Plant-based stem cells are quickly becoming a popular ingredient among consumer cosmetic products. There isn’t much science to support the claims made by these products and, in most cases, these products don’t even contain living stem cells! Understanding how these products are abusing consumer trust is just a matter of understanding some basic science.
The plant-based stem cells used in health products aren’t like the ones talked about in the media. Plant-based stem cells, at least when found in common cosmetic products, aren’t alive. Products with these types of stem cells as ingredients only contain the natural proteins, sugars, and growth factors that stem cells use to adapt and build new tissue.
Frontiers of Cosmetic Research
It’s important to note plant-based stem cell research is still young. This hasn’t stopped plant-based stem cells from being included in a great many cosmetic products. As the United States FDA states, “other than [spinal] cord blood for certain specific indications—there are no approved stem cell products.” Skincare and cosmetics are one of the largest health markets in the world and natural treatments such as collagen and Argan oil products have seen a large rise in popularity recently. There is a strong financial incentive to leverage existing interest to sell these types of products to consumers, but there isn’t always financial interest to conduct research on natural products. Such is the dilemma of the natural products market.
Understanding Stem Cells
Let’s go over some of the latest research related to plant-based stem cells. Understanding some of the facts can help filter out the BS marketing and recognize any potential health benefits of plant-based stem cells. First, it’s important to understand that stem cells are different from other types of cells in the body in the following 3 major ways:
- Stem cells are capable of dividing for long periods of time
- Stem Cells are unspecialized
- Stem Cells can transform into specialized cells
These three simple characteristics allow stem cells to act in truly remarkable ways in our bodies, and in the bodies of plants. Human stem cells are typically found in embryonic cells (cells in a developing fetus) though are also found in certain areas of the adult body. Check out this article by the Mayo Clinic for a fuller description of the different types of human stem cells.
Human Stem Cells
In the human body, stem cells are generated at sites where new tissue is required, such as muscle, nerve tissue, or epidermal structures like skin or hair. These cells are able to divide freely and can specialize based on our bodies’ needs. If our body needs new skin or muscle cells–stem cells are happy to oblige! In a laboratory setting, a starter culture of stem cells can proliferate into a large quantity in a short period of time. This allows researchers to cultivate live stem cells to be used in several notable therapies.
Plant Based Stem Cells
Most stem cell research is focused on the notion that living stem cells can transform into new living tissues such as skin, hair, nerves, or even muscle tissue. Research on plant-based stem cells focuses more on the benefits of the compounds within the stem cells themselves. The proteins and growth factors found within these cells are the ingredients often referred to when skincare and cosmetic products reference “stem cells.” In fact, the stem cells themselves aren’t living anymore and the benefits come solely from the compounds found within them.
Notable celebrities such as former ‘Posh’ Spice Girl Victoria Beckham have made very public declarations of their affinity for plant-based stem cell cosmetics. All it takes is one interesting celebrity article to start an uproar over a new health product. Dr. Oz, for example, has actually had to face a Senate Subcommittee hearing after declaring herbal products as being “miracle” weight loss compounds.
Understanding how plant-based stem cells are used in cosmetic products can help better understand their value. It can also help avoid being duped by marketers. Researchers take a certain type of stem cell, called totipotent stem cells, and remove the useful compounds found inside. This allows scientists to cultivate a myriad of natural compounds thought to be useful to the human body. The important distinction here is that these compounds are used by stem cells and not actual stem cells. These compounds may include such as proteins, sugars, growth factors.
Putting Together the Pieces
Stem cells are at the frontier of modern science. Researchers are avidly seeking answers to how these function-fluid structures might be able to address the biggest issues in human health. There isn’t much available research to describe the health benefits of plant-based stem cells in the human body. Keep that in mind when you are considering buying that new ‘anti-aging’ skin cream made with stem cells. Not only are they not human stem cells but they likely aren’t even plant-based stem cells! Most of these products only contain extracts from dead plant stem cells are don’t have much research to support any claims made by the manufacturer–regardless of what you hear on Instagram.