What is the truth behind stem cell cosmetic surgery?

You may have seen advertising for stem cell facelifts and breast augmentation.  Some cosmetic and plastic surgeons are touting these treatments as cutting edge procedures that promise results far greater than anything we’ve ever seen in plastic surgery.  So what is the truth behind stem cell cosmetic surgery?

Stem cells are definitely the future of medicine and plastic surgery.  But the truth is, the claims of today’s marketing have pushed far ahead of the actual science supporting these cosmetic stem cell treatments.  The two most prominent plastic surgery societies, ASPS and ASAPS (both of which I am a member), have issued a joint statement on cosmetic stem cell therapies.

Here is a summary of their statement:

1. The marketing and promotion of stem cell procedures in aesthetic surgery is not adequately supported by clinical evidence at this time.

2. Until further evidence is available, stem cell therapies in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery should be conducted within clinical studies under Institutional Review Board approval, including compliance with all guidelines for human medical studies.

3. Stem cell based procedures should be performed in compliance with FDA regulatory guidelines. If devices are employed that are subject to regulation by the FDA, surgeons should use these devices with appropriate approval in place, especially when used for investigational purposes.

4. Standard fat grafting procedures that do transfer some stem cells naturally present within the tissue should be described as fat grafting procedures, not stem cell procedures.

So what does this all mean?  Simply put, the devices that separate stem cells from regular cells are not FDA approved at this time for use in cosmetic applications.  Therefore, any physician who utilizes these devices for cosmetic use in patients should obtain approval by the appropriate boards for performing human experimentation.  There is a lack of scientific evidence to support the many unjustified claims of stem cell facelifts and breast enhancements that are currently being promoted by a handful of doctors.

So if you are considering a stem cell cosmetic treatment, two words of advice: Buyer Beware.

Anthony Youn is a plastic surgeon who blogs at Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery and is the author of In Stitches.

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