Stem Cells in Skin Care: What They Do and How They Work.

You are quite remarkable, but you already knew that. Microscopically, you are even more impressive; I bet that is news to you. We often overlook the importance of how the body functions at the cellular level. The body is quite extraordinary and works harmoniously so that everything has a purpose, such as giving you extra protection, to regenerating and healing.Welcome to Regenerative Medicine 101.

Scientists have been researching our cells’ miraculous capabilities and trying to mimic their functions. Treatments including topicals and injectables to treat inflammation, as well as trying to preserve and repair human tissue. There are some promising techniques utilized to treat different disease states today, but what about the skin? Is this the new ‘Fountain of Youth?’ Can stem cells help combat the aging process or repair the damage already done?

Stem Cells’ discussion maybe a little more complicated, somewhat expensive to purchase, and perhaps not available yet. First, let us define some of the terminologies out there right now, homing in precisely what stem cells are and what they can do. I hope to clarify some confusion.

Stem Cells in Skin Care
Things You Need to Know About Stem Cells in Skin Care. Image/Shuttertock

Two Types of Stem Cells Exist: Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells

Due to the “embryonic” technically composed of unused embryos, the controversy over the years of using these types of stem cells in research has been a subject of moral debate. The benefit of this type of stem cell, known as pluripotent, can differentiate into a specific type of cell. This way, scientists can focus on a specific cell and function if needed to treat a particular disease. However, challenges exist regarding the body’s rejection of such cells.

The Embryonic Stem Cell is also more versatile than the Adult Stem Cell, which typically comes from specific tissue such as the liver, kidney, or brain, etc. Scientists are hard at work trying to induce the adult StemCells into a pluripotent to act more as its embryonic counterpart; however, they have not cracked the code just yet. Currently, hematopoietic stem cells (derived from bone marrow) are used in medicine today. These are specific blood cells. Think Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, and Platelets and have served many patients with success.

Platelet Rich Plasma vs.Stem Cells.It can be quite confusing as marketing can be quite creative, but it is essential to know the difference between them.

Platelet-Rich-Plasma or PRP are NOT stem cells. Instead, they are known as “growth factors.” These are proteins that help regulate our cells. Specifically, they assist in differentiating stem cells to a more specialized cell type and proliferate cells through the division (aka mitosis) in making exact copies of the specific cell, so you have more of them. Since living stem cells within the body are crucial for regeneration, providing them with the tools needed, such as growth factors, gives them optimal performance. Healthy, robust cells can make a difference in stem cell skincare treatment results.

In the end, these “growth factors” or proteins within the skin helps promote wound healing and tissue repair. They can specifically “target” the living stem cells in the epidermis and stimulate division. A great example is topical growth factors for repairing the aging and photodamaged skin. Aging and photodamaged skin is pretty much a “wound,” and growth factors are known to play a large role in tissue repair, and what better way to treat damaged skin caused by extrinsic factors (UV radiation, pollution, etc.) than by providing the nutrients needed for ideal growth?

Within the realm of medicine, stem cells are derived explicitly from human adipose tissue (i.e., fat) and even bone (bone marrow). They have even been derived from bovine, sheep placentas, and some plants. Cosmeceuticals claim to use them to protect those stem cells already residing within your skin by helping to build up their resistance and increasing their longevity.

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Why are Stem Cells so important?

Because they focus on healing wounds and regenerating tissue, which is why perhaps, the cosmeceutical industry is taking a closer look at this as an “anti-aging” superpower. Not only can it help target the extrinsic factors of aging, but the intrinsic factors (genetic, endocrine, physiological) that both lead to the aging process such as loss of elasticity, frown lines, and forehead wrinkles.

Companies often claim a “stem cell” product when the truth is they are products derived from a complex composite of media that is enriched with growth factors, proteins, and cytokines (signaling proteins) in which the harvested stem cells were grown. So how much repairing and regeneration are you getting with a topical product made in the laboratory? The research is still out there, and many cannot wait for the results.

As I mentioned, Stem cells from plants are being researched more extensively, animal lovers rejoice, but they are having a tough time interacting with human tissue. However, the benefits show more antioxidant properties and active extracts from the actual plant “stem-cells” than regenerative properties we get from living stem cells. As far as “other” stem-cell topical cosmeceuticals, more research is needed, but decoding the plant phytohormone cascade can have promising and exciting potential.


Homing in on stem cells and all they could accomplish on the cellular level is something we can work with. The harmonious function of individual cells is a miracle, no less. Both PRP and Stem Cells are thought to “regenerate” the skin and are not mutually exclusive. Once cosmeceuticals can stabilize the stem cells in the environment needed to reap their rewards, we have to accept them as they are. Another topical antioxidant therapy is derived from plants, mainly apples, grapes, berries, and tomatoes.

In the end, buyers beware! More studies are needed regarding using products with “stem cells,” but PRP seems to be showing us promising results for regenerative medicine. However, you have to think of stem cells being the superior product as they can begin a new growth process and PRP is speeding up the repair. Now getting it just getting those stem cells right without the expense is what we are waiting on.

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Renata Block, MMS, PA-C

By Renata Block, MMS, PA-C

Renata Block is a Physician Assistant specializing in Dermatology. She is the creator of Savvy Derm Diva®, an online resource for proper skin care. Make sure you follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! Need a dermatology consult? Please visit Advanced Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine, LLC or Call/Text 847-802-9667 for a TeleDerm appointment. MUAH!💋