Our skin has the amazing capability to renew itself throughout our adult life. Also, our hair follicle goes through a cycle of growth and degeneration. This happens all the time in our skin even though we are not aware of it. However, even though skin renews itself we still have to help it a little bit to get better results. Stem cells play an important role in this process of skin renewal or hair growth and the purpose of this article is to discuss and provide additional information about these tiny cells that play a big part in our life.
What is Skin Stem Cell?
Skin stem cell is defined as multipotent adult skin cells which are able to self-renew or differentiate into various cell lineages of the skin. These cells are active throughout our life via skin renewal process or during skin repair after injuries. These cells reside in the epidermis and hair follicle and one of their purposes is to ensure the maintenance of adult skin and hair regeneration.
The truth is, without these little cells, our skin wouldn’t be able to cope with various environmental influences. Our skin is exposed to different influences 24/7, for example, washing your face with soap, going out during summer or cold winter days etc. All these factors have a big impact on our skin and it constantly has to renew itself to stay in a good condition. This is where skin stem cells step in. They make sure your skin survives the influence of constant stress, heat, cold, even makeup, soap, etc.
Skin Cell Damage
Our skin is quite sensitive and due to its constant exposure to different influences throughout the day, it can get easily damage. Damage to skin cells can be caused by pretty much everything, from soap to cigarette smoke. One of the most frequent skin cell damages are the result of:
- Sun Exposure – Sun is the biggest cause of skin cell damage. This also refers to damage caused by tanning beds etc. Sun’s ultraviolet rays break down elastin and collagen. These two components are of huge importance to your skin as they keep it smooth and elastic. Sun exposure also changes pigmentation in your skin and accelerates the appearance of fine lines under eyes and wrinkles which means the aging process speeds up (and we don’t want that). It is needless to mention that exposure to sun’s harmful UV rays without adequate protection can damage skin cells severely and cause skin cancer.
- TIP: during hot summer days the best way to prevent skin cell damage caused by sun exposure is to avoid going out during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest, to wear hates to protect your face and to make sure you wear sunscreen all the time.
- Free Radicals – They are harmful for your entire body, negatively affect your overall health, and have a negative impact on your skin as well. Free radicals are result of numerous factors e.g. sun, smoking, and many other factors that produce unstable oxygen molecules with a single electron which can also lead to skin cell damage. Free radicals, as well, can cause severe skin cell damage which could potentially lead to skin cancer.
- TIP: In order to decrease level of free radicals in your body, you need to have a high level of antioxidants. You can get much-needed antioxidants by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, there are a lot of body lotions or face creams that contain antioxidants e.g. Vitamin C or Vitamin E which are beneficial for your skin.
- Smoking – This is harmful for your overall health. Smoking can damage your lungs, respiratory system; can have a negative impact on your brain etc. However, that is not all; smoking can also cause skin cell damage. Moreover, skin of a smoker isn’t as healthy as skin of a non-smoker. Also, smoker’s skin doesn’t heal as fast as non-smoker’s. Why is that? That is because smoking causes constriction of your blood vessels, they get narrower, and these vessels also include vessels whose purpose is feeding outer layers of our skin. Smoking decreases the level of oxygen and nutrients in your skin which leaves a lot of room for skin cell damage. Additionally, smoking reduces elasticity of the skin which means smokers get wrinkles sooner than non-smokers.
- TIP: In order to improve your overall health and prevent skin cell damage caused by smoking it would be ideal to stop smoking. You can use nicotine gums or patches to help you quit.
- Irritants – Chemicals in various products you use can cause skin to become red, appearance of rashes, or even allergies, all of which can damage skin cells. Some people have a sensitive skin that gets irritated even after using soap. Additionally, there are more than 3000 substances in our environment that can cause various allergies. Every reaction to certain beauty product, cleaning agent etc. is bad news for your skin as that means your skin along with the entire body is “rejecting” that specific product.
- TIP: Avoid irritations and allergies by adjusting products to your skin type. Also pay attention to the label and if you notice the ingredient that your skin doesn’t tolerate that well, don’t buy it. Naturally, try not to expose your hands or face to harsh chemicals without proper protection.
Types of Skin Stem Cells
Skin stem cells are still subjected to scientific projects where researchers are trying to discover as much as possible about them. So far, they have identified several types of these cells, and they are:
- Epidermal skin stem cells – They are responsible for everyday regeneration of different layers of epidermis (upper or outer layer of the skin). This type of stem cells is usually found in the basal layer of epidermis. The basal layer is the innermost layer of epidermis.
- Hair follicle stem cells – Their primary purpose is to ensure the constant renewal of hair follicles. Another role of this type of stem cells is to regenerate sebaceous glands (tiny glands in the skin that secrete sebum (lubricating oily substance) into the hair follicles to lubricate hair and skin) and epidermis, if these tissues are damaged. Hair follicle stem cells are found throughout hair follicles.
