In the cosmetic world, we're hearing a lot of buzz around Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy, but the technology isn't exactly new. In fact, both therapies are powerful tools in regenerative medicine and have been used for years to treat sports injuries and pain issues. The key lies in the ability of PRP and stem cells to speed healing times and encourage the production of blood cells, which makes them ideal for treating injuries, but also has launched a host of new possibilities when it comes to beauty and cosmetic procedures.
Both technologies rely on material from the patient's own body, which providers and researchers say make them more effective. "Stem cells and PRP are both derived from the patient," says New York dentist Dr. Bahram Hamidi, DDS. "In our practice, our philosophy of care always involves being minimally invasive, which means using whatever we can that is sourced from the patient’s own unique biology. This results in a much smoother healing process." The ability to aid in healing has meant applications for everything from musculoskeletal repairs, spinal cord injuries, neurological problems, dental reconstruction, hair loss treatment, and even facelifts and other cosmetic procedures.
What exactly is the difference between PRP and stem cell therapy and how can it be used cosmetically? First, we need to break it down.
PRP vs. Stem Cells
Platelets are a natural part of the blood which enable clotting and are essential to the body’s healing process after an injury. PRP is a blood plasma-based protein solution packed with a concentration of platelets and white blood cells, which fight against infection and can encourage the production of collagen. Clinical studies show that PRP can be used for reducing pain and swelling in conditions such as osteoarthritis and tendonitis as well as wound healing. This healing property is also why PRP is becoming a popular tool for anti-aging treatments, hair loss therapy, and oral surgery.
PRP therapy sounds complicated, but since it uses the patient's own blood as material, it is safe and relatively simple. It can be done quickly and easily, even at the bedside of a patient, in a centrifuge that separates out platelets from the blood and then adds them to a serum. Once the PRP serum is made, it is injected into the area being treated. "When injected into the body, the regenerative abilities of PRP are incredible," says board certified West Hollywood dermatologic surgeon Jason Emer, MD.
Stem cell therapy differs from PRP therapy in its complexity and controversy. In theory, it does a similar job, but in practice, it is much more advanced. Stem cells are precursor cells, which means their fate hasn’t been determined yet, so they can be molded into any type of cell required for healing soft tissue. The heart of the stem cell controversy is embryonic stem cells, which are the most potent, but need to be acquired directly from a human embryo. These are rarely available for cosmetic use, despite their enormous potential in the medical world, which is where adult stem cells come in.
Found in both plants and animals, adult stem cells can be taken from various places in the body like fat reserves, bone marrow, or blood. These stem cells are commonly used in similar therapies as PRP: to heal injuries, repair damage in soft tissues, and, in the case of the cosmetic industry, regenerate cells for hair growth and skin treatments.
PRP for Beauty
In the beauty industry, we mostly hear about PRP in combination with microneedling. "Microneedling creates controlled micro-wounds in the deeper layers of the skin that helps to stimulate collagen, reduce pore size, improve fine lines, and lightly tighten the skin," says Dr. Emer. "These micro-wounds allow for products like serums, growth factors, and PRP to be pushed deep into the skin and stimulate the body's own healing process. PRP is used to accelerate the healing process after lasers or peels as well as improve collagen production when paired with microneedling." As PRP is being used more and more within the beauty industry, it's seen as a great option for those who prefer to avoid invasive treatments and instead opt for non-invasive treatments like the below.
The Vampire Facial® uses PRP in a series of gentle injections on the face. The treatment often pairs dermal fillers like Juvéderm® with PRP injections around the eyes, nose, mouth, neck, or décolletage. The pairing smooths fine lines and wrinkles, creates a firmer, more youthful facial shape, and evens skin tone. The Vampire Facial® is a trademarked treatment of PRFM (Platelet-rich Fibrin Matrix Method), a method that has been used for over a decade, but only recently gained notoriety when celebrities like Kim Kardashian became vocal about its benefits. The cost of a Vampire Facial® depends on how much filler and PRP is used, but typically costs $1,100 to $1,500 per session.
