Beauty Bullshit: Resveratrol and Fruit Stem Cells
Welcome to the first installment of “Beauty Bullshit”, a segment where I explain to you how makeup and skin care companies are trying to manipulate you into buying expensive shit because it sounds vaguely science-y.
|Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair CC Cream. Note the vast diversity in skin types that this brand caters to. Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/demystifying-cc-cream|
Our first target is Juice Beauty’s brand new CC cream. According to the Juice Beauty website, this ‘Stem Cellular Repair CC Cream’ is a “blend of Vitamin C and Fruit Stem Cells infused into an organic reseveratrol rich grapeseed base [that] radically firms and prevents wrinkles [sic]”. The Birchbox website adds, “It’s part tinted mineral sunscreen—the SPF 30 formula contains 20 percent zinc oxide—and part antioxidant serum, thanks to infusions of grape-derived resveratrol, vitamin C, and fruit stem cells. The [active ingredients] work together to reverse cellular DNA damage”. Wow, that sounds like science! It must be very effective. Where do I send my money?
|How could I possibly do yoga without fruit stem cells on my face? Source: the Juice Beauty website.|
There are two methodologically dubious implications in these descriptions. The first implication is that something called “reseveratrol” prevents wrinkles when applied topically to the face. The second implication is that “fruit stem cells” are able to “reverse cellular DNA damage”, again, using a topical application. Those are both really big and really problematic claims and I am going to deal with them separately. (By the way, topical vitamin C has actually been shown to have clinical effects reducing sun damage. And yes, zinc oxide really is sunscreen.)
First, I want to deal briefly with “reseveratrol”. Juice Beauty spelled the name of their supposed active ingredient incorrectly. What they mean to say is resveratrol, which is a phenylpropanoid that is found in the skins of grapes.
The idea that resveratrol may be a factor in aging began in 2003 with a paper in Nature (the premiere interdisciplinary science journal) by Howitz and Sinclair entitled “Small molecule activators of sirtuins extend Saccharomyces cerevisiae lifespan”. Basically, the authors found that resveratrol stimulated the Sir2 gene, extending the lifespan of a particular species of yeast. Other researchers attempted to repeat these findings in fruitflies and in a nematode species called C. elegans, but did not succeed. Additionally, some clinical studies of resveratrol have been conducted in mammals. Unfortunately, it appears that resveratrol does NOT extend the life of mice. At last, in 2011, an article in Nature concluded that the lifespan effects of resveratrol had been significantly overstated.
If you are a yeast cell, congratulations on your literacy. Maybe check out this resveratrol thing. If you are a human, though, you should know that at the present time, there are NO peer reviewed journal articles that suggest that resveratrol has any effect on people. In addition, all of the previous studies have used resveratrol in the organism’s diet. Juice Beauty’s CC Cream is topical. That’s the difference between eating some kale and rubbing kale on your face. Obviously the latter is not going to do very much. Even more fundamentally, all of this research is being done to examine the effects the organism’s overall lifespan, NOT on visual anti-aging effects. If you are buying this product, it’s because you want your skin to look nice and youthful. But that’s just not what these studies are about.
|You would be shocked at the efficacy of a google search for “kale face”. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pocketmonsterd/4719899136/sizes/m/in/photostream/|
When you look at the research, you can kind of see Juice Beauty’s train of thought. Something like, “Resveratrol extends the lifespan of yeast… yeast are cells… your skin is made up of cells… If yeast aren’t dying they also are probably not getting little yeasty wrinkles… magic… something… anti-aging! Somehow!”
Fruit Stem Cells
The next concerning claim is that “fruit stem cells” are somehow able to repair damaged skin.
The name of the product is the ‘Stem Cellular Repair CC Cream’, which already does not make a lot of sense. I am pretty sure that they want you to think the product causes cellular repair via stem cells, but the name makes it sound like the product is repairing your stem cells.
Before we move any further, what are stem cells? Stem cells are a real thing and they are, in fact, science-y. Basically, before an animal cell is a muscle cell or a red blood cell or anything like that, it is sort of a generic cell that can differentiate into various other things. Embryonic stem cells, which are taken from the inside of a structure early in development when the embryo is between 50 and 150 cells, are pluripotent, meaning they they can differentiate into any of the three germ layers. Basically, these cells can become anything, as long as they are put in the right environment. This is really exciting for medical research because it unlocks new doors for treating chronic illnesses (although it is highly probable that you have heard overstated claims about the power of stem cell research). There are also adult stem cells in your bone marrow, fat, and blood. These are multipotent, meaning they can’t be any kind of cell, but their cell fate is not determined yet. For instance, a Mesenchymal Stem Cell can become bone, cartilage, or fat. It could not, for example, become a blood cell.
Like animals, plants have stem cells. Plant stem cells are found in the meristem of the plants. This is where growth happens– it is at the very tip of the shoot (which will become leaves and flowers) and the root. Juice Beauty is using cells from the apical meristem of some mystery plant (although, if they are on trend with the rest of the internet’s fruit stem cell pseudoscientists, they are using an apple). All they are doing is grinding up the root and the shoot and sticking it in their product. You could easily do this in your backyard.
|An apical meristem. Source: http://www.bio.miami.edu/dana/pix/meristem.jpg|
The idea behind stem cell therapy is that the living cells can help repair damage to your organs basically by replacing them with ones that don’t suck. The “stem cells” in this CC cream are very dead, so they aren’t going to be able to do that. Before you go out and start rubbing apple roots on your face, living stem cells aren’t going do anything for you either. We don’t do medical research using apple stem cells because we aren’t apples. A living apple cell is not going to incorporate itself into your skin. AND, even if you DID have human embryonic stem cells sitting in your freezer for some reason, rubbing it on your face would not only be disgusting, it wouldn’t give the cells the appropriate cues to do anything meaningful. Triple failure.
With poorly-researched newspaper articles referring to stem cells as a “fountain of youth”, it is unsurprising that skin care companies would jump on this idea for anti-aging products. However, again, this claim does not hold any water.
Overall, both of these claims are based on only tenuous connections to actual research. Juice Beauty is depending on science-illiteracy as a scheme to sell their product.
I have contacted the company to hear their side of the science, but haven’t received a response (to be fair, it is the holidays). If they respond to my emails or phone calls, I will give you an update.
If you have any beauty claims you want researched in future Beauty Bullshit blogs, feel free to leave them in the comments below.