It is a pricey and controversial procedure that continues to dominate cosmetic surgery chat circles; the so-called stem-cell face lift. Critics say the name itself is something of a misnomer because there is no cutting or sewing involved, but still some patients swear by the rejuvenating outcome.
By Dawn Tongish
Eva Campbell Morales remembers looking in the mirror and thinking how great she looked in her jeans, but then she saw her face. “I looked very sunken, hollow and old,” said Ms. Campbell-Morales, a commercial actress from Texas. She was in her early 40’s and slim, but she says her face looked like the crypt keeper. She visited several plastic surgeons and other doctors, but she says everyone told her that she wasn’t a good candidate for a traditional face lift. Campbell-Morales had already had a face lift years before, and they didn’t believe it was what she really needed again. In the end, she says she saw a Beverly Hills, California dermatologist, who convinced her to try a “stem-cell face lift.” The stem-cells weren’t the big selling point.
“He told me that I would look younger and better, and that is all the persuading I needed.”
Campbell-Morales documented every step of the controversial procedure, posting it to YouTube. She talked as the doctor used liposuction to skim fat from her thigh. She did turn off the camera for the secret harvesting of the stem cells. Since the procedure, she appears happy and describes the outcome: “I look fuller and have more structure in my face.”
Some plastics surgeons disagree with the use of the word “face lift” to describe the procedure, which does not involve any cutting or sewing, like the traditional face lift. There is also speculation that the secret process that is supposed to harvest stem cells may only involve spinning of materials in a centrifuge. Critics say the process is like fat grafting, which has been around for years.
“Consumers may want to exercise a good dose of buyer beware.”
“It appeals to the fantasy of patients, but is based on no data at all,” says Dr. Lou Bucky, a board-certified plastic surgeon. Bucky, who practices in Philadelphia, says consumers should be cautious. Dr. Bucky and others believe there is a lot of marketing hype surrounding this procedure and advises patients to exercise a good dose of buyer beware. There is skepticism in the industry about the process and how stem cells are really being used.
However, proponents of the procedure say there is valid research to back up the claims that it really does work to restore a youthful appearance and glow. Consumers looking for answers may find it tricky to find answers with a quick Google search. Some doctors are so confident that they have even tried to trademark their so-called stem-cell procedure.
Peer review of the stem-cell face lift is still neutral. According to The New York Times, a collaborative effort between the American Society for Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery issued a position statement on this subject. The report said there has been very little “real clinical data on aesthetic use.” The Times also stated the report indicated more research needed to be done in randomized controlled settings.
The lack of data and research has fueled speculation.
Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Whitfield isn’t surprised consumers are shelling out $5,000-$10,000 for a still unproven beauty fix. Dr. Whitfield, who is President of the Austin Plastic Surgery Society, would like to see the medical community do a better job of providing answers to the paying public. “If you use stem cells as your connection to the fountain of youth then that is on us as surgeons to prove that it does work and not take advantage of people in their never-ending journey to find a youthful appearance,” Whitfield said.
There is no need to convince Campbell-Morales. She is already a believer because of what she sees in the mirror. The actress was healed and ready for her closeup within days of the stem-cell procedure. “There can be skeptics and they can say what they want, but I am proof that this works.” Campbell-Morales thinks that it may be time for the plastic surgery community to rethink how it defines “face lift”.
“Perhaps a more modern day twist that doesn’t require the cutting is necessary,” Campbell-Morales said. That, however, won’t happen until the research is clearer on whether the stem-cell face lift is just a fad or real medicine that will stand the test of time.