As we age, many men and women experience hair loss, which can create bald patches and loss of volume. For patients with hair loss issues, PRP has been shown to help stimulate regrowth and help to get back thickness and volume. "People are distressed by losing hair, as your hair can say a lot about who you are," says Dr. Emer. "PRP can be used to strengthen and grow hair while also preventing hair from falling out."
PRP is injected into the areas where hair loss is evident. "Your body's own growth factors act as fertilizer to the injected area," explains Dr. Emer. "The PRP triggers natural hair growth and maintains it by increasing blood supply to the hair follicle and increasing the thickness of the hair shaft. We can add stem cells as well to enhance the growth factors and promote even more improvement." PRP for hair regrowth costs around $1,500 to $2,000 per treatment and usually, three are recommended in the beginning. After the initial treatment, regular touch-ups are encouraged for the best results.
PRP in Dentistry
In dentistry, PRP is now often used to improve the health and appearance of teeth after dental and oral surgery for both cosmetic and medical reasons. "PRP is used mostly to help the supporting structures of the tooth such as the gum and bones," says Dr. Hamidi. "Think of your tooth as being a tree, the PRP is used to fortify the soil. It can be mixed in with artificial bone, which will help with the reestablishment of blood flow to the area and aid in a more speedy recovery. PRP can also be used in gum and bone grafting by creating a natural barrier for cells to attach to and heal." The accelerated healing time that PRP provides is particularly valuable to older patients whose bodies do not produce new cells at the same speed as a younger body.
Stem Cells for Beauty
Although quite new, stem cell technology is becoming an increasingly popular tool for the cosmetic treatment of signs of aging. Since stem cells in the skin have the ability to regenerate themselves, they can have a beneficial effect for those who want to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and create firmer, more youthful-looking skin. Research into the safety of using adult stem cells for these purposes has so far been very positive.
Stem Cell Rejuvenation
A natural-looking alternative to the traditional facelift, stem cell rejuvenation involves a series of minimally invasive injections into the desired area, followed by a short recovery period. The effects are not instant, but will happen gradually and naturally, as the face becomes enhanced by new living cells. Stem cell rejuvenation is in its early stages, with further research ongoing, and at present costs around $1,500 to $2,000 per treatment with little to no side effects reported.
Stem Cells in Dentistry
It is still the early days for stem cells in terms of dentistry, but there have been some promising indicators. "Stem cell technology has yet to be able to assist in tooth healing in a clinical setting, although there are some animal studies that show favorable outcomes," says Dr. Hamidi. The availability of stem cells for the job is part of the issue. Retrieving stem cells from bone marrow or other materials is a complex and expensive procedure, but the benefits of its development in the future may hold great potential.
The Future of PRP & Stem Cells
Studies on the uses and effects of PRP and stem cells are ongoing, and the long term effects of beauty treatments are still unknown. Dr. Hamidi is excited to see where these developments will take dentistry in particular. "Now we have the ability to extract and save the baby and permanent teeth (including wisdom teeth) and possibly harvest viable stem cells from them to be used in the future," he says. "I look forward to the day when we don't use any foreign material in the treatments of our patients and where cavities and infected tissue can be replaced by cells that aid in healing and formation of nerve, dentin, and enamel." And just like their role in dentistry and other medical fields, it’s likely that the beauty industry will benefit from this surge in PRP and stem cell development.
As with all cosmetic treatments, it’s essential for your own safety to choose a reputable practitioner, whether you’re undertaking a minor treatment or a more invasive procedure with a plastic surgeon. Unfortunately, some businesses are advertising PRP and stem cell therapy without having the literature, clinical trials, or FDA approval to support their claims. Always do research and ask for consultations with multiple providers before moving forward with a treatment.
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