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Lights on stem cells : human, animal and botanical

By Dannica Abate, trainer at Ridha Cosmetiques

At a time when scientific advances in genetics are raising passions and many opinions, two words, let’s face it, are commonplace in the ears of estheticians: Stem Cells.

What is a stem cell?

Stem cells are the first cells to work for the development of a human, animal or plant organism. They have the incredible ability to multiply and self-regulate indefinitely in a healthy environment; creating blood, bones and various tissues. However, their work does not stop once the growth is over. Living beings must be in constant regeneration in order to maintain optimal functioning. Because some specialized cells do not have the ability to renew or divide, stem cells come into play once again. They reconstitute cells that have been depleted or altered. They could therefore be called mother cells, essential to the process of cellular regeneration.

There are 4 types of stem cells (SC):

Unipotent SCs (uni/one, potent/potency) give birth to cells identical to themselves, i.e. SC keratinocytes that produce only keratinocytes while having the ability to self-renew constantly.

Multipotent SCs (multi/many, potent/potency) can produce multiple cell models from the same cell lineage. For example, hematopoietic SCs (blood) can generate red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, but cannot develop muscle cells.

Pluripotent SCs (pluri/multiple, potent/potency) are active primarily during embryonic life. At this stage, they can multiply in almost every cell in the body. They do not, however, have the power to form a whole being alone.

Totipotent SCs (toti/all, potent/potency), also from the embryonic stage, have the capacity to generate any cell of the human body, i.e. a complete individual. They are therefore more plastic than pluripotent. Once the different tissues are made, these cells specialize themselves; we are now talking about differentiated cells.

Stem cells and cosmetics

Their biological functions now brightened up, how do SCs help us to accomplish our esthetician work: to change the skin of our clients? It is important to mention that SCs can only really ensure their longevity in a healthy environment. However, the now famous enemies of the skin, stress, pollution, sun, tobacco, alcohol, inadequate food (and so on!) alter their initial programming. The goal of the use of SC in cosmetics is therefore simple: to maintain the functions and maximize the life of our SC by protecting their habitat called “niche”. In concrete terms, this allows us to achieve the following objectives:

  • To attenuate and delay the signs of aging at all levels (wrinkles, fine lines, sluggishness,  pigmentary irregularities)
  • Protect the skin from internal and external aggressions (toxins, stress, environment)
  • Stimulate the formation of new SC populations, resulting in general cell regeneration
  • Slow down the process of degeneration of fibroblasts (collagen, elastin)• Extend the vitality of current cells
  • Maintain cutaneous hydration

Human stem cells

A subject for debate! It goes without saying that human SCs are the most bio-assimilable. Few products containing it have passed marketing tests. As rare as they are, they remain banned in Canada. Of course, this prohibition results from moral and ethical questioning. Even if human SC clones intended for “X” use are developed in the laboratory, they necessarily have an origin … Where do these SCs come from? What rules do we have to follow to ensure the quality of SC? How to standardize this quality of SC? How to make sure that SC do not come from infected organisms? How to maintain the viability of SC in a cosmetic preparation? Many questions that only research will enlighten us with its answers.

Animal stem cells

It is not surprising to imagine, with the rise of veganism or movements of animal protection, that the use of these SC raises the same debates and submits itself to the same questions as the use of SC of human origin. From a sadly realistic point of view, mass animal production offers us one more reason to fear the risks of disease transmission.

Plant stem cells

Some plants have the remarkable ability to adapt to their environment, even in the most arid climates. Think of the alpine rose blooming more than 2,000 meters above sea level, the argan tree that survives the most extreme drought conditions, and the Swiss apple Uttwiler Spätlauber (Malus Domestica), known for its duration of conservation that far exceeds all other varieties of fruit. This adaptability lies in their SC. The vegetative SCs are of the totipotent type, which means that they can generate all the structures of the plant: root, stem, leaf or flower. It has been scientifically demonstrated that plant SCs are doubly more active than plant extracts. In particular, they would help defend SCs in the skin against the deterioration of their environment. So, it’s not a question here of replacing human stem cells, but of protecting them to ensure their longevity. It should be noted that SC derived from plants are grown in sterile environments where the risk of disease transmission is non-existent. A safe, ethical and powerful solution for the future of cosmetics.


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