Stem cells have been a topic of increased research and advancement in the past decade—along with passionate debate from those who tout their health-promoting potential and those who warn of the slippery ethical slope they represent. But very recently, scientists have found a way to gain some of the health benefits of stem cells without the moral ambiguity: by harvesting them from plants and fruit instead of human tissue. These plant stem cells show remarkable promise, and they’re already proving themselves powerful skin healers.
The Multipurpose Cell
While most cells in an organism have a specific purpose (a brain cell is specialized for the brain; a skin cell is specialized for the skin), stem cells are full of potential. They have the ability to develop into various types of cells, and they also can repair and replace damaged cells by dividing almost limitlessly. When they divide, the new cells can either be stem cells or they can become specialized cells in a process called differentiation. These new, specialized cells are usually the same types of cells as those near which they reside (in other words, a stem cell in the skin would generate new skin cells).
The reason scientists are so excited about the use of stem cells is that so many diseases and disorders involve cell damage and death. Having access to cells that can proliferate seemingly endlessly—and transform into the types of cells the body needs—offers amazing potential for treating disease.
First-Aid for the Skin
One exciting area of research for stem cells is in treating skin problems, such as wrinkles, visible capillaries, and sun damage. Like all areas of the body, the skin contains stem cells. In the basal layer of the epidermis (that’s the deepest layer of the outer surface of the skin), stem
cells divide and replace lost or dying cells. They also repair the skin when it suffers injury.i The epidermis is in a constant state of renewal—sloughing cells every single day—so it requires non-stop cell replacement. Therefore it’s essential that we optimize epidermal stem cell population throughout our lives, even as we age.ii
However, as our skin faces its daily assaults—environmental toxins, excess sun exposure, improper nutrition—we run the risk of overwhelming the epi- dermal stem cells. When this happens, stem cells might not be able to keep up with the demand of cellular turnover, resulting in an excess of damaged cells and, eventually, aged and damaged skin.
Nature’s Renewal: Plant Stem Cells
Recently, researchers have begun looking to plants as a source for stem cells, and those plant stem cells have proven to be effective in supporting the skin’s cellular turnover.
Like human stem cells, plant stem cells develop according to the environ- ment they’re in. The idea for using plant stem cells in skin care stemmed from an unusual source: an almost-extinct apple tree in Switzerland.
Originally bred in the 18th century for their incredible shelf life, Uttwiler Spätlauber apples shrank into obscurity as modern shipping and storage caused longevity to take a backseat to flavor. Even more astonishing than the fruit’s long-lasting freshness was its ability to heal itself: When an apple was scratched while still on the tree, the skin would quickly regenerate and close the wound.
Benefits of Plant Stem Cells
Luckily, the Uttwiler Spätlauber, and the stem cells that gave it its staying power, caught the attention of researchers just in the nick of time—only a few trees remained in the world when scientists began to research its health benefits. Researchers found a way to extract stem cells from the fruit and generate new ones in a lab, and they then started to investigate how human cells would react to them. The results were astonishing: They found the apple’s stem cells could stimulate human stem cell proliferation by 80 percentiii and could protect human stem cells against UV damage.iv In experiments on human skin, researchers discovered that a cream containing the apple extract and liposomes from lecithin could decrease wrinkle depth by an average of 8 percent in just two weeks and by 15 percent in four weeks.v
Since the discovery of the Uttwiler Spätlauber’s remark- able skin benefits, leaders in the natural skin care industry have been looking for other sources of plant stem cells. After much research, two more plants have proven to have exciting and unique stem cell potential.
• Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) is an herbaceous plant that grows on mountain ranges from the Pyrenees and Alps to the Himalayas. Over time it has developed many natural defenses in order to survive the extreme climates in which it grows. It has powerful antioxidant and anti- inflammatory properties. In a recent study, 20 participants applied a cream containing edelweiss stem cells to their faces twice daily for 40 days. The cream was found to reduce wrinkle depth of the eye contour area by 15 percent after only 20 days. Edelweiss stem cells also seem to be helpful in preventing collagen loss, firming and restructuring the skin, and preventing aging and sun damage.
• Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a small herbaceous plant that is found in southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa. Gotu Kola grows in wet, marshy, high-altitude areas. In Indian traditional medicine it is used for the healing of wounds, burns, and varicose ulcers. Gotu Kola stem cells are helpful in firming and restructuring the skin, addressing stretch marks, controlling cellulite, and supporting good blood vessel tone.
Plant stem cells are perhaps the most promising field of research in skin care today. As always, MyChelle Dermaceuticals is at the forefront of harnessing this new technology to create natural skin care that shows visible results without the use of toxins. Adding plant stem cells to our products is driving our advanced research and view of skin care to the next level.