“Telomeres,” “epigenetic signals,” “sirtuin modulating compounds”—the terms associated with plant stem cell technology can make you yearn for the days when “transepidermal water loss” was the most complex scientific concept most spa pros needed to absorb. Before you give up altogether and retreat, let us assure you that the science behind plant stem cell compounds isn’t all that indecipherable—if you stick to the facts.
Let’s begin our discussion with skin stem cells, which are located near hair follicles and sweat glands, and which lie dormant until chemicals (epigenetic signals) activate them. These cells will then divide and produce a new stem cell, a “daughter” cell that can become any specialized cell needed in the repair of the skin. The epigenetic signals also determine the kind of specialized cell this daughter becomes.
“Only 2% to 7% of skin cells are stem cells,” says Karen Asquith, national technical training manager, G.M. Collin. “As we age, these cells produce fewer skin cells and their action becomes less efficient.”
In 2009, three American scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for discoveries they made, starting in the 1950s, regarding the function of telomeres (those protective “caps” covering the chromosomes of stem cells) and telomerase (the enzyme that forms them). These scientists found that when telomeres were shortened, the cells would age; however, if telomerase activity was high, the length of telomeres would remain unchanged and cell senescence (death) would thus be delayed.
What happens when stem cells die? Here’s one cause-and-effect example: When melanocyte stem cells in the hair follicle die, the hair turns gray.
“Stem cells are charged with replicating your DNA, preparing cells for division and regrowth,” explains Christine Heathman, CEO and president, GlyMed Plus Skin Care. “They decide what kind of cells the skin needs to repair itself, and then they provide them.” Heathman first became excited about scientific findings related to chromosomes and DNA back in 1999. “Ever since reading about the discovery of telomeres and telomerase,” she says, “I’ve kept an eye out for raw materials that might be useful in keeping stem cells active. You can’t have great skin if you don’t have great stem cells.”
DAYSPA turned to industry experts to make sense of all the fuss. Read on to find out what makes a great stem cell—and exactly how that can translate to great skin. —Linda W. Lewis
Early efforts to formulate skincare products that could improve telomere activity involved only human and animal products, such as epidermal growth factor, which is extremely expensive and limited in its use. In May 2008, plant stem cells claimed the spotlight for the first time, thanks to the publication of an article reporting that an extract of a Swiss apple cultivar (the Uttwiler Spätlauber) improved cell viability in human umbilical cord blood stem cells (D. Schmid, et al., “Plant Stem Cell Extract for Longevity of Skin and Hair,” International Journal for Applied Science). The authors concluded: “Reduced viability and premature senescence… of stem cells is a principal cause for tissue aging. The results presented… show that an extract of Uttwiler Spatläuber stem cells positively influences viability and resistance against senescence…of human stem cells.”
Since then, we’ve seen a bumper crop of plant stem cell compounds developed for the skincare market. “Skincare products have always relied heavily on botanical sources,” says Sonia Boghosian, CEO and education director, Bio Jouvance. “Until recently, though, we were limited to essential oils and plant extracts, which often get stripped of valuable properties during the extraction process. Now, advanced biotechnological techniques allow us to capture virtually all of a plant’s vitality and nutrients. The result is strong compounds untainted with additives or chemical preservatives, that pass along all their health and vitality to achieve rejuvenation at skin’s cellular level.”
It’s very important to understand the nuanced role of plant stem cells in skincare products. “Plant stem cells don’t function like human skin cells, and adding them to products is not about stimulating human skin cells,” explains Rhonda Allison, founder, Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals. “You wouldn’t want these compounds to stimulate human cell replication because that would be dangerous and beyond the scope of a cosmetic product,” Allison notes. “Plants are structured on the meristem system—little factories that produce millions of undifferentiated cells that can go on to become any part of the plant. Scientists take these stem cells into the laboratory to obtain the beneficial properties of the plants, in compounds that are not exposed to pesticides or other environmental contaminants. By doing so, they’re left with all of the unique properties of the plant, in their purest forms.”
What are these beneficial properties? One of the most important stem cell provisions is antioxidants. “Another way of thinking of plant stem cell compounds is as ‘super antioxidants’ that help prevent oxidative stress and DNA damage to cells,” says April Zangl, CEO, HydroPeptide.
“I love that plant extracts are a sustainable resource; by replicating stem cells in the laboratory we are able to use the entire plant without depleting the source,” adds Sharla Hearns, educational advisor, DermaQuest. “These compounds are safe for the skin and contain all of the nutrients to repair damage and maintain youthful-looking skin. I honestly believe that plant stem cells will change skin care forever.”
