How do you approach an ad for a stem cell 'facelift'?

April 17, 2013

Wait until the scientific data is in
Wait until the scientific data is in

For now, 'caution' is the best approach. Further, calling this is a facelift is a bit misleading. A New York Times article points out that the term "stem-cell face-lift" is something of a misnomer. In a facelift, your facial tissues are cut, lifted and sewn. A stem cell facelift, aka liquid facelift, is a series of fat injections (your own) that plump up the skin and restore youthful volume.

First, your plastic surgeon extracts fat via liposuction (called "harvesting") from a place in your body that has extra (like the stomach or thighs). Then he or she injects it into a facial area that is hollow, such as under the eyes or in the cheek hollows. This is basic fat grafting technique, which has been around for years.

Physicians who offer stem-cell face-lifts use a mechanical process to separate out stem cells from fat tissue, adding extra stem cells to injected fat. One such doctor claims, "The youthful glow comes back to skin because of growth factors that are produced from the stem cells."  And that, in his opinion, doesn't happen by injecting fat alone.

The critics of stem cell facelift technique say that claims, such as 'youthful glow,' are not backed up by hard data but by patient anecdote. To get hard data, studies would have to be done in which, for example, one-half of the face was treated with traditional fat injections and the other with stem-cell-enriched fat. Then you would need ways to accurately measure skin changes. These studies would determine whether more facial volume is retained when you inject stem-cell enriched fat than unenriched fat.

In May 2011, a joint task force of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and another leading plastic surgery society was formed to look into the scientific evidence assessing both the safety and efficacy of stem-cell use in aesthetic procedures. The task force urged caution on all aesthetic stem-cell procedures, and a hearty dose of "let the buyer beware." The report states "the marketing and promotion of stem cell procedures in aesthetic surgery is not adequately supported by clinical by evidence at this time."

However, there is tremendous potential for stem cells in aesthetic medicine. A prominent plastic surgeon says, "Stem cells in fat are very powerful releasers of growth factors that enhance tissue healing and can induce the growth of new blood vessels in the tissue." He is involved in a current clinical trial, financed by the National Institutes of Health, on the use of stem-cell-enhanced fat grafting versus nonenhanced fat grafting for treating facial deformities in wounded soldiers. The results of this trial will help boost or diminish the case for procedures like the stem-cell facelift.


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

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