Stymied by skincare’s latest obsession with stem cells? Plant stem cells represent a new frontier in skincare: The shift from repairing skin to potentially replacing it. While plant stem cells in skin creams does sound future-forward, the science behind it shows promise. It’s based on plants’ unique ability to regenerate. For example, if you cut the branch of a tree, a new branch will grow. In contrast to the stem cells in our skin, plant stem cells are totipotent, meaning they are capable of regenerating an entirely new, whole plant.
Scientists and cosmetic researchers are researching how to apply this renewable technology onto aging skin. The theory? By applying a product that contains stem-cell extracts derived from plants or fruits, you may encourage the growth of your skin’s own stem cells and possibly trigger their anti-aging effects. Read on for a plant stem cell primer.
Where are plant stem cells found?
The stem cells in beauty products are obtained primarily from plants and fruits that can stay fresh for a long time, like Swiss apples, edelweiss, roses, date palms, grapes and gotu kola (a swamp plant). Extracts of these stem cells—not the live cells themselves—are added to skin-care products (there are no actual stem cells in any beauty products). But what they do contain are the proteins and growth factors the stem cells produce, and this may be enough to trick old skin into acting young. Although currently it’s not possible to maintain live stem cells in cosmetic emulsions, many scientists believe that’s what necessary for a significant breakthrough for skincare.
What are plant stem cells, again?
The short answer is naturally occurring botanicals full of antioxidants. These antioxidants can protect our skin from the damaging effect of UV rays and reduce inflammation. Plant stem cell actives often contain a concentration of antioxidants that is 1,000 times greater than other botanical extracts, so they are extremely potent versions of traditional raw material extracts. For example, in a 2008 study published in the International Journal for Applied Science, plant stem cell extracts taken from the Uttwiler Spätlauber apple, a Swiss varietal developed in the eighteenth century to have an especially long shelf life, were shown to provide both a stimulating and protective effect on human skin cells (the apple stem-cell application increased in vivo cell turnover and UV resistance).
How do you extract the cells?
The good news is that plant stem cell extracts are highly sustainable. Whereas the number of blossoms, leaf, roots, and bark used to create traditional extracts is astounding, only a very small amount of plant material is needed to produce high-quality, powerfully active, plant stem cell ingredients. A single plant can produce a vast number of stem cells, so fewer natural resources are needed for their cultivation.
How do they help skin?
Although the skin constantly renews itself throughout your lifetime, as you age, your long-term self-renewing stem cells begin to regenerate more slowly. Gradually you start to lose these stem cells, and by the time you hit 50, you’ve lost about 98 percent of them. In your youth, the average turnover for your skin is about 25 to 30 days. But as you hit middle age, production slows down, and turnover can take up to 60 days.
The bottom line?
Plant stem cells in skincare, even if they are actually dead, may be worth it for their high concentration of antioxidants and for their potential to improve cell turnover and renewal.
What should I look for?
Though it can take a bit of sleuthing, look for the words phyto cells, plant extracts, fruit extracts and stem cells in the ingredient deck. To get you started, we vetted these four products guaranteed to contain stem cell extracts.
Rich in Vitamin C and natural acids, chlorella & apple extract are the starring plants in this lightweight, brightening serum. $17, vitacost.com
Boost your skin’s collagen and elastin with argan stem cells, which boast nutrient rich fatty acids with anti-inflammatory super powers. $20, vitacost.com
Phyto cells from papyrus and marine plant extracts help regenerate skin, while hyaluronic acid plumps us parched skin. $45, vitacost.com
Orange stem cells purify pores and refine skin’s texture in this ultra clean formulation. $16, vitacost.com