I first started hearing about the use of stem cells in skin care in October 2010 at the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa in Philadelphia. One presenter spoke of using human-derived stem cell growth factors, but everywhere else I turned I saw displays, demonstrations, and brochures for products containing plant stem cells.
The plant stem cell skin care companies gave some impressive and convincing presentations, but I couldn’t help but wonder why and how a stem cell from a flower can treat or prevent the signs of aging? I mean…it’s a flower and we are human beings. I completely understand the controversy surrounding the research and use of human embryonic stem cells…but wouldn’t it be more logical to take a stem cell from another mammal or even another type of animal to use in a skin care product? I just couldn’t wrap my head around how a cell from a flower could be more effective than one from an animal.
Why plant stem cells?
The answer to this question really stems (pun intended) from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: the Survival of the Fittest. Certain plants that grow in very harsh climates and other inhospitable environments have remain unchanged for thousands of years. Some examples are a rare Swiss apple (Malus domesticus), Lilac, Gardenia, Edelweiss, Alpine Rose, Butterfly Bush, and Coneflower. Even when exposed to factors such as pathogenic microorganisms, extreme UV exposure, extreme freezing temperatures, and other environmental aggressors, these plants remain resilient because something in their genetic makeup has evolved to protect them from these factors. This something is a group of molecules called phenylpopanoids (PP). PP protects the meristematic (plant stem) cells of the plants. These totipotent stem cells can continuously regenerate any part of the plant. Once they divide and are differentiated (assigned to a specific part or function, for example a root, leaf, or trunk), they have the ability to return to their original undifferentiated state if wounded (dedifferentiation).
When a leaf is cut off a plant, a callous made of undifferentiated meristem cells forms over the injured area. Under the right conditions, these callous cells can regenerate into any part of the plant; even into a new complete plant. Animal and human stem cells do not have the ability to regenerate in this way, as they are either multipotent (adult stem cells) or pluripotent (embryonic stem cells), rather than totipotent.
In a laboratory setting utilizing the Istituto di Recerche Biotechnologiche(IRB)’s HTN Biotechnology, these meristem callouses are purified and cultured in an ideal nutritive growth medium (consisting of naturally occurring sucrose, vitamins, plant hormones like auxins and cytokinins, and other non-organism beneficial plant nutrients) to produce highly concentrated, stable (no need for preservatives), and extremely bioactive plant stem cells.
This technology has numerous benefits including:
• Only a small sample of a host plant is required to obtain the cultures which is eco-friendly because it does not take up much soil or water, nor does it compromise or over-cultivate rare or endangered species
• Ingredients are grown in a sterile and controlled environment which ensures purity and standard quality which produces the safest non-GMO ingredients
OK…but how can a plant stem cell protect and improve human skin?
Not only does PP protect the precious meristem cells in plants, but it has also been scientifically proven to protect animal cells; specifically human skin fibroblasts (cells that generate collagen and elastin in the deeper layer of the skin: the dermis), and keratinocytes (cells that generate the keratin that comprises the outermost layers of the skin: epidermis).
The reason for this is that the PP in the meristem cells responds to the same environmental stressors (harsh weather, UV exposure, pollutants, pathogens) that damage human skin as the ones that these rare plants have grown in for thousands of years. These cells protect the skin’s collagen by destroying the enzymes and free radicals brought on by these aggressors to destroy it; and also encourage the fibroblasts to produce healthy new collagen.
The IRB has isolated several plant stem cell cultures called Stems G™ which have been shown in studies to be the most protective for human skin, as well as most beneficial for anti-aging products. The most potent of these ingredients are the Stems G™ derived from the gardenia, edelweiss, Echinacea, butterfly bush, gotu kola/Asian pennywort, and most recently (introduced in March 2011) the Marrubium vulgare (white horehound) Stems G™. The Marrubium vulgare Stems G™ was shown in clinical tests to have twice the antioxidant efficacy of super-ingredients resveratrol and Vitamin C.
What’s the catch?
The challenge facing these powerful new anti-aging ingredients lies in formulation: how will these large molecules penetrate into the skin and get absorbed into the cells? Like most other expensive skin care ingredients, you get what you pay for. While a skin care product line like Andalou might market plant stem cells on its packaging and might show them on its ingredient lists, at this price point there really is no way the ingredients are of a high enough quality or high enough quantity (concentration) to be effective.
Furthermore, these types of ingredients need to be specially formulated with special delivery systems to help them penetrate and be accepted and utilized by the cells; this technology is expensive and would not be found in lower price point products.
If you want to give plant stem cell technology a try to see if it can help you look more youthful, my advice is to skip the grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, and even specialty stores. Go straight to a licensed skin care professional or dermatologist’s office and get the products directly from them. On the ingredient list you want to check to make sure the plant stem cell ingredient is as close to the top of the list as possible, and also check for some indication of a liposome or other phospholipid delivery system ingredient such as lecithin or phosphatidylcholine.