Home / What’s the Verdict on Stem Cell Technology in Cosmetics?

What’s the Verdict on Stem Cell Technology in Cosmetics?

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When I first set out to write this series on the use of stem cell and growth factor technology in cosmetics, I already had some knowledge on the subject. However, the biggest thing I learned while doing the research for these articles is how fast this technology changes. The technology I first learned about less than a year ago at the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa has already been improved upon; and I’m sure when I go back to the same show in October it will have changed again. It’s absolutely amazing and mind boggling, and I hope you have found it as interesting as I have.

My thoughts on plant stem cells in cosmetics…

I have to be honest and say that I have not yet personally used a skin care product containing plant stem cells. While the studies are quite impressive and it would make sense that a totipotent stem cell would be more effective than a multipotent adult stem cell or even an induced pluripotent stem cell (IPS), I still have to think: “but it’s a plant…and human beings are not plants.”

Does the human body have receptors for stem cells from plants? Could a stem cell from a plant differentiate into a human cell? The studies from the IRB as well as PhytoCellTec™ have shown that while the cultured plant stem cells do not actually regenerate new human cells, they do have a strong ability to protect the skin’s existing stem cells and prevent future damage.

Again, I do not have firsthand experience using plant stem cell skin care products so I cannot tell you whether or not they have improved my own skin or my clients’ skin; but based on the research and the results from many published studies I can certainly see how plant stem cells can protect and nourish existing cells.

My thoughts on human derived stem cells and growth factors in cosmetics…

I do have personal experience using Osmosis Pür Medical Skin Care’s Stem Factor serum, which is made of growth factors cultured from stem cells harvested from the subcutaneous fat layer of healthy adult donors. After several months of using Stem Factor my skin has never looked better. My acne is under control, my old acne scars have noticeably flattened and faded, and some of the fine lines I was starting to get have also faded. In all fairness, however, I also use several other products in the Osmosis line and have made lifestyle and dietary changes to enhance my anti-aging efforts. I do have one particular client who does not use all Osmosis products but has incorporated Stem Factor into her existing regimen who has told me she has noticed positive changes in her skin as well.

I have not yet used any other stem cell or growth factor product lines, but shortly after I published the first article in this series, I was approached by a very high end luxury product line that uses growth factors derived from mesenchymal stem cells. I was sent several of their products to try out and review, so I am looking forward to seeing how this product line stacks up to Osmosis.

As for the drama surrounding the use of human derived stem cells and growth factors in skin care, I really don’t think there is any controversy here. This is not the same as using embryonic stem cells in stem cell research. These stem cells are derived from living, consenting, health-screened adults. While some of these adult stem cells are used in cosmetic injectables and cosmetic surgeries like face lifts with limited success, the products and technology I am referring to use the growth factors derived from these cells in a very controlled environment.

I have seen headlines and ads for actual adult stem cells in very expensive skin care products, but I would not support the use of these because actual living cells cannot survive inside a bottle without the use of massive chemical preservatives, if even then. I do not support the use of potentially harmful chemicals in products. Furthermore, actual stem cells present the risk of infection or tissue rejection, and there is no way to determine if they will penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin or survive long enough to divide and differentiate into new cells. Even if they do make it in and survive, there is no way to determine what cells they will actually differentiate into. Additionally, products that claim to contain actual human stem cells most likely have become mostly protein by the time they get from the lab to the consumer. While proteins can provide a mild benefit to the skin, they will not cause the transformation that their manufacturers are claiming they will.

For these reasons I do prefer the liposomally-delivered growth factors, because once they penetrate, they are already “programmed” to assign the skin’s stem cells into specific beneficial functions.

What about the safety concerns?

