The hottest trend in skincare today, stem cells! (By the way, there aren't really any live stem cells in skincare products because in the presence of preservatives and without appropriate growth medium live cells cannot survive in these emulsions.) Skincare company Research & Development departments are excited to jump on board as "Stem Cell Technology" has become a part of the beauty industry's pop-culture. Claims that stem cell creams can rejuvenate the skin are not hard to find and the marketing benefit of labeling a facial cream with the words "Stem Cell Cream" is astronomical.
Unlike most cells found in plants and animals, stem cells are unique in that they have no specialized purpose, like a muscle cell or nerve cell. In addition, stem cells have the ability to renew themselves for long periods of time. These two characteristics make stem cells great "factories" for producing plant compounds that have been shown to have potentially beneficial biological effects. (In the United States, cosmetic manufacturers only use stem cells derived from plants to produce desired ingredients. Human stem cells are not used.)
When applied to the skin surface, newly discovered naturally occuring plant compounds have recently been shown to provide low levels of sun protection of the most superficial layers of skin. Even though the protection is minimal and it is still necessary to apply daily sunscreen, applying topical plant extracts may be beneficial. This potential benefit combined with a large sector of the population that truly believes, despite any real scientific evidence, that plant derived, "natural" ingredients are better than synthetic ones, makes stem cell technology desirable.
The real benefit of stem cell technology, however, is the ability to produce pure and more consistent plant derived ingredients. By using plant stem cell cultures as the "factory" by which desired ingredients are produced, scientists can manufacture high quality, more concentrated plant extracts independent of environmental factors like weather, soil conditions or seasonal variation. These extracts are cleaner as they are made in more sterile conditions with less risk of contamination from organisms or pesticide exposure. Batches of plant stem cell extracts can be standardized with the hopes of manufacturing a more consistent product. Unfortunately, plant stem cell extract production is an expensive proposition.
And despite the uncommon allergic reaction or sun sensitivity caused by applying products containing plant extracts, for most, there is no evidence of harm. Mostly based on folklore, plant derived ingredients have been used for both cosmetic and medical treatments for millennia, and will likely continue to be popular.
Although stem cell technology may have its benefits, when it comes to efficacy of plant stem cell extracts, science is lacking and marketing is plentiful!