Now that scientific technology has harnessed the stem cell-fueled power of botanicals, how can it be channeled into skin care? ”Our job is to formulate them properly so these actives can get to where they’re needed in the skin,” says Heathman. “Stem cell compounds are very expensive. You can use just enough to justify putting the ingredient on your label, or incorporate the highest amount possible within the integrity of the formulation. It’s like mixing a chocolate cake: A minimal amount of good chocolate will give you a hint of flavor; a maximum amount will provide a decadent flavor. And too much chocolate may prevent the cake from becoming a cake at all. Even the best skincare ingredients need a delivery system, an interface that gets the ingredient where it needs to go.”
Manufacturers have divergent formulation philosophies and they can choose from among dozens of plant stem cell compounds (see Stem Cell Compound Sampler, next slide). These can be mixed and matched, or combined with other active ingredients. All of this translates to a wonderful variety of choices for day spa owners.
“We started working with stem cell-derived compounds about eight years ago,” notes Allison. “After looking at the strengths of those compounds, we decided that the best way to use them was to add them to already viable products. We tried formulating the best of the compounds alone and mixing two or more of them, but we didn’t get hoped-for results. But by matching Buddleja Davidii Meristem cell cultures with our retinol cream, we were able to achieve wonderful outcomes.”
There’s an impressive array of compounds to work with. Several manufacturers, like Cosmetic Solutions, GlyMed Plus and G.M. Collin, have chosen to work with PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica, the compound sourced from the well-studied Swiss apple. Cosmetic Solutions cites its “fast regeneration and healing abilities,” and pairs it with hydrating seaweed extract and hyaluronic acid in its Skin Stem Cell Serum.
G.M. Collin’s Phyto Stem Cell+, launched in 2011, combines Malus Domestica with its proprietary DNA Repair as well as with Orsirtine, a rice extract high in sirtuin-activating compounds. “Sirtuin 1 is known as the ‘longevity molecule’,” explains Asquith. “Research has shown that when the body takes in fewer calories, it produces more sirtuins and goes into ‘survival mode.’ So by stimulating sirtuin production, we can help skin cells survive longer.”
Some companies tend to opt for the latest ingredients. For instance, Prana Spaceuticals debuted its Mushroom Collection, a six-product line using reishi mushroom stem cells, at the 2012 ISPA Conference. These cells have been shown to combat environmental stress and reduce inflammation. “The use of reishi mushrooms for cancer treatment has been researched extensively at The Mayo Clinic,” adds Cherie Dobbs, CEO, Dermastart (the parent company to Prana Spaceuticals). “Reishi mushrooms boost skin immunity and have a remarkable ability to normalize the skin’s pH. The mushrooms play a significant role in targeting inflammation, the key component in aging.”
Other formulators, such as DermaQuest and HydroPeptide, believe in a cocktail of stem cell compounds. DermaQuest’s Stem Cell 3-D Complex, introduced in the fall of 2011, combines sea fennel, sea holly, gardenia and edelweiss stem cell compounds. “Each brings its own special properties to the formulation,” says Hearns. “The sea fennel and sea holly, for example, are 100% pure marine actives and have their own natural delivery systems. Sea fennel offers a strong defense against UV light, inhibiting 80% of melanogenesis. It not only regulates pigment but also hydrates and promotes wound healing. Sea holly strengthens the dermal-epidermal junction and promotes collagen.”
HydroStem+6 Anti-Wrinkle Stem Cell Regeneration Serum from HydroPeptide contains peptides and six different stem-cell compounds: gardenia, edelweiss, collagen-preserving gotu kola, echinacea, and grape and apple stem cell compounds. “Stem cell compounds are high in antioxidants and can help improve skin firmness and elasticity,” explains HydroPeptide’s Zangl. “But you do need to partner them with peptides, which can help rebuild the skin. It’s also important to use sun protection. We believe in using a mix of ingredients. Different ingredients stimulate the skin in different ways.”
Formulators at DermAware take a similar approach. “Stem cell compounds will not take the place of fruit acids, retinols, vitamins or peptides, but they do have a role,” says Gül C. Zone, president, DermAware. “Spa owners should realize that while many new ingredients will be introduced in skin care, it is always important to present a balanced diet of ingredients that work on different target sites in the skin—and also pay attention to concentration and delivery.” The DermAware A+ Smart Serum family of products combines Swiss apple and grape stem cell compounds with retinol, three types of vitamin C, co-enzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid.
