Stemming the Tide

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Evolution of Plant Stem Cells

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.”