Beauty companies are at a point where they can just slap unfounded, stream-of-consciousness nonsense across any product and sell it: “Got turkey neck? Use a green tea moisturizer!” or “Thinning hair? This body wash is made with… oxygen!” something about acai berries something something shampoo science. Over the past year, we keep hearing about a new kind of anti-aging product by companies like Amatokin, StemCellin, and Dermelect. The claim is that stem cell-based creams will make you look younger.
If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, you might wonder how it’s legal to dump stem cells into anti-aging products when it’s already a challenge to use them for actual things. Thankfully, companies aren’t using stem cells to justify selling extravagantly priced eye creams. They’re just lying. Sort of.
It turns out companies claiming to use stem cells choose one of two routes to back their promises of eternal youth: either they use stem cell media or extracts from plant cells. YouBeauty published a lengthy examination of the false claims and pseudo-science behind supposed “stem cell beauty products:”
Again, no stem cell beauty products contain actual stem cells. Some do contain stem cell media, the nutrient soup that the cells grow in at the lab, or extracts, which are pulled out of the stem cells. Both media and extracts contain growth factors, which help the cells grow, along with enzymes and other nutrients. Other creams don’t contain any stem cell-related stuff at all.
The latter group most commonly uses extracts from plant stem cells, which are analogous to ASCs. One example is StemCellin, one of several products that use plant stem cell extracts (including apple and grape) from Swiss company Mibelle Biochemistry. The technology, says a representative from the company, helps “vitalize stem cells in the skin to make them more resistant against extrinsic and intrinsic aging.”
Hear that? Extrinsic aging? Intrinsic aging? Nutrient soup?! Moreover, even if the creams did contain stem cells, they wouldn’t do anything. Says an actual doctor:
“Stem cells need specific nutrition via a blood supply in the tissue to survive and function—if they were layered onto intact skin the stem cells would just die,” explains Jörg Gerlach, M.D., Ph.D., professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, “This could be different if stem cells are applied to a fresh open skin wound, for example after a burn injury—then the cells are in contact with the blood supply in the open tissue and could survive and potentially regenerate the skin wound.”
As if that wasn’t enough, research indicating stem cell-based beauty products work is comically dubious:
Furthermore, the only live human study the company has conducted used just 20 test subjects. While the subjects appeared to have fewer wrinkles after a few weeks, the only control was no treatment at all. In other words, the company compared skin moisturized with their stem cell extract—which was mixed with oil and water—with skin that wasn’t moisturized, which likely skewed the results. The company says they have no plans for additional tests on human subjects.
Essentially, 1) beauty products claiming to contain stem cells do not and 2) if they did, the cells would just die on contact and be useless and you’d have been better off buying nice sunscreen.
…That being said, some people will pay $200 for a thimble full of algae and petroleum if they’re convinced it’ll make them look younger. So, if research indicating the opposite–that stem cells are actually an amazing anti-aging product!–were to suddenly appear, would you be curious to try them?