An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes, but can an apple a day keep hair loss away? Some scientists are claiming it might, if it is a particular rare variety that comes from Switzerland, which is believed to reverse skin aging, increase the lifespan of human cells and possibly re-grow lost hair. The cosmetic companies using this ingredient say that they can scientifically prove that plant stem cells can be added to skin creams and interact with human skin stem cells which lead to fewer wrinkles and younger looking skin. Medical research is using human stem cells to explore a range of possibilities (including hair restoration) however it is illegal to use embryonic stem cells in cosmetics.
The extract (called PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica) comes from a rare 18th century species of apple tree, the Uttwiler Spatlauber. Swiss scientists discovered its benefits by cutting pieces of the apple and seeing how it responded. The apple formed a protective surface layer made from plant stem cells. The scientists then grew these cells in a liquid culture and tested them on human stem cells. A solution containing 1% apple stem cells appeared to boost human stem cell production by a phenomenal 80%. The human cells were irradiated with UV light, which killed 50% of those grown in a normal liquid culture, but hardly any of those protected by the apple stem cells. Tests on 20 women using a cream with 2% of the apple extract showed that crows feet were reduced by 8% after two weeks and 15% after four weeks.
But what about hair growth? Hair follicles that were kept in a solution of the apple extract continued to grow for 18 days compared to those kept in a normal solution, which died after 14. But is this an indicator that the extract could prevent hair loss?
Senior hair loss specialist at the Belgravia Centre, Leonora Doclis, says, “This is really a long shot when it comes to hair loss. Fruit acids have been used in the beauty industry for a long time but whether they can possibly help hair growth in the future stretches the imagination. Stem cell technology is the topic of the day but whether plant stem cell can help hair loss is highly unlikely. Should it materialise, it does not reduce or impact on dihydrotestosterone (DHT – the hormone that causes genetic hair loss in men and women) so it still won’t help Male Pattern Baldness or Female Pattern Hair Loss, sadly.”
In agreement with Doclis is Professor Liam Dolan, the Sheradian Professor of Botany at Oxford University, who specialises in plant cells: “I don’t see how plant stem cells could interact with human stem cells in this way,” he told the Daily Mail.
But Dr Daniel Schmid, research director of Mibelle Biochemistry, the Swiss lab which developed PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica, says this ingredient has been “shown to improve the maintenance of the stem cells characteristics of epidermal stem cells,” though he admitted, “The anti-ageing benefit for the skin after topical application could not be confirmed in a clinical trial.”
Despite the doubtful opinions of experts, cosmetic companies are keen to use the extract and attach a hefty price tag for the purported benefits. 3Lab, from Urban Retreat in Harrods and Selfridges, offers its Super ‘h’ Serum (£215), M cream (£185) and Super C Serum (£70) – these all have apple stem cells. Lancome offers its Absolue Precious Cells (£145 for 50ml), an anti-ageing cream it claims will ‘help restore the potential of skin stem cells and bring back the skin of youth’. The high cost of these products may explain why fans of the apple extract include such names as Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez and Helen Mirren.