 701-707, 2014.
- Schmid, F. Zülli, Use of Plant Cell Cultures for a Sustainable Production of Innovative Ingredients, SOFW Journal, 2012.
- Schmid D., Sch¸rch C., Blum P., Belser E., Z¸lli F.: SOFW Journal 5, 30 (2008).
Sophia Loren once said that there is a fountain of youth in each of us: “it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” If Sophia is right, and we just truly need to look into our inner self to find the fountain of youth, than why the most of us are looking to attain the modern model of physical attractiveness? Could self‐perception of aging and the perception of others aging be effected by media’s aging portrayal and the current societal “norms”?
The results of a quantitative study done with 304 Canadian women (2) puzzled the researchers: women in the study who used anti‐aging products still favored natural aging and strongly disagree with negative advertisements perpetuated by the mass media related to women and aging. Researchers in the area are still working on understanding this contradiction (5).
Youth is highly valued in western society, and younger adults are consistently viewed as more physically attractive than older adults (1). Many industries are capitalizing on these values by marketing their products and services as “anti-aging”. The term ‘anti‐aging medicine’ is used to describe “a combination of practices which include aesthetic procedures, hormone supplementation, medically supervised weight loss and exercise regimens, stress management, massage therapy, and pharmaceutical grade vitamins” (3).
I do agree with all good products and regimens that help us prevent future diseases, maintain our mind & body health and keep us healthy and sane overall. I am a scientist and curious about new and old ingredients – chemicals and biochemicals – made in the lab or derived from nature; I applaud new scientific methods that give us better and more efficient products, that make us feel good and keep us healthy, products that make our skin look better and our hair shinier.
What I do not agree with, is the term “anti-aging”. First, the term “anti‐aging medicine” implies that aging is a “disease” that can be “cured.” Secondly, it signals that the normal signs of old age, such as wrinkles and gray hair, are shameful and ugly rather than conditions to be expected and accepted (4). It seems no longer socially acceptable or even preferred to age “normally” (5).
It looks as the older woman is a part of an “at-risk” population who must monitor, treat and prevent any markers of old age. Furthermore, nowadays, young women in their yearly 20’s are told to use preventive methods or products against future unpleasant wrinkles.
We all want to experience cosmetics products that make us feel beautiful, at any age. It is good for our soul, a beauty therapy for our bodies. I just don’t want to be told that I buy a particular product because I am getting older.
How do you feel about the “anti-aging” term?
- Bugental, D. B., & Hehman, J. A. (2007). Ageism: A review of research and policy implications. Social Issues and Policy Review, 1, 173–216.
- Muise, A., & Desmarais, S. (2010). Womenʹs perceptions and use of ʺanti‐agingʺ products. Sex Roles, 63(1/2), 126‐137.
- Watts‐Roy, D. M. (2009). A protest vote? Users of anti‐aging medicine talk back. Health Sociology Review, 18(4), 434‐445.
- Palmore, E. B. (2007). Healthy Behaviors or Age Denials? Educational Gerontology, 33(12), 1087‐
- Clair Maureen Williams, Behind the mask: an analysis of women’s perceptions and rationale toward the purchase and use of anti-aging products, 2013.