In humans, aging causes a reduction of the number of epidermal stem cells required to regenerate healthy new skin and the remaining stem cells function less efficiently. When epidermal stem cells are reduced, lost or dying skin cells outnumber the production of new cells, the skin’s health and appearance suffer.
In recent years, scientists have conducted extensive research on embryonic stem cells, which have shown potential to repair damaged tissues and organs. Because of this potential, researchers have looked into using stem cells in skincare care products to help repair wrinkles and restore and maintain firmness and elasticity.
Like humans, plants also have stem cells. In theory, plant stem cells can protect the human epidermal stem cells from damage and deterioration, and they can stimulate them to renew the skin. The most promising stem cell so far has come from an apple. A rare type of apple tree, cultivated in Switzerland over 300 years ago, was known for a remarkably long shelf life. A few of these trees were found on a Swiss mountainside. The apples from this tree, known as Uttwiler Spätlaube, contain extremely active stem cells. Scientists have extracted stem cells from this type of apple and have used this extraction.
In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Sciences, the cosmetics industry journal, Swiss scientists observed that these apples formed a protective film made of stem cells on the surface when they cut the apples into pieces. They then grew these “film” cells in a liquid culture and tested them. A solution containing 1% apple stem cells appeared to enhance human stem cell production by 80 percent. In further studies, human cells were irradiated with ultraviolet light, killing 50 percent of those grown in a normal liquid culture, but only a few of the cells protected by the apple stem cells were harmed. In addition, hair follicles placed in a solution of apple stem cells continued to grow for 4 days more than those stored in a control solution.
Finally, in a human trial to determine the effectiveness of a new anti-wrinkle cream, scientists tested a cream containing a 2% Uttwiler Spätlauber extract (patented as PhytoCell-Tec Malus Domestica) and lecithin liposomes. Twenty participants applied this cream twice daily to the areas of their face with crow’s feet for four weeks. It was found that wrinkle depth was reduced by an average of 15% after four weeks (SOFW Journal. 2008;134(5):30-5.) With these results, skincare companies flocked to obtain this new extract for their products.
Numerous products containing apple stem cells were released onto the market, demanding premium prices for this new plant stem cell technology. These products claim to protect longevity of skin cells and combat skin aging. However, plant biologists are skeptical of these claims. Renown plant biologist, Professor Liam Dolan of Oxford University has been quoted as saying he does not see how plant stem cells could react with human cells.
The research director of Mibelle Biochemistry, Dr Daniel Schmid, the Swiss lab that developed PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica, maintains that his research has shown that the apple stem cell extracts have improved the abilities of epidermal stem cells to maintain their rejuvenation capabilities and longevity. Dr. Schmid did admit, however, that the anti-aging effects were not proven by clinical trials. Dr. Gary Goldfaden, a board-certified clinical dermatologist, and founder of Academy Dermatology in Hollywood, FL, and COSMESIS Skin Care wrote an article in 2009 for Life Extension Magazine, reporting the amazing benefits of PhytoCell-Tec Malus Domestica and relating the results of Dr. Schmid’s research. However, Dr. Goldfaden did state that other ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, red seaweed extract, and an antioxidant tea blend are blended with the apple stem cell extract. Hyaluronic acid has been researched extensively and used as an anti-aging agent on skin for years. The presence of this chemical alone should raise skepticism of the efficacy of this apple stem cell extract.
In addition, a preliminary search on Google Scholar resulted in only one peer-reviewed article regarding plant stem cells and skin cell longevity within the last six years, and it happened to be Dr. Schimd’s study. Clearly, further research is necessary to prove claims that PhytoCell-Tec Malus Domestica extract or any other plant stem cell extract can improve cell regeneration and longevity in human skin.