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Stem Cell in Skin Care: Hope or Hype? (Part 2)
Skin Cells as Stem Cells. In 2007 Dr. Shinya
Yamanaka’s team announced that they succeeded in turning human skin stem cells
into the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells. This means stem cell research
is now possible without the controversial use of human embryos. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka was awarded the Millennium
Technology Prize for the discovery, which could potentially help repair damage
to heart, bones and muscles, and combat
Parkinson’s, diabetes, and blood
diseases.
Stem Cells on Skin. While skin stem cells have found use
in treating diseases, stem cells in skin care products have been largely based
on hype rather than science. The concept of topically applying stem cells,
through cream, serum, mask, or facial procedure, with a promise to “replenish
dying cells and regenerate dying tissues” simply does not wash.
First
and foremost, stem cells are highly unstable. Second, they will not enter skin
without an effective liposomal or nano delivery system. And as mentioned in
Part 1, plant stem cells simply cannot relate with human stem cells. Plant stem
cells can be useful, being excellent antioxidants, but marketing hype has made
the public imagining benefits bigger than reality.
If we
look at skin care products with stem cell therapy claims, the ingredients list
have either plant stem cell, human stem cell extract, or ovine (sheep)
placental extract. Products with plant stem cell may fetch as much as $400,
with human stem cell claim, up to $2000. These high-end products can work
wonders and can improve skin condition. Why not? They should, but not because of stem cells. It’s because they contain a cocktail of anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants, sodium hyaluronate, retinol, and
peptides. 
What Works. At the moment, the most effective stem
cell source is the patients’ own cells – called autologous human cells. It is
also the safest. Stem cells are harvested from bone marrow, peripheral blood,
and skin removed after a tummy tuck operation. These stem cells are not only able
to cure diseases; they are also used for aesthetic purposes.
Non-autologous
human stem cells can be retrieved from human placenta – typically tossed as
medical waste after birth.  The human
placenta, a rich source of stem cells, is preserved immediately after birth and
the processing starts in the delivery room. 
Conclusion. Stem cell therapy is undergoing fast
paced development, with the ethical issue now a thing of the past. The focus of
the researches, as they should be, is on repair of body tissues and treatment
of diseases. Effective and safe applications in dermatology do exist, and we
expect better and more economical options in the coming years. However, we
should be wary of marketing hypes, especially in the absence of regulations
governing stem cell claims.
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This was published in the August 7, 2012 issue of Manila Bulletin, Lifestyle Section. The author is the CEO of SkinStation. He received the 2011 Outstanding Chemist Award from Professional Regulations Commission for his achievements in the field of cosmetic chemistry. He can be reached at fred.reyes@skinstation.ph

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