Stem Cell-derived Skin Care Products: Risky, Disturbing, and Unregulated

Stem cell creams and treatments are being offered over the counter and in personalized formats via high-end cosmetics companies (and a few well-known department store brands). But a recent article in Scientific American has pointed out the potential risks and unregulated nature of these creams and surgeries that utilize the technologies. (Check out part 1 of this report here). What are the potential risks of these new treatments?

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of clinics across the country offer a variety of similar, untested stem cell treatments for both cosmetic and medical purposes. Costing between $3,000 and $30,000, the treatments promise to alleviate everything from wrinkles to joint pain to autism. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any of these treatments and, with a limited budget, is struggling to keep track of all the unapproved therapies on the market. At the same time, pills, oils, creams and moisturizers that allegedly contain the right combination of ingredients to mobilize the body’s resident stem cells, or contain chemicals extracted from the stem cells in plants and animals, are popping up in pharmacies and online.

Cosmetics companies are getting in on the act. In September, 2012, Lancome was warned by the FDA that they were improperly promoting their Genefique line of creams and serums. They wrote: “[Lancome's website] indicates that these products are intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body, rendering them drugs.” They went on to detail those claims:

Examples of some of the claims observed on your web site include:

Génifique Youth Activating Concentrate, Génifique Eye Youth Activating Eye Concentrate, and Génifique Cream Serum Youth Activating Cream Serum
“[B]oosts the activity of genes and stimulates the production of youth proteins.”

Génifique Repair Youth Activating Night Cream
“[B]oosts the activity of genes.”

Absolue Precious Cells Advanced Regenerating and Reconstructing Cream SPF 15 Sunscreen
“A powerful combination of unique ingredients – Reconstruction Complex and Pro-Xylane™, a patented scientific innovation– has been shown to improve the condition around the stem cells and stimulate cell regeneration to reconstruct skin to a denser quality.”
“See significant deep wrinkle reduction in UV damaged skin, clinically proven.”

Absolue Eye Precious Cells Advanced Regenerating and Reconstructing Eye Cream and Absolue Night Precious Cells Advanced Regenerating and Reconstructing Night Cream
“A powerful combination of unique ingredients – Reconstruction Complex and Pro-Xylane™, a patented scientific innovation– has been shown to improve the condition around the stem cells and stimulate cell regeneration to reconstruct skin to a denser quality.”

Rénergie Microlift Eye R.A.R.E.™ Intense Repositioning Eye Lifter
“Immediate lifting, lasting repositioning. Inspired by eye-lifting surgical techniques . . . helps recreate a younger, lifted look in the delicate eye area.”
“[U]nique R.A.R.E. oligopeptide helps to re-bundle collagen.”

Your products are not generally recognized among qualified experts as safe and effective for the above referenced uses.

We’ve all seen claims like these from cosmetics companies. While the reality is that a face cream is unlikely to cause bones to grow in your eyelids, because these treatments haven’t been independently studied (cosmetics aren’t regulated, but drugs are, hence the important difference between the two, and the FDA’s warning) the effects of their long-term use is now known, and some scientists think there could be problems. Taking a look at one company’s ‘cosmetic cream,’ which contains cytokines:

Researchers have only named and characterized some of the many cytokines that stem cells secrete. Some of these molecules certainly help repair damaged cells and promote cell survival. Others seem to be involved in the development of tumors. In fact, some recent evidence suggests that the cytokines released by mesenchymal stem cells can trigger tumors by accelerating the growth of dormant cancer cells. Personal Cell Sciences does not pick and choose among the cytokines exuded by its customers’ stem cells—instead, it dumps them all into its skin care products.

The full Scientific American story is well worth reading (and totally fascinating!). The bottom line for me, when it comes to either stem cells or genetically-modified ingredients is: Better Safe than Sorry. It could turn out that these things are perfectly fine, and don’t affect anyone negatively. But the grey areas are just too grey for me. I’m not a guinea pig-I’ll stick with natural and organic skin care products, eating lots of veggies (great for skin), keeping hydrated, and taking my vitamins.

About Starre Vartan
Starre Vartan is editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life.

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