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Stem Cells and Beauty: Promise and Hype

August 11, 2010 |

Stem cells and cosmetic treatments—what potential for great news! If stem cells are the key to miraculous medical advances just over the horizon, they must also hold a great deal of promise for the aesthetic industry. Rejuvenation! Repair! Regrowth! It all should be possible with these powerful little building blocks, right? Maybe even a miraculous skin care product? Or stem cell breast augmentation?

There will surely be ways to apply stem cell research to a variety of areas of aesthetic medicine in the future. Medical pioneers are working on it, and some products and procedures are already being touted. But in these early days, you may need to wade through a great deal of hype. Here’s some information that may help.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a website where you can educate yourself on the fundamentals: One of the first things you’ll learn is that there are two basic types of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells, derived from fertilized human embryos, are the amazing undifferentiated cells that eventually turn into specific muscle cells, brain cells, skin cells and more.

Adult stem cells, also called somatic cells, are also widely believed to be undifferentiated, but are found among differentiated cells in muscle tissue and organs. Their function appears to be to remain quiet until disease or injury triggers them to become active and reproduce. Scientists have already found ways to reprogram adult stem cells to become more like embryonic cells.

The potential medical uses for both types of stem cells are numerous and intriguing. One of the most exciting possible applications is what’s known as cell-based therapy, in which stem cells would be directed to differentiate into new specific tissues needed by patients with diabetes, spinal cord injuries, burns, heart disease and many more life-threatening conditions.

Even though the world of stem cell therapies is in its infancy, hype about stem cells is already out there in aesthetic medicine. The first place you may discover it is in the many skin care products that claim to rely on stem cell technology.

Obviously, they do not contain actual stem cells—live cells would never survive in a jar. The ingredients they do contain are said to trigger adult stem cells into action—reproducing and rejuvenating. Unfortunately, none of these products can yet show reliable, objective results that indicate they’re worth the hefty price tag.

The verdict? If you don’t mind taking a leap of faith and gambling with $100 or more, try one. If you want to be sure you’re trading your money for a cream or lotion that works, choose the old faithful, medical grade products with retinoids, tretinoin and other ingredients known to be effective.

You may have heard a couple of years ago that a European doctor was performing a procedure called a “stem cell facelift.” Or, you may be like the woman who recently asked a plastic surgeon (on where she could get “stem cell breast augmentation for the natural beauty of slightly enhanced breasts.” If you’re giggling at the notion of “stem cell plastic surgery,” your gut is giving you the right messages.

Both the “stem cell facelift” and “stem cell breast augmentation” are extreme (and misleading) spins on fat injection procedures. “Autologous fat transfer” (that means your own body fat) is performed on faces to plump them up and replace lost volume under the skin. Fat transfer is also becoming increasingly popular for breast enhancement.

In both cases, the fat contains some measure of adult stem cells. Some doctors introduce more adult stem cells into the fat they inject, presumably from fat that has been liposuctioned from elsewhere in your body and would be discarded. The notion is that these stem cells assist the injected fat into “sticking” better than it otherwise might. Today, there’s no proof that it actually works that way. In fact, fat transfer itself is still not in widespread use. Many cosmetic surgeons believe the ultimate results are too unpredictable at this stage.

Once again, what is the verdict? The notion of taking stem cells and growing breast tissue or repairing an aging face is still science fiction today.

If you consider yourself a pioneer, and if you prefer not to have a traditional facelift or breast augmentation surgery, fat transfer with additional stem cells might be of interest. Just know that these procedures are far from mainstream and your results may or may not be what you expect.

Stem cells hold so much promise for the future of medicine. As you can imagine, unlike those who believe aesthetics is too frivolous a field for stem cell applications, plastic surgeons are excited and hopeful that with judicious use of stem cells they will help people look and feel great with less invasive treatment in the future. But that future just isn’t quite here yet.

Source: By Cathy Enns, for,2

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