This month, Dr. James Beckman, CEO and founder of Therapon Skin Health, was featured in a leading skin care publication, SkinInc.com. This article discusses Dr. Beckman’s view on how stem cells can be used in skin care products. Read the full article below or visit www.skininc.com.
Over the past two years, I have seen an increased number of articles on stem cells and their use in skin care products. However, marketing materials and news releases from ingredient manufacturers may often be misleading. Before we can adequately talk about the use of stem cells in manufactured products for skin care, we must first define what a stem cell is and its function and purpose in any organism.
A good working definition of stem cells is one found online in Wikipedia: “Stem cells are cells of the body (somatic cells) which can divide and become differentiated.” Stem cells are found in both plants and animals. They divide and can differentiate into a range of cell types. In animals, when an egg is fertilized a living cell is formed with a full complement of DNA. This cell then divides into two identical daughter cells. Until there are 10-12 cells, each of these cells has the potential to become any specific tissue cell type in the future mature adult, but of only that organism (remember the DNA thing). They are described at this stage as pluripotential cells.
When an organism grows, stem cells specialize and develop specific functions in many tissues in order to replicate replacement cells as needed for different cell types in that tissue. They have now lost the ability to be pluripotential, but because these stem cells are not yet fully differentiated, they can modify and become some kind of specialized cells for that tissue. For example, skin stem cells may replicate and differentiate into any of the various skin cell types, but may not have the potential to become nerve cells, etc.
Individual cells have a finite life span, and when they die off they are replaced with new cells. Some blood cells live for about four months, while some others live more than a year. Skin cells live only about two or three weeks. In any event, depending on age, between 50 and 70 billion cells die each day in the human body. Organisms use stem cells to replace many of these and the damaged cells that must be removed.
So it would seem like magic if we could simply make up a topical skin care product filled with stem cells. It would be even better if stem cells from plants could be harvested, cultured and then infused into skin care products. Unfortunately, some manufacturers tout their product as “utilizing stem cell technology” to get exceptional benefits for a user’s skin. This is somewhat misleading.
The problem comes when we realize that only a stem cell taken from that individual would have the DNA of that individual, and that it is not even feasible to keep stem cells alive in a jar of topical product formulation. So the claims are misleading and customers often pay a very high price for a product that is not capable of supporting the claims.
On the other hand, stem cells from plants can be cultured in large quantities, and the cells do produce biological products that are released into the culture medium. These “culture medium bio-products” do include some growth factors, but these growth factors are usable only by the plant the cells are from.
Some of the by-products released into the culture liquid may have antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, much more potent antioxidant molecules are available from very less expensive sources such as the French Maritime Pine bark. The group of antioxidants called oligomeric proantho cyanidins (OPC’s) are 20 times more potent than vitamin C and can actually act to restore spent vitamin C in body stores. These were first described in 1537 by the French Explorer in his journal, The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, as saving the lives of his crew members from vitamin C depletion causing death from Scurvy. (www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/pds/pds.htm. In Ramsay Cook, ed., University of Toronto Press, 1993)
So the answer is that stem cells do exist, they do have a real purpose in both function and restoration in the organism in which they originated. But stem cells themselves that function with benefits in aesthetic topical products is not a current reality. Excellent anti-oxidants are available in less pricey products than those touting “Stem Cell Power.” Magic simply does not exist.
James Beckman, MD
Founder/Director R & D, Therapon Skin Health