Stem cells are cells, in animals and in plants, that are capable of becoming any other type of cell in that organism and then reproducing more of those cells. 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 claims run the gamut, from reducing wrinkles to repairing elastin to regenerating cells, so the temptation for consumers to try these is intense.
The truth is that stem cells in skin-care products do not work as claimed; they simply cannot deliver the promised results. In fact, they likely have no effect at all. The reason is because stem cells must be alive to function as stem cells, and by the time these delicate cells are added to skin-care products, they are long since dead and, therefore, useless. Actually, it’s a good thing that stem cells in skin-care products can't work as claimed, given that studies have revealed that they pose a potential risk of cancer.
Plant stem cells, such as those derived from apples, melons, and rice, cannot stimulate stem cells in human skin; however, because they are derived from plants they likely have antioxidant properties. That's good, but it’s not worth the extra cost that often accompanies products that contain plant stem cells. It's also a plus that plant stem cells can't work as stem cells in skin-care products; after all, you don't want your skin to absorb cells that can grow into apples or watermelons!
There are also claims that because a plant's stem cells allow a plant to repair itself or survive in harsh climates, these benefits can be passed on to human skin. How a plant functions in nature is completely unrelated to how human skin functions, and these claims are completely without substantiation. It doesn't matter how well the plant survives in the desert, no matter how you slather such products on your skin, you still won’t survive long without ample water, shade, clothing, and other skin-protective elements.
Another twist on the stem cell issue is that cosmetics companies are claiming they have taken components (such as peptides) out of the plant stem cells and made them stable so they will work as stem cells would or will influence the adult stem cells naturally present in skin. In terms of these modified ingredients working like stem cells, this theory doesn't make any sense because stem cells must be complete and intact to function normally. 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. For now, companies claiming they've isolated substances or extracts from stem cells and made them stable are most likely not telling the whole story. Currently, there is no published research showing these stem cell extracts can affect stem cells in human skin.