- Melanocyte stem cells – They are responsible for regeneration of melanocytes (types of pigment cells). Melanocytes produce melanin pigment and they play an important role in skin pigmentation and hair follicle pigmentation as well. However, scientists are still not sure where these stem cells can be found in human body.
Also, some scientists suggest that there is another type of stem cells – mesenchymal stem cells which can be found in dermis (layer situated below the epidermis) and hypodermis (innermost and the thickest layer of the skin). However, this claim has been branded controversial and is a subject of many arguments and disputes between scientists. It is needed to conduct more experiments to find out whether this statement really is true.
Sources of Skin Stem Cell
Stem cells are found in many organs and tissues, besides skin. For example, scientists have discovered stem sells in brain, heart, bone marrow, peripheral blood, skeletal muscle, teeth, liver, gut etc. Stem cells reside in a specific area of each tissue or organ and that area is called stem cell niche. The same case is with the skin as well.
Plant Stem Cells Benefit Human Skin
The ability of stem cells to regenerate and form almost any cell type in the body inspired scientists to work on various skin products that contain stem cells. Also, they decided to investigate the effect of plant stem cells on human skin. They discovered that plant stem cells are, actually, very similar to human skin stem cells and they function in a similar way as well. This discovery made scientists turn to plants as the source of stem cells and are trying to include them into the skin products due to their effectiveness in supporting skin’s cellular turnover.
Another similarity between plant stem cells and human skin stem cells is their ability to develop according to their environment.
Fun Fact: The inspiration to use plant stem cells in skin care came from an unusual place – almost extinct apple tree from Switzerland.
The benefits of plant stem cells on human skin are versatile. They offer possibility to treat some skin conditions, heal wounds, and “repair” the skin after some injury faster than it would usually take. Also, they bring back elasticity to the skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and slow down the aging process.
It is important to mention that scientists are still working on studies that would reveal other effects of plant stem cells on human skin.
Medical Applications of Skin Stem Cells
Skin stem cells are one of the rare stem cells that are currently used to treat patients. This is all thanks to discovery made by Professor Howard Green in 1970. That year he discovered that skin stem cells can be taken from a patient, then multiplied and used for the purpose of growing sheets of epidermis in the laboratory. The new epidermis sheet can be transplanted onto the patient’s body as a skin graft. Thanks to this discovery, it is possible to save the skin of patients with third degree burns. However, it should be mentioned that this process can be expensive and does not replace burnt hair follicles. Other medical applications of skin stem cells include treatments of genetic skin diseases.
Stem Cell Therapy for Skin
Due to potential of stem cells they are used in various treatments that would rejuvenate the skin e.g. facial rejuvenation, wrinkle treatments, correcting volume deficiencies. It is thought that stem cells have a powerful effect on treated areas and make your face look even younger. However, according to the research led by Dr. Michael Longaker of Stanford University Medical Center this is not completely true. He stated that even though stem cells have a tremendous potential, various treatments that promise skin rejuvenation are simply false. Why? It is because these treatments haven’t undergone strict inspection. Also, these treatments rely on taking cells from one part of the body and transferring them to another part, but unless they have some special cell-sorting techniques that wouldn’t be possible. For the treatment of your skin, it is always better to rely on products that do contain stem cells e.g. plant stem cells because you can be sure the product does contain that specific type of cell. Longaker also emphasized that there is a great possibility for these stem cell therapies to be possible and effective in the future with the rise of technology.
Key Components of Stem Cells
Key components of stem cells are:
- Cell membrane – The outer covering of the cell
- Cytoplasm – Watery substance which contains various essential gases and organic materials much needed for sustaining the cell’s life
- Cell organelles, endoplasmic reticulum, golgi apparatus, mitochondria, are just some of the components of stem cells.
- Extracellular matrix is one of the key components in human, plant, and even animal stem cells.
It should be noted that stem cells are still subjected to numerous researches and their accurate components are still uncertain.
What Current Research Says about Stem Cells?
As it was mentioned above, stem cells have a tremendous potential, but are still subjected to numerous studies whose purpose is to inspect their accurate components, and functionality in skin treatments, and other patient treatments as well. Current studies are investigating the process of regeneration and scientists are trying to discover new ways of growing these cells in the laboratory. The journal Science Translational Medicine published results of a research where scientists used stem cells from human embryos to treat patients who suffered from severe vision loss. This represents a new proof that stem cells can be used for patient treatment. Scientists from Wisconsin-Madison University revealed that stem cells could be used for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, ALS, stroke etc. Additionally, even though some so-called cosmetic treatments with stem cells are available now, Dr. Longaker estimates that in the future they will be extremely successful.
Stem cells are tiny cells in our body that play a huge role in regeneration of our skin and hair follicles. Without them, our skin wouldn’t be able to recover from various environmental impacts, even injuries. Plant stem cells are already used in many skin care products and are believed to have same characteristics as human stem cells, which mean they are beneficial for the gentle skin of your face.
It is important to mention that stem cells are still subjected to many studies and scientists are still working on discovering how they actually function, what their components are, and how the regeneration process really works.