Stem Cell Facelifts

Have you heard of the stem cell facelift? Stem cells can change into different types of cells. They’re one of the hot topics in medicine and that’s caught the attention of some plastic surgeons because it turns out that fat contains stem cells. And the masters of removing fat are plastic surgeons. It’s sort of like discovering gold within a desert – all of a sudden that desert land is quite valuable. Fat suctioned from the belly or buttocks can be treated so that the fat cells float in a solution, like croutons in soup. And indeed, within this mixture are some stem cells. 


So, some plastic surgeons suction fat from one part of the body and inject it into the face – and they say that injection of the fat contains stem cells. And they say that this makes your skin look better and can eliminate more invasive procedures like facelifts or eyelid lifts.


So, should plastic surgeons be injecting fat into faces, calling it a stem cell facelift? It turns out that when those fat stem cells are injected into wrinkled skin along with a common tissue filler called hyaluronic acid, wrinkles immediately look better and in a few weeks, the skin starts making more collagen. And that’s a good thing, because it is the collagen that thins as we get older, contributing to wrinkling. 


So, it’s a good thing to inject fat into faces, right? Hold on a minute…there’s the little fact that when hyaluronic acid without stem cells is injected into the skin, the same thing happens – wrinkles go away and the skin pumps out more collagen.  And, in fact, this was acknowledged in the very paper that showed that the stem cell/hyaluronic acid mixture helps wrinkles. By the way, did I mention that this research was performed in wrinkled mice, not humans? 


So, what’s the bottom line?  Well, the words "stem cells” seem to sell plastic surgery like the word “sex” sells magazines. Fat grafting with stem cells probably isn’t any different from fat grafting without stem cells – and that’s been done for 2 decades. And no one has showed that adding stem cells to hyaluronic acid filler keeps wrinkles away longer than hyaluronic acid alone. And no one has shown that a stem cell facelift is any better than traditional fat grafting or facelifting. But one thing is for sure about those stem cell facelifts – they cost more than the older techniques. Ten years from now, I might be performing stem cell facelifts. But I’d like to wait until science has proven their worth. And you should, too.  

W. Bruce Cameron, writer for the Creators Syndicate, may have put it the best when looking at the stem cell facelifts: "I've seen the before and after photographs, and let me tell you, in just a few weeks the women go from having tired, sagging, wrinkly skin to having a new haircut and expert makeup."

For more information about facelifts, check out my book, "Straight Talk about Cosmetic Surgery."

Added to Plastic Surgery on Mon 10/04/2010