Are Stem Cell Facelifts Just Marketing Hype? Dr. Paul M. Parker Comments on the Controversy

Posted August 13, 2013 by Paul M. Parker, M.D., FACS

A traditional facelift is a surgical procedure that focuses on the lower two-thirds of the face and the neck. It includes making incisions and removing excess loose skin.  Better facelifts include tightening and suspending the submusculoaponeurotic (known as a “SMAS” facelift) tissues. Some higher quality facelifts also include injections of fat, in recent years, to replace any lost facial volume which occurs as a result of the aging process.

The term “stem cell face lift” is misleading.  Unlike the traditional face lift, which involves incisions, skin removal and tissue lifting, a stem cell face lift, as currently promoted is non surgical. It involves fat injections to restore volume lost through aging, make the face appear fuller and more youthful. Marketing seems to be outpacing science when it comes to “stem-cell facelifts”. A recent Google web search for the term “stem cell facelift” yielded 377,000 results. The idea of using stem-cells in aesthetic procedures is predicated upon their ability to release growth factors that enhance and stimulate the in growth of new blood vessels into these tissues.

In order to evaluate some of the claims being made about stem cell face lifts, a combined task force of the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery) was formed. They reviewed thousands of articles published in peer reviewed journals regarding the use of stem cells in aesthetic, or cosmetic, procedures. The task force found very few articles which provided “real clinical data on aesthetic use”, according to Dr Peter Rubin, a renowned stem cell researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and co chairman of the task force.

Based on their review of the existing literature, the task force made the following recommendations in April, 2011:

  1. The standard fat grafting procedure (which most all would agree transfer some stem cells naturally present within the fatty tissue) should be described as a fat grafting procedure and not a stem cell procedure.
  2. The marketing of stem cell procedures in aesthetic surgery is not adequately supported by clinical data, currently.
  3. Stem cell therapies in plastic surgery should be conducted with Institutional Review Board approval and in compliance with FDA regulatory guidelines.

“Stem cells certainly have the potential to be helpful in aesthetic surgery but the claims made about some of the promoted procedures seem over stated. The stem-cell facelift procedures currently being offered are driven more by marketing hype than scientific studies. Are we merely seeing the results of fat injections, which plastic surgeons have been doing for years, with and without surgery to increase facial volume and create a more youthful appearance?  Doctors offering “stem-cell facelifts” are doing so in the absence of proven studies to back up their claims and against the advice of the ASPS/ ASAPS task force,” explained Dr. Parker.

“Stem cells have incredible potential. But nobody knows exactly what they can do. So they’re marketed to do everything”, said Dr Michael McGuire, past president of ASPS.

ASAPS and ASPS are working together to study with evidence based medicine programs that will evaluate any procedure on the scientific evidence behind it. For example, Dr Rubin’s lab is performing a clinical trial on the use of stem cell enhanced fat grafting versus non enhanced fat grafting for the treatment of facial disfigurement on wounded soldiers. Studies like this should clarify the role of procedures like the stem cell face lift. Until then, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS) have cautioned their members against advertising “stem-cell facelifts” due to the lack of testing and control.

Until these results are known, Dr. Parker proceeds with his patients’ safety in mind. Fat injections are performed as a stand-alone procedure in patients desiring more facial fullness without tightening. In patients with facial soft tissue laxity, Dr. Parker will perform a state of the art facelift.  Dr. Parker’s facelift involves three steps to give his patients the longest lasting and most natural looking results.  New Jersey facelift patients are asked to bring photos of them when they were younger, so Dr. Parker can see where facial volume has been lost over time. Using those photos, along with his experience and judgment, Dr. Parker uses fat injections to replace the lost volume. He then performs a bi-planer facelift, lifting the facial fat and SMAS that have dropped, re-suspending and tightening them, and finally tightening the loose skin.

“By combining judicious fat injections with lifting and re-suspending the sagging facial soft tissues, I don’t have to tighten the skin as much.  The new and repositioned fat will fill out the excess skin, giving patients a longer lasting result since there is not as much tension on the skin. Creating a more youthful, full face results in a more natural look,” said Dr. Parker.

In his consultations with patients, Dr. Parker will evaluate their skin elasticity, volume and laxity.  He then creates a custom treatment plan designed to accommodate the patient’s desired outcome, their anatomy, resources and available recovery time.

The biplaner SMAS facelift with fat injections that Dr. Parker performs is estimated to last eight to twelve years.  This number varies based on several factors such as overall health, smoking, skin care, and weight fluctuations.

Surgeries at the Parker Center for Plastic Surgery are performed at Surgiplex, LLC, their onsite, fully certified ambulatory surgical center.  This 2,100-square-foot facility was designed and built with patient safety in mind.

Dr. Paul M. Parker is the medical director of both the Parker Center for Plastic Surgery and Beaura Spa.  Dr. Parker has over 20 years’ experience as a plastic surgeon and has won numerous awards, including most recently the “Patient’s Choice” award.  He is a board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.  He is also a fellow in the American Academy of Surgeons and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and the New Jersey Society of Plastic Surgeons among others.

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