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The Human Side of Cosmetic Stem Cell Technology

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When choosing skin care products, it is very easy to become confused by the buzzwords and “miracle ingredients” that headline all the advertisements. Antioxidants, peptides, stem cells, growth factors…it’s enough to make your head spin. It seems that each category of ingredients has even more confusing sub-categories. Take stem cells for instance. In skin care do we want plant stem cells or human derived stem cells? Adult or embryonic? Do we even want the stem cells themselves or do we want their growth factors? Wouldn’t it be ever so helpful if we had the opportunity to hear from one of the doctors and formulators who is on the forefront of stem cell technology and research for cosmetic use? Fortunately, I was recently given this opportunity.

Ben Johnson, MD is the founder and formulator of Osmosis Pür Medical Skincare. He has been been delivering medical strength skin care products using only natural and chirally correct ingredients since 1997. The Osmosis line is one of the few companies that has products aimed at repairing and rejuvenating skin at the cellular level in the dermis (deepest layer of the skin) where the majority of the skin’s aging occurs.

The product Stem Factor is one of the few skin care products on the market composed primarily of adult human-derived stem cell growth factors and growth media. While there are other growth factor products out there, Osmosis’ technology is continuously on the cutting edge. Dr. Johnson was kind enough to take a few (OK more than a few) moments out of his work to speak with me about Stem Factor, growth factors, and the technology behind it all.

Why growth factors instead of stem cells?

Growth factors are preferred over plant stem cells and even human stem cells because they assign specific functions to the cells. If we apply, or even inject undifferentiated stem cells (regardless of their potency) into the skin, there is no way to know what type of cells they will become. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t benefit the skin; they would break down into proteins and amino acids which would provide nourishment and a slight improvement to the condition of the skin; but the growth factors have demonstrated greater improvement. Furthermore, human-derived growth factors are safer than human-derived stem cells because there is no risk of infection or rejection associated with them.

Where do growth factors come from?

They are cultured from a growth media containing mesenchymal (adult) stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS), and fibroblast stem cells. The adult stem cells are taken from the subcutaneous fat of healthy adult donors who have been screened rigorously. These stem cells can differentiate into many different types of cells, produce hundreds of growth factors, and are very good at multiplying. When these stem cells divide they secrete these growth factors. The stem cells themselves are not used in Stem Factor, just the growth factors. The stem cells remain in the culture where they continue to divide and secrete more growth factors.

How is the technology behind Stem Factor different from other growth factor products on the market?

There are other skin care lines out there that also culture growth factors from mesenchymal stem cells. Osmosis is different because the cells are taken from the subcutaneous fat layer, located just beneath the dermis; not from organs or tissues unrelated to the skin. After these stem cells are harvested, the most productive ones are identified and separated from the others. Only these selected stem cells are used to culture the growth factors. Some of these stem cells are then converted to IPS (to increase potency), while others are converted to fibroblast stem cells. This compilation of stem cell media produces a larger variety of growth factors, as well as a higher percentage of growth factors. Additionally, these growth factors are grown in 3D which makes them more stable and more potent than other methods.

Stem Factor was formulated using a very balanced and safe approach. It contains 150 different growth factors that have been identified to affect positive changes in the skin. By applying all of these different growth factors, there is a better chance of penetration and once they are in they not only encourage the growth of new cells, but also the removal or repair of damaged cells. Each person’s individual body chemistry and skin condition determines which growth factors it uses. The body will only use those growth factors it needs.

How do growth factors benefit the skin?

This is an area where more research is needed. It is known that growth factors produce the following positive effects in the skin:

  • Improves visible signs of aging by encouraging formation of new fibroblasts (which produce the anti-aging proteins collagen and elastin), increasing circulation, helping the skin’s ability to heal itself, and encouraging more absorption and utilization antioxidants.
  • Improves acne by increasing the skin’s wound repair function, reducing scarring, repairing existing damage, and increasing the skin’s nutrition and ability to fight off bacteria.
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation by repairing damaged melanocytes (cells that produce melanin pigment), increasing the cell turnover rate, and repairing UV damage.
  • Helps treat rosacea by replacing depleted growth factors, reducing scarring, and restoring the skin’s barrier function.

However, more research is still needed to determine why and how else these growth factors affect the skin’s physiology, how often they are naturally produced by the body, and how long they remain active in the body.

Don’t growth factors need preservatives?

The growth factors are fairly stable if they are not stored in an environment warmer than 70 degrees or too humid. If you live in a hot, humid climate it would be a good idea to refrigerate the product to prevent premature degradation. In a regular environment, growth factors are stable for 18 months to 2 years. After that about 75 percent of the growth factors will break down into proteins. Again, proteins still provide some benefit to the skin but not as much as the intact growth factors. Osmosis products are free of chemical preservatives and are manufactured in small batches to ensure quality and freshness.

How do topically applied growth factors reach the cellular level?

Growth factors are fairly large molecules. They can only penetrate the epidermis (outermost layers of the skin) via the hair follicles. This presents quite a challenge in itself because the follicles produce oil and perspiration and can become clogged with dead skin cells and other debris. On their own, only about one to two percent of the growth factors would penetrate the skin’s barrier. Osmosis’ unique liposomal delivery system increases the rate of penetration into the dermis by 600 to 1000 percent.

Could a growth factor enter the skin/body and produce cancer?

Theoretically there is a potential for growth factors to encourage existing cancer cells to grow. There was research that suggested that certain growth factors caused divison in cancerous/pre-cancerous cells leading to growth of the cancer. Osmosis has removed these particular growth factors from Stem Factor.

There are also growth factors that produce interferons and tumor necrosis cells; both of which fight cancer. So conversely, there is a theoretic potential for growth factors to prevent skin cancer as well.

As with anything, if there is any doubt or concern, customers should consult with their healthcare providers before using this technology.

I encourage readers to visit the Osmosis Pür Medical Skincare website and the Osmosis YouTube channel and check out Dr. Johnson’s videos about Stem Factor and his other products and technologies. I also highly recommend his book Transform Your Skin Naturally which discusses more of Dr. Johnson’s philosophies regarding anti-aging from a very unique and holistic perspective.

I have been following Dr. Johnson’s research for some time now, and he is constantly thinking outside the box and coming up with new advances. I’m a huge fan, and can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

*Image credits: CR Magazine, Joaquin Luco’s Center for Cell Regulation and Pathology, and the American Academy of Dermatology.

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About Rachael Pontillo

  • ADiaz

    Thanks for posting this!
    I find your article to be really informative. I also like the fact that you mentioned growth factors, however, I do think that stem cells’ benefits and accessibility must not be overlooked.

    I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on cosmetic surgery, and I found vast information on stem cells and how they are used for face lifts among other procedures.

    In fact, I read an article the other day that listed similar information to what’s stated in your blog.

    Stem cell face lift sounds very promising, especially the idea that we can find a high concentration of stem cells in our fat tissues. Once again, stem cells are not only extremely beneficial but they are also quite accessible.

    Here’s the article.

    Let me know what you think!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/rachael-pontillo/ Rachael Pontillo

    Hi, Thanks for your comment. If you read the comments in the final article I did in this series, there is some further discussion among MDs about stem cell accessibility and growth factors.

  • AshleyD

    Thanks, Rachel!
    I just saw the link you sent me. Stem Cells are definitely revolutionary.

    I am particularly fascinated with the use of stem cells in cosmetics. As you mentioned in your article, stem cells have a positive effects on the skin. Thus, people should definitely look into it, not only for anti-aging purposes, but also for acne and other skin conditions.

    Keep it up!!