As mentioned in The Human Side of Cosmetic Stem Cell Technology, more research is needed in stem cell and growth factor technology. While there is a theoretic potential for growth factors to exacerbate existing cancer cell growth, there is also the theoretic potential for them to inhibit it. If you have skin cancer, have had skin cancer, are at a high risk for developing skin cancer, or have any concerns whatsoever, you need to have a conversation with your licensed healthcare provider to help you decide whether or not these products are best for you. It is my opinion that the growth factors are safer than the actual human-derived stem cells.

The bottom line.

There are lots of products on the market now claiming they contain stem cells and growth factors. They range in price anywhere from $20 to over $1000. If you want to try a product containing these ingredients you need to be smart about it and not be swayed by glossy (and most likely retouched) advertisements. Read the labels and see how high up on the list the marketed ingredients are. The higher up, the better.

For example, Stem Factor contains Adult Stem Cell Derived Conditioned Media, Phosphatidylcholine (natural liposome), Harmonized Water, Hydroxyethylcellulose (gelling agent derived from wood or cotton*), and Essential Oil Blend. It retails for about $90.

Andalou’s Fruit Stem Cell Revitalise Serum, on the other hand is mainly comprised of Aloe Barbadensis Juice*, Aqua, Polysorbate 60, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Juice (the first five ingredients make up the majority of the product). The actual plant stem cell cultures are nearly halfway down the list, which contains many other botanical ingredients as well as some chemical ingredients. It retails for about $20.00. While this product most likely won’t cause any adverse effects to the skin (unless there is an allergy to one of the ingredients), and would be a perfectly fine everyday skin care product; there is not enough of the marketed ingredient to actually provide any therapeutic or aesthetic benefit. I would not recommend purchasing a product like this just because it says it contains stem cells.

If you are looking for a plant stem cell product or a growth factor product, I would recommend a product that lists the advertised ingredients in the first five on the label, and there should not be a huge list of ingredients following.


*Michalun M and Michalun MV, Milady’s Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary, 3rd ed. Clifton Park, NY: Milady, 2010.

**Images 2 and 3 from Osmosis Pür Medical Skin Care.

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About Rachael Pontillo

  • Dr. Nate Mathews

    interesting article, but science tell us stem cells don’t produce growth factors? Stem cells are dormant and have no function until activated. Once activated it will differentiate and become and functional cell, which is no longer stem cell. So stem cells are being used for marketing reasons. Growth factors indeed very powerful and I personally experienced many benefits from them but Osmosis use stem cell growth factors, which makes me believe questions Osmosis products.

  • Dr. Nate Mathews

    There are 4 companies that uses Growth factors products backed by science and governments certifications:
    1- Skin medica
    2- Neocutis
    3- Revive
    4- AQ Skin solutions

    any other companies that are using growth factors in their products are not being truthful.. I wish the author of this article would look into the above companies and report to us.

  • There are several companies that use different growth factor technologies. I agree that some companies are not completely truthful with their marketing, which is why I encourage people to do their homework before just putting something onto their skin just because some celebrity endorses it. Osmosis has plenty of research behind their technology…the growth factor media “activates” the stem cells to cause them to divide and produce growth factors along with cytokines. Some of those above companies only use one type of growth factor, along with several chemicals and preservatives that can dilute the media and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and/or use those growth factors. There is also no evidence of any type of delivery system to actually help these growth factors penetrate. Osmosis is always happy to answer questions and address any concerns people may have regarding their technology and products. I have come across several growth factor and stem cell products; some have merit, other have none which I also addressed in this series.

  • Ben Johnson, MD

    I respectfully disagree that stem cells are incapable of producing growth factors. I have personally seen the tests that show distinct growth factor and cytokine production that is unique to each cell type. Osmosis uses a combination of Fibroblasts, Mesenchymal Stem Cells and IPS Stem Cells. We use a higher percentage of fibroblasts because those growth factors are more targeted for dermal remodeling. Please see this link discussing Mesenchymal Stem Cell conditioned media showing the presence of a number of key growth factors.

