No matter how young we may feel, our aging skin often gives our age away. As we age, we lose important proteins in the skin like collagen and elastin. We also lose a thin layer of fat that lies just below the skin. Without this fat and protein, the skin sags and loses its elasticity (“bounce back”) appearing thin and wrinkly.
One of the main skin rejuvenation techniques is to inject fat into aging skin. In its most basic form, a bit of fat is removed from the patient via liposuction and injected into an area of aging skin. These transplanted fat cells give the skin a plumper appearance and seem to turn back the clock on skin aging. However, mature fat cells do not last forever, and many people need to have repeated skin rejuvenation procedures to maintain the effect.
More recently, however, physicians have realized that they achieve better results when they include stem cells in their fat grafts. The mature fat cells provide a beauty benefit immediately, while stem cells help maintain the effect longer. Some physicians have taken the procedure so far as to only inject stem cells and remove mature fat cells completely. While this approach seems reasonable, is unclear whether the stem cell-only approach is actually superior.
While the benefit of fat grafts that include stem cells is widely known, it is unclear how the process works. By understanding the process, researchers hope to learn what provides the strongest antiaging effect. To help them better understand the skin rejuvenation process of fat-derived stem cells, researchers performed liposuction on several patients and then reinjected fat cells and stem cells into areas of aging skin. Three months later, the researchers took samples of the skin to see what effect the combination of fat cells and stem cells had on the skin structure.
While the specific results are quite complex, researchers found that a fat graft that included adipose-derived stem cells improved the elasticity of the skin by creating what is known as an “oxytalan elastic network.” These fibers helped to smooth out the skin and allowed it to retain more moisture than it did before skin rejuvenation treatment.
Perhaps most importantly for patients, the skin rejuvenation procedure left patients with fuller, younger-looking skin.
The researchers concluded that the most beneficial skin rejuvenation approach is to inject a combination of fat cells and stem cells derived from fatty tissue. The benefits were the same as those obtained by injecting stem cells alone. The researchers argue that the combination approach provides a good clinical benefit with the added benefits of being easier to perform, cheaper, and less prone to complications.
Reference: Charles-de-Sá, L. et al. (2015). Antiaging treatment of the facial skin by fat graft and adipose-derived stem cells. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2015 Apr;135(4):999-1009.