Plant stem cells
Brenda Cumming demystifies the origin and role of plant stem cells in clinical skincare today
Plant stem cells are one of the fastest growing trends in the world of skincare today. The trend has arisen over the last couple of years due to the many moral and ethical implications of using embryonic, human stem cells in skincare. Scientists and innovators began looking for an alternative and discovered botanical stem cell technology.
When I was in Hong Kong in 2007, I met the scientist who developed the rare Swiss apple plant stem cell culture, the Utweiler Spätlauber apple. This was the original (and continues to be the most studied) plant stem cell in the skincare market. They found that if they took the stem cell culture and grew it, exposing it to high doses of UV radiation, these cells remained viable.
This is where all the excitement started. When you think about the Swiss apple, it’s exposed to harshest of all climates. It has survived for hundreds of years – it can survive in the cold and with high levels of sun.
Plants are the oldest and largest organisms on Earth. We have redwood trees in California that are hundreds and hundreds of years old. They endure harsh climates and fires, yet they still thrive.
There are naturally undifferentiated cells located in the plant meristems. These are the origins of the plant’s energy, and supply nutrients throughout the plant’s structure thereby forming various plant tissues and organs. This system preserves the plant’s life as its immobility restricts it from fleeing from danger. If there’s a forest fire, the tree can’t pick up roots and take off, whereas humans can. We have that fight and flight response.
Using plant stem cells
So what does a plant’s stem cell do?
In skincare we want to create new cells to grow or replace specialised tissue cells. Botanical stem cells have the potential to develop into any cell types. They’ll repair the plant from environmental assaults and they’ll provide wound-healing abilities for the plant. We want to harness that ability in our own skin.
Botanical stem cells never undergo the ageing process and their immortality gives rise to specialised and unspecialised cells. They have the potential to grow into any organ, tissue or cell in the body and, by being multi-functional, they create a powerful nutrient balm; a wealth of amino acids, sugars and proteins that you’re extracting and putting into the product.
Harvesting plant stem cells
Scientists will take a plant stem cell and they’ll create a wound. So they’ll traumatise it and create a callous. Once the callous is healed they go in, get the extract (the nutrient balm) out of it and grow it in a Petri dish with either glycol or water. It’s a similar to making tea! The result is the plant stem cell culture that is blended into into skincare formulations.
These stem cells help increase the reconstruction of traumatised skin. They act as powerful antioxidants, and are important for inflammation, UV protection and slowing down the ageing process of the cell.
You can grow and harvest plant stem cells on a large scale, so we can be mindful of our ecology. You don’t need to use a lot of water during the harvesting process and it doesn’t involve pesticides, herbicides, genetic modification or heavy metals.
Types of plant stem cell culture
As well as the Utweiler apple, edelweiss is another a very popular plant stem cell culture. This helps to heal tissue with damage caused by inflammation or trauma. It works in the dermal and epidermal repairing properties and it’s a potent antioxidant, combating internal and external ageing factors. It also aids the skin’s adaptability to regulate to extreme climate conditions.
A new stem cell that’s out in the market right now is the lilac plant stem cell culture. Studies are showing that the enzyme produced by that culture reduces acne lesions by up to 40%. It also helps to slow down sebum production and it’s a tyrosinase inhibitor. We’re all working the lilac stem cell into skin-lightening products too as it has some useful benefits for post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. It’s an anti-inflammatory and reduces the trans-epidermal water loss—it’s a very powerful antioxidant, which is a common thread with these stem cell cultures.
Another new botanical stem cell on the market right now is the argan stem cell. Studies show that it accelerates the natural repair process and helps to tighten, tone, and firm the skin, revitalising and protecting the dermal skin cells. A lot of the studies from the manufacturers who produce these stems cells, say that this is working in the dermis. It reduces the wrinkle depth by up to 26% and increases skin density, encouraging collagen and elastin growth.
The stem cells above are a few of probably 20 that are out in the market. There are many plants that are being studied to grow these mediums and cultures to put into skincare products.
The effect on skincare
It’s a culture grown from a medium and so, as mentioned, it’s going to be a nutrient balm. Those sugars, proteins and amino acids are going to stimulate and invigorate sluggish skin cells whose growth and regeneration slow down as we get older.
By improving the health of skin cells, plant stem cell technology is going to offer strong free-radical resilience. This is going to help combat cell decay and the nutrients extracted from this culture are going to help fully preserve skin function.
Benefits for today’s skincare
We want to provide first aid for the skin; we want it to recover, we want to restore and we want to repair. Stem cells are not going to take the place of alpha hydroxy acids. Powerful antioxidants like resveratrol, peptides, Vitamin C and retinoic acid which help to stimulate the skin are going to be supported and enhanced by plant stem cells.
We aim to energise the cell regeneration, repair the skin, aid in UV protection, and deliver high potent antioxidants into the skin, complementing active ingredients in product formulation.
Along with their inherent benefits, we have been impressed by the removal of the moral and procurement concerns associated with human stem cells. The minimal ecological impact was intrinsic to our decision-making and our philosophy is to heal the skin while addressing a wide variety of skincare concerns, so our plant stem cells will only reinforce our mission.
Botanical stem cells enhance the benefits of our product line, whether it’s addressing anti-ageing concerns or environmental damage. They keep inflammation at bay, minimising social downtime.
We first encountered botanical stem cell research in the mid-2000s when the concept and research were in their infancy, and it’s still in its infancy, in my opinion. We have a long way to go, the door’s just cracked open into the future of plant stem cell research.
Looking at tomorrow, we’re investigating several of the myriad options available including the argan, the butterfly bush and many more. New plant stem cells become available every year, enhancing additional skin benefits. They’re highly sustainable eco-friendly ingredients.
They also complement telomere technology, the skincare products promoting anti-inflammatory benefits. More independent studies are presented every year confirming the anti-ageing benefits of plant stem cell technology. Our primary goal is increasing stem cell regeneration, enabling youthful skin to return.
Brenda Cumming is an Aesthetic Nurse Specialist and has operated Medical Aesthetics, a skin rejuvenation practice, for over 12 years. Brenda is on the Board of Directors at Lira Clinical.