Dr Christopher Calapai, an osteopathic physician, has been described by the New York Daily News as ‘the stem cell guru’ and considers himself one of the figures at the forefront of stem cell therapy in the US.
He says that the benefits of stem cell use are currently limited, despite industry claims: “Despite the fact that stem cell research is in its infancy, many cosmetics companies claim they are successfully using plant-based or human-derived stem cells in their anti-aging products.
“The truth is that stem cells in skin care products do not work as claimed; they simply cannot deliver the promised results,” he asserts in a statement.
“In fact, they likely have no effect at all because stem cells must be alive to function as stem cells, and by the time these delicate cells are added to skincare products, they are long since dead and, therefore, useless.”
What are stem cells, and how are they used in beauty?
Calapai explains that stem cells are living cells that are undifferentiated, meaning they have not formed into a cell with a specific function yet.
“They contain all the DNA information to make an entire human being (or plant or other animal depending on the species),” he says.
Extracts of stem cells - almost always from plant cells - have become a popular beauty ingredient in recent years, with claims that their use can offer such benefits as reducing wrinkles, repairing elastin and even regenerating cells.
“While there are a number of brands on the market touting the use of human stem cells, read the fine print,” cautions Calapai.
“No cosmetic brand is currently using whole human stem cells. Instead, they are using human stem cell extracts. That one additional word is key, indicating that the formulations are based on growth factors.”
While many companies instead use plant stem cells, the expert notes that the function of plant cells is not transferable to human skin, saying; “how a plant functions in nature is completely unrelated to how human skin functions.”
Will they ever be useful?
Calapai notes stem cell use in beauty has promise, and we need to wait until the science and technology behind it is advanced enough.
“Using peptides or other ingredients to influence adult stem cells in skin is something that’s being explored, but to date scientists are still trying to determine how that would work and how it could be done safely.”
He claims that we “will know when it is a real anti-aging treatment, when the following things are true: the stem cells are from humans (preferably yourself); the stem cells are alive; the product is somehow delivered to your dermis (probably an injection); and the product is applied by a doctor.”
Calapai's viewpoint has been contested by fellow scientists in the field: read a response piece here.