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Stem cells from plants are one of the newest anti-aging ingredients. Plant stem cells have garnered attention because they are immortal, and who wouldn’t want some of that? As a cosmetic ingredient, plant stem cell technology is still new, lacks ample independent research to back it up and is dominated by the so-called “rare Swiss apple” stem cell. But there is a sense that we are at the cutting edge with new plant stem cells from lilac to edelweiss, all of which are backed by some clinical trials and a host of new anti-aging products that feature them. Here is a guide to how they work, the different types that are becoming available and which products you can find them in.
As plants cannot escape from danger by running or taking flight, they need a special mechanism to withstand environmental stress. What empowers them to withstand harsh attacks and preserve life is the stem cell. According to Wikipedia, “plant stem cells never undergo the aging process but constantly create new specialized and unspecialized cells, and they have the potential to grow into any organ, tissue, or cell in the body.” The everlasting life is due to the hormones auxin and gibberellin. British scientists found that plant stem cells were much more sensitive to DNA damage than other cells. And once they sense damage, they trigger death of these cells.
The key question for me is how plant and human cells could possibly interact. From the reading I have done, they seem to have more in common than one might think. For example, one gene that is conserved between plants and animals has a central role in deciding whether a cell continues to divide or differentiates.
Harvesting their potent power is tricky; plant stem cells have to be taken from the meristem, which is where undifferentiated cells reside. Some beauty products call out that their stem cells are specifically from the meristem. Researchers are now harnessing stem cells from a variety of plants, and here are some you can look out for:
More than just a cheesy song from The Sound of Music, edelweiss are tiny flowers that withstand harsh alpine climes. They are full of leontopodic acids, which are strong antioxidants. An Italian company that produces the edelweiss stem cells explains an interesting technique in which they chop up some of the plant’s biomass, and the surrounding cells revert to stem cells in order to protect the plant with a wound healing tissue called callus.
Products with edelweiss stem cells:
Tilth Beauty Eye Wondrous Serum ($62) contains peptides and antioxidants as well as edelweiss stem cells. Testers reported faded lines with consistent use – and not just around the eyes.
Almost every cell formed by a fungus can function as a stem cell. Each adult stem cell from a mushroom is totipotent and able to generate and develop an entire new mushroom from just one cell. Mushroom stem cells are being extensively studied as treatments for cancer and for regenerating the skin.
Products with mushroom stem cells:
Prana Reishi Mushroom Shield ($42 in the shop) is a lightweight day moisturizer with SPF 45 derived from organic plant stem cell mushrooms and micronized zinc. This clever little formula has four different types of mushroom and astragalus, a natural source of teprenone.
Myths about Swiss apple trees gave plant stem cells a bad name, in my view. Still, apple stem cells (marketed as PhytoCellTec™, a liposomal preparation for easy penetration) are by far the most ubiquitous in anti-aging beauty products. There is some research, albeit not independent and conducted on a small group of 20 subjects, that found that apple stem cell extract reduced crow’s feet.
Products with apple stem cells:
Indie Lee Swiss Apple Facial Serum ($130) is a new find and a refreshingly simple formula with seaweed extract, hyaluronic acid and apple stem cells. It’s a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin and for anyone getting started on an anti-aging regimen.
Prana Active Vitamin Lift Serum ($75 in the shop). Although Prana’s serum has apple stem cell, this ingredient du jour should not blind us to the other cutting-edge ingredients here. One in particular is homeostatine, an active combination of two natural ingredients (from enteromorpha compressa, an algae, and gum from a South American tree called caesalpinia spinosa) that is supposed to prevent and decrease wrinkles by restoring the balance of the extra-cellular matrix. It’s rather impressive and still fairly rare in cosmetics, so check it out.
Skinfinite Peptide Repair Serum ($69 in the shop). Peptides and free-radical scavengers round out the apple stem cell extract in this well-priced serum. The most dominant peptide in the formula is derived from rice and is moisture-binding. The other is rH‐Oligopeptide‐1. Standouts among the non-peptides are spin trap and thioctic (R‐lipoic) acid, which helps to recycle other antioxidants, contains free radicals and is an anti-inflammatory.
La Vie Celeste Extra Rich Face Cream ($75 in the shop) is a firm favorite among the Truth In Aging community. This serum contains r-lipoic acid, chronoline and apple stem cell for a hydrating and firming moisturizer that can be used day and night.
Lilac stem cells have been shown to be a treatment for acne disorders. These stem cells inhibit 5α-reductase, an enzyme involved in sebum production, and they also decrease the pro-inflammatory chemokine IL-8. In a clinical study (again, not independent), lilac stem cell extract reduced lesions in 29 acne patients by 40% in 30 days and showed a significant decrease in inflammation and melanin pigmentation. The active ingredient in the lilac extract, verbascoside, is an effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
Products with lilac stem cells:
Arcona Magic Dry Ice ($52) has lilac leaf stem cell culture and a host of other really interesting and useful botanicals. I especially like detoxifying moringa extract, black tea ferment and a skin whitener from sea daffodil.
Argan is the very first active ingredient that is capable of both protecting and vitalizing human dermal stem cells. This will not only help to accelerate the skin’s natural repair process but it also fights skin aging right at the root.
Products with argan stem cells:
Lumavera 24-Hour Moisturizer ($65) uses a plant-derived stem cell technology named PhytoCellTec Argan. There is a wealth of ingredients here including peptides and Lumavera’s bursting-with-goodness veggi complex. Argan stem cells are also found in Lumavera Oxygenating Masque ($70 in the shop).
Some cosmetic formulators are using stem cells from buds, shoots and a mélange of plants. I don’t know what the specific advantages are other than hedging your bets, but there are some great products using stem cell complexes.
Products with stem cell mélange:
BRAD Biophotonic Sublime Youth Creator Gel-Cream ($245 in the shop) is a unique gel-cream that has a complex of plant stem cells and a patented encapsulated retinol complex. Plus there’s a ton of amino acids. All in all, it’s an excellent firming serum.
Avitalin Vitality Phytocell Complex ($68). Avitalin makes nutrient-rich formulas that utilize advanced anti-aging technology and contain no harmful chemicals — and all that at a decent price point. This silky whipped moisturizer has two types of plant-derived stem cells: embryonic phyto stem cell extract from young buds and shoots and apple stem cells. There’s also antioxidant green tea and acai berry.
Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer ($65) is taken from apple and grape buds, lemon bark, and apple, grape and lemon juices. It has even found its way into its new CC Cream. In this moisturizer, they are not mere tokens, but are featured near the top of an ingredients list that is packed full of useful ingredients, many of which are organic. Aging skin will also appreciate the essential fatty acids from evening primrose, linseed (flax) and borage.