A new word has been cropping up in the cosmetics industry: ‘scienceploitation’. This word is being used to describe the increasing phenomenon where cosmetics marketers leverage their products against scientific claims that are not supported by substantial evidence.
According to a new study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal – the official publication of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) – scienceploitation is rife when it comes to stem cell-based cosmetic and anti-ageing products.
Online claim confusion
The study found that the majority of web pages portrayed these types of products as ready for public use, despite very few substantiated claims with scientific evidence and even fewer mentioning any risks or limitations associated with stem cell science.
Study author and ASAPS member Dr Ivona Percec said: “Some claims were substantiated by clinical studies, celebrities, so-called beauty experts, and medical professionals with phrases like ‘the only crème with an actual study’ and ‘this product has been rigorously tested for maximum efficacy’ without explaining the science behind the claims.”
She added: “Despite the state of stem cell science, where only a relatively small number of therapies have moved to clinical application thus far, the cosmetic and beauty industry continues to borrow language from stem cell science research to market unproven products and treatments as ready-to-go, when such is far from the case. There are limitations to stem cell applications. The public should be wary about products labeled as having beneficial stem cell-related properties unless scientifically proven to work. »
Real evidence exists
There are plenty of brands on the market that base the efficacy of their products on stem cell technology. One of these is US-based Stemology, which makes use of StemCore-3, a stem cell based peptide complex, in its products.
Dr Hal Simeroth, CTO of DermaTech Research and lead formulator for the Stemology product line, spoke to Cosmetics Business about its own claims. He said: “I cannot speak for other brands regarding their science or performance, but I can say that Stemology StemCore-3 is based on valid scientific research, developed by scientists, and has been validated by testing in scientific labs.
“The components of StemCore-3 are derived from stem cells (both adult human and plant) but do not contain actual stem cells in the products. Instead certain peptides are harvested from stem cell cultures that are known to restore and improve skin appearance. In the case of adult human stem cells, these peptides are known to assist in rebuilding and restoring youthful appearance.”
Supporting Stemology’s adult human stem cell-based claims, Simeroth cites The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Vol. 81, Number 1, “Epidermal Stem Cells” or Cell Biology International ISSN 1065-6995, “Stem Cell Conditioned Medium: A New Approach to Skin Management.
He continued: “In the case of plant stem cells related to StemCore-3, certain extracts from plant stem cell cultures that are epigenetic, have been scientifically proven to assist human epidermal stem cells in their performance to rebuild and restore a more youthful skin appearance. In both cases these two stem cell derived components have been scientifically tested and shown to be efficacious in improving skin appearance. In addition Stemology products are formulated with a sharp eye towards ethics, as ethics govern everything we do. Stemology never uses embryonic, fetal, or adipose sources for stem cells, nor do we bioengineer any of our stem cell media.”
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