So how does a spa owner choose from among this cornucopia of products?
“You have to be an educated buyer and look at the whole picture,” advises Allison. “In the end you will make your decision, as we do, by looking at the results you can achieve with your clients. Making a skincare choice, even when you’re dealing with advanced biotechnologies, often comes down to common sense.”
Linda W. Lewis is an editorial consultant and a regular contributor to DAYSPA.
Stem Cell Compound Sampler
There are already dozens of plant stem cell compounds available, with many more on the way. We’ve profiled a few of the more popular options:
Apple (PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica): Apples from the Swiss Uttwiler Spätlauber tree are known for their ability to stay fresh for an extraordinarily long time. Scientists have speculated that the apple’s stem cells might have special properties. (For more information, see “Evolution of Plant Stem Cells,” left.) Published results of a four-week study of 20 subjects treated with Malus Domestica, this apple’s stem cell compound, showed that it significantly reduced wrinkles and generally fortified skin texture and firmness.
Alpine Rose (PhytoCellTec Alp Rose): While roses are known to deteriorate quickly, the Alpine Rose blooms at high altitude in extremely cold, dry conditions, and is thought to live for up to 100 years. PhytoCellTec Alp Rose is a powder based on the stem cells of the alpine rose leaves. A clinical study performed in the Alps during the peak of winter confirmed the capacity of this compound to improve skin barrier function and boost epidermal regeneration.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja Davidii Meristem Cell Culture): Traditionally used to hasten wound healing, this flowering bush has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It has been shown to inhibit inflammation, protect against UV-induced oxidative stress, and inhibit collagenase, thereby helping to prevent the breakdown of the skin’s natural collagen. A clinical trial conducted by the manufacturer on 10 subjects showed broad and highly effective protection against UVA damage after five days of daily treatment with a cream containing 2% Buddleja Davidii Meristem Cell Culture, compared to a placebo.
Echinacea (Echinacea Angustifolia Meristem Cell Culture): Scientists have found this drought-tolerant perennial herb to be high in phytosterols. Studies show that the stem cell culture not only blocks collagenase, helping to preserve collagen, but also stimulates new collagen growth.
Edelweiss (Leontopodium Alpinum Cell Culture Extract): Another Swiss plant, this flower flourishes in extremely dry climates with freezing temperatures. Its stem cell extracts have been shown in vitro to have higher antioxidant activity than resveratrol or vitamin C. “Phytosterols have been shown in clinical studies to diminish wrinkle depth,” notes April Zangl, CEO, Hydropeptide.
Gardenia (Gardenia Jasminoides Meristem Cell Culture): This hardy bush, known for its fragrant flowers, has demonstrated ability to increase collagen synthesis and inhibit the secretion of collagenase enzymes.
Grape (Vitis Vinifera Fruit Cell Extract): Antioxidants in grapes found in Burgundy, France, are known to protect skin stem cells against environmental stress, and may help protect the skin against sun-induced aging.
Lilac (Syringa Vulgaris Cell Culture Extract): This flower contains verbascoside, a very effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, which is known to support tissue repair, and may be useful in fighting acne.
If you’re patient and have lots of money, you may want to consider the latest iteration in stem cell products, the U-Autologous Regenerative Product Suite—made from your own adult stem cells.
First you’ll need to visit a participating physician, who will remove about a quarter cup of fat from your abdomen. (If you happen to be having liposuction anyway, the surgeon can use some of the fat recovered from that surgery.) He or she will send the fat to the U-Autologous lab, where it will be purified and cultured to increase the number of stem cells. As an added benefit, a portion of your stem cells will be stored for future use with American CryoStem.
From the stem cells, technicians will use enzymes to extract your own individual mixture of growth factors, cytokines and matrix proteins—the substances that give instructions to stem cells and other tissues to repair themselves. The lab adds an appropriate amount of this mixture to an emulsion base rich in antioxidants and puts the formula in a convenient pump bottle. The process takes about six weeks.
The original clinical trial of U-Autologous Regenerative Product conducted by a surgeon showed 15% to 85% improvement in wrinkle depth, and 78% of the 10 women tested experienced significant improvement in elastin and collagen production. Maybe those women who see 85% improvement in wrinkles will consider the five-figure price of the first year’s supply of the individualized skin cream a bargain...but what about those who see only 15% improvement?
Cell-able Skin Saviors
The following manufacturers employ botanical stem cells in professional spa products.
Cellese Regenerative Therapeutics
Éminence Organic Skin Care
Lifeline Skin Care