Skin Care Ingredient Focus: Stem Cells

Written by Ali Shahbaz, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on April 15, 2023 No Comments

woman applying growth factors

Stem cells are one of the most recent innovations in skincare, and people are finding that the products produce amazing results. As with any new development, you may be curious, confused, and uncertain about stem cells. Doing research on the subject introduces you to a new science that is saturated with terminology and complex concepts that are difficult to unravel on your own. Understanding the basics helps you decide if stem cell skin care products are right for you.

Here is a basic rundown on stem cells for skin care:

What are Stem Cells?

Most of the cells in your body, such as those found in the muscles, nerves, skin, organs, and connective tissues, divide to create similar cells. Stem cells are incredibly unique because the body uses them to create almost every other type of cell, including more stem cells. This property is why stem cells are often referred to as “master cells” that help your body heal.

How Do Stem Cells Work?

Researchers are still determining the exact mechanisms used by stem cells to repair and restore tissues in the body. To date, studies have shown that stem cells can receive signals that indicate where tissues of the body need repair. Once the stem cells are in place, they begin to create similar cells to replace damaged and lost cells, as well as new stem cells. Growth factors help to multiply the new type of cell to expedite healing.

Stem Cells vs. Growth Factors

Growth factors are another facet of skin care that has become more popular in recent years. While it may appear that growth factors and stem cells produce the same results, there is one key difference. Stem cells repair damaged tissues by creating new cells. Growth factors are a product of stem cells and are also found in your bloodstream. The primary function of growth factors is to help cells multiply which is why they are great for proper cellular turnover.

How are Stem Cells Sourced for Skin Care?

Stem cells are found in every living thing, including humans, animals, and plants. However, the stem cells used in skin care are derived from plant sources:

Embryotic Stem Cells

Embryotic stem cells are among some of the most controversial topics in science. The cells are taken from a human embryo which is destroyed in the process. Embryotic stem cells are not used for skin care and other medical procedures.

Human Stem Cells

Due to the specialized nature of stem cells, the human body has relatively few numbers of these cells. This lack of supply is why human stem cells are not a viable option for general skin care due to the volume of cells needed for the products.

Animal Stem Cells

Animal stem cells are also not used for skin care, they are primarily used in veterinary care and research. Like humans, animals are not a good source of stem cells for skin care products due to the required volume. Additionally, there are differences between animal and human stem cells, and the cells cannot be used interchangeably.

Plant Stem Cells

Plant stem cells also have significant differences compared to human and animal stem cells, yet they also have some powerful properties that benefit your skin. Specifically, plant stem cells contain antioxidants that work very well in combination with other ingredients that boost skin health. It is important to note that plant stem cells alone may not improve your skin, rather the stem cells are great complements for other skin care ingredients and can work to enhance their benefits.

Can Using Stem Cells Really Benefit the Skin?

Stem cells do offer benefits for the skin, but consumers should exercise caution when choosing your skin care products. The advances in skin care using stem cells have resulted in some claims that are not entirely accurate and may be misleading. Stem cells in skin care products have properties that may improve your skin, but it is important to note the mechanism of action. Skincare products contain plant-based skin cells which do not have the ability to create new human skin cells. Instead, properties of plant derived skin cells can improve the tone and texture of your skin, as well as soften lines and wrinkles.

Patients who wish to stimulate their own stem cells to repair or renew their skin should consider other options such as laser treatments, amino acids, peels, peptides, and retinoid products.

Are Stem Cells Good for All Skin Types?

The antioxidants, peptides, and amino acids in stem cells are good for all skin types. These substances can help nourish, protect and rejuvenate skin cells no matter what skin type you have. Additionally, stem cells are mild in nature and will not cause irritation. Usage is safe for even the most sensitive of skin.

What Types of Skin Care Products Contain Stem Cells?

You can find a variety of skin care products that contain stem cells and extracts. Common stem cell containing products include cleansers, serums, masks, and creams. Make sure to do your research, check the label, and choose well established brands to make sure you purchase high quality product.

How and When to Use Stem Cells

Given their benefits, stem cells can be used by individuals of any age and skin type daily. Chose products that are well-suited for your lifestyle, as well as any specific concerns you may have, such as fine lines, acne, and a dull complexion. If you’re considering adding stem cells to your routine, you can always consult with your dermatologist or skin care professional to learn which product is best for your specific needs.

What Other Ingredients Work Well in Conjunction with Stem Cells

Stem cell extracts from plants work best with ingredients that exfoliate your skin, such as alpha-hydroxy acid, retinol, and bakuchiol. These acids remove dead skin cells and excess oils, and the plant extracts boost healing and natural protection in your skin.

Ingredients to Avoid When Using Stem Cells

Avoid using any skin care products that irritate your skin while using stem cells and extracts. This counteracts the benefits of the antioxidants, peptides, and retinol derived from stem cells.

Ali Shahbaz, MD

Ali Shahbaz, MD FRCPC, is a Board Certified Dermatologist who received his undergraduate of Honours in Bachelor of Medical Science at Western University. He then attended The University of Ottawa School of Medicine in Ottawa, Canada. Dr. Shahbaz specializes in medical, procedural and cosmetic dermatology. He enjoys treating patients of all ages and skin types. He is a strong advocate for patient education and proactively counselling patients in the treatment and management of their skin diseases. He treats all common skin conditions such as skin cancer, acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

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