The plant stem cell market for cosmetics is growing at a CAGR of 15.9% and expected to exceed $4.8 billion by 2022, according to Credence Research, San Jose, CA. The key players in this market are L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, My Chelle Dermaceuticals, Juice Beauty and Intelligent Nutrients.1 Several years back, stem cells were the marquee ingredients in the flourishing US anti-aging market. But, recent regulatory crackdowns and class action lawsuits against stem cell clinics have weighed on the industry.
Stem cells are trendy in cosmetic procedures. They are injected along with fat to plump up the skin. In addition to their presence in many skin care formulations, stem cells are touted as an age-reversing ingredient in office-based treatments. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued warning letters to three physician-owned stem cell treatment centers in California, Florida and New York. These centers were extracting patient’s own fat, isolating the stem cells and re-injecting them into the patient. All three doctors received the warning letters from the FDA to stop performing these unapproved procedures immediately. Stem cell therapy for anti-aging has not been approved or been deemed safe or effective by the FDA. Furthermore, its use outside of clinical research is prohibited. In recent years, researchers have conducted extensive research on embryonic stem cells which have shown potential to repair damaged tissues and organs. As a result, scientists researched using stem cells in skin care products to help repair wrinkles, and restore and maintain skin firmness and elasticity. However, it is not possible to use live human embryonic stem cells in skin care products, so skin care companies have turned to plant stem cells.
Plant-based Stem Cells
Like humans, plants have stem cells, too. In theory, these cells can protect the human epidermal stem cells from damage and deterioration and they can stimulate them to renew the skin. Primarily, botanical stem cells are used in cosmetic products in order to avoid the sourcing and extracting controversies associated with animal- and human-derived stem cells. Grape, raspberry, lilac, rose and edelweiss are common botanical sources.
The most promising stem cell so far has come from an apple from the tree known as Uttwiler Spätlauber, cultivated in Switzerland more than 300 years ago. These apples form a protective film made of stem cells on the surface when the apple is cut. Liposome encapsulated apple stem cells topical cream in a clinical study, reduced wrinkle depth by an average of 15% after four weeks.2 Armed with these results, skin care companies swarmed Mibelle Group, a Swiss company that developed this wonderful active. Numerous products containing this active, were launched several years ago in the market at premium prices. These products claimed to protect longevity of skin cells and combat skin aging.
However, some biologists are skeptical about these particular claims. Renowned plant biologist Professor Liam Dolan of Oxford University observed that he does not see how plant stem cells could react with human cells. According to Dolan, the stem cells found in skin care products are plant-based not human-based; humans cannot synthesize chlorophyll, so plant stem cells offer no benefit to humans.
Living plant stem cells are not found in beauty products, and even if they were, they would not have the capability to differentiate into specialized human skin cells, plaintiffs assert in a proposed class action against PhytoCellTec user G.M. Collin Company. Evidence that plant stem cells in cosmetic products translate to an improved appearance is tenuous at best, according to Tyler Holling M.D., Stamford Medical Center.
Almost all cosmetic products promoted for their stem cell content actually contain stem cell extracts—not live stem cells. Extracts from stem cells cannot act in the same way as live stem cells. To gain all the true benefits from stem cells and to let them work according to the label directions, they must be incorporated as live cells and should remain so in the formulated cosmetics.
There are other issues as well. Plant stem cells are simply too large to penetrate the skin and cannot live in the cream while it stays on the shelf for months or even years according to Leslie Baumann MD. According to another dermatologist, Richard Hope MD, stem cells in topical skin care products are of no value at this point. The stem cells are plant derived, dead and basically have no activity in human skin.
It is clear at this stage in the game that cosmetics manufacturers using plant stem cell ingredients are severely limited in what they can safely claim without potentially drawing unwanted attention from federal authorities and/or plaintiff’s lawsuits.1
According to a leading dermatologist, Leslie Baumann MD, the stem cells will become part of fight against skin aging one day, but until then, let us keep the human-based stem cells in the lab and the stem cell skin care products off the shelves.3
The University of Miami is a leader in this field, so it will continue to monitor the research conducted there, and the cosmetic industry will be informed when stem cells are ready to promote skin health and beauty.
- R. Nelson, Executive Summary, R. Sheet 6/15/17.
- SOFW Journal 2008:134 (5): 30-5. Stem cells don’t work in topical anti-aging products.
- Leslie Baumann MD, Miami Herald 2/23/16
Navin M. Geria
Chief Scientific Officer
AyurDerm Technologies, LLC
Navin Geria, former Pfizer Research Fellow is a cosmetic and pharmaceutical product development chemist and the chief scientific officer of AyurDerm Technologies LLC, which provides Ayurvedic, natural and cosmeceutical custom formulation development and consulting services to the spa-wellness-dermatology industries. He has launched dozens of cosmeceutical and ayurvedic anti-aging products. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick-Energizer, Bristol-Myers and Spa Dermaceuticals. He has nearly 20 US patents and has been published extensively. Geria edited the “Handbook of Skin-Aging Theories for Cosmetic Formulation Development” focus book published in April 2016 by Harry’s Cosmeticology. He is a speaker, moderator and chairman at cosmetic industry events.