    I agree that there has not been a lot of research on stem cell growth media but I think your judgment is a little premature. SkinMedica only uses fibroblasts and they do not have the liposomal delivery and the full complement of growth factors and cytokines that come with combining cells in growth medias. This serum has only been available for less than a year but research will soon follow. Please keep an open mind on these innovations 🙂

  • Thanks for the info and clarification Dr. Johnson!

  • John Sanderson, MD

    Excellent series of articles summarizing in lay terms a rather complex aspect of leading edge skin care science. My kudos to Rachael for a superb accomplishment.

    A minor point of disagreement with Dr. Johnson. None of the cytokines, growth factors, and signaling peptides of interest (the terms overlap somewhat) are unique to any particular human cell type, although cells that are differentiated (e.g. from mesenchymal stem cells to fibroblasts) display different secretory propensities in culture, so that concentrations of individual cytokines will change. The more pluripotent a cell type is, the more capacity it has to produce growth factors and cytokines of all types. But there are many other factors (e.g. starting medium, oxygen tension in the culture environment, growth rate, degree of confluence of cells) that determine how much of each cytokine (or growth factor) is secreted into the culture medium. This “cytokine soup” as I like to call it, can therefore vary considerably in final composition. I have not seen any research to suggest that fibroblast cultures or mixed cultures have any advantage in this context. Indeed, given the physiologic role of mesenchymal stem cells as “first responders” to damage in organs and tissues (lots of recent research here) they would seem to have the theoretical advantage. Keep in mind also that making new collagen is only half the battle in dermal remodeling. The first half involves detecting damaged (old, cross liked, inelastic) collagen, the stuff of wrinkles, breaking it down, removing it, and creating an environment for healing (nutrients, dissolved gases, redox). I am oversimplifying here.

    I really appreciated your addressing the myth that plant stem cells results in magical active ingredients when ground up and added to skin care products. There is a huge gap between human and plant cell biology when it comes to growth and repair.

  • Thanks for your comment…it’s so nice to see this type of discussion here!

  • Dr. Nate Mathews

    I partially agree with Dr. Sanderson and greatly disagree with Dr. Johnson. I’ve read and saw the video Dr. Johnson show to explain the ‘technology’ behind Osmosis. I understand it is a business Dr. Johnson but I think you should not mix business with science. What did you exactly see personally, What tests?
    Having growth factors in your products alone is not enough, you need to know what growth factors are relevant to what particular function. Having lots of growth factors from different types of cells does not makes it better. Osmosis claim to have 117 different growth factors in their products thus making it superior, which in actuality makes it very dangerous. Of course, Osmosis did not develop the ‘technology’ but get the ‘soup’ from a third party. Now if the third party is telling you all the information that you’re claiming in your products, then, Dr. Johnson you need to stop and think about what you are saying, I know you are not a scientist and your knowledge in the subject is very limited but at least rely on a credible third party. I personally tried your products and found them to be below average. Your sell reps are wonderful and gave me all the samples and info. I need to run my tests and came to my conclusion. I tested almost every stem cell/growth factor products in the market personally and in my private lab. I know what’s legit and what’s not.

    • Delly

      Can you tell me if any are legit? lindell.white@gmail.com

      I am using osmosis now and, if anything, I’ve seen a worsening of my skin.

  • Dr. G.

    Update: I just found out that Osmosis get their “active ingredients” from a company located in Irvine California called ‘Invitrx’. The same people who manufacture the dangerous skin care named Reluma. The sale rep. just left my office and she was telling me how Invitrx developed this technology and they supply Osmosis and other companies with their “active ingredients”. I tried Reluma and immediately started developing rash. I did some search online and I found out this interesting article: http://www.aitse.org/stem-cell-charlatans/
    I have no doubt that Invitrx and Mr. Habib Torfi is supplying Osmosis with the stem cell ingredients. I ask my fellow doctors and professionals to do some research before giving these products to those who have in trusted us with their skin.