Stem Cells, and Other Beauty Promises That Don’t Work

Photo: Tom Schierlitz/Trunk Archive

A new review in this month’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal says that the beauty industry’s use of the term “stem cells” is out of control. “Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field,” says Stanford University Medical Center’s Dr. Michael Longaker, who co-authored the essay. Instead of vigilance, ads promise that stem cells play an integral role in everything from face lifts to breast augmentations. The FDA, however, has only approved the use of stem cells for one cosmetic procedure that treats very fine wrinkles on the face—making more dramatic claims quite false, and dangerous.

Stem cells join a long list of trendy beauty treatments promising life-changing results that turn out to be totally bogus. As Dallas-based esthetician Renee Rouleau says, “You have to be wary of anything that sounds over the top, if something really works we’d all know it and have access to it.” See what else turned out to be a waste of money, below.

Not surprisingly, gold turns products very expensive. Luxury brands swear by its anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and acne fighting properties, but the New York Times debunked its skin-changing claims nearly 5 years ago. “At best, they do nothing, and at worst, they can give you irritation of the skin,” New York-based dermatologist Dr. Judith Hellman told the paper. “I would tell people to put that money into gold that they can wear around their neck or on their fingers.”

Bee Venom
Rouleau immediately names bee and snake venom when asked what other ingredients she’s seen go in and out of fashion. Though Kate Middleton’s given it a good name, Rouleau brushes it off as too gimmicky without long term effects.

Vampire Facials
A vampire facial, in which a dermatologist extracts your blood, whips it up, and needles it back into your face, will cost you about $2,000. The process earned its fame thanks to Kim Kardashian, who sat through one on TV, but there’s no shortage of derms begging you to spend that $2,000 on something more effective. Dr. Michele Green, a New York-based dermatologist, told, “It makes no clinical sense that this would help at all; I think it’s literally crazy.”

Organic Skincare
Though Rouleau doesn’t entirely dismiss organic products, she does point out that organic brands too often want the best of both worlds: science and organic. People read the label’s of a derm line, for example, and want healthier ingredients they can actually pronounce. But then they go organic, and complain about the lack of results. “A lot of organic lines are pitching very small in-house studies that they’ve conducted themselves,” she says. “And when an ingredient is only studied and tested by the company launching—and no other study on the whole planet—that’s when you have to be kind of skeptical.”