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July 14, 2023
The Next Generation of Skin and Hair Rejuvenation Is Exosome Therapy
The aesthetics space is largely defined by injectables, lasers, and topical treatments: Botox, filler, and IPL lasers are commonly thrown around in colloquial conversation. But the other side of aesthetics covers a completely reverse approach. We are trying to harness the power of our own cell regeneration. For the past few years, that’s involved plasma-rich platelet injections that use a patient’s own blood to spur hair regeneration or collagen production (think: Vampire facial). More recently, the discussion has pivoted, hard and fast, to something called Exosome Therapy.
Exosomes seem to be the new hot thing in the search for the fountain of youth. Even though exosomes were discovered nearly four decades ago, it’s only recently that their existence has infiltrated the aesthetics conversation in the US. Unsurprisingly, Korea was an early adopter—exosome-based skin boosters have been common practice for years. Now? You’ll find dermatologists and plastic surgeons across the globe discussing exosomes’ potential to stimulate collagen and elastin, or upend the approach to hair growth. Skincare brands are inching in on the conversation, with brands like Dr. Barbara Sturm, Elevai, and ExoCel, a K-beauty brand, releasing over-the-counter products that leverage exosomes’ regenerative powers.
The biggest challenge that we are facing right now, like with anything that is new in development in medicine and science, is that it’s not regulated.
Exosomes in aesthetics falls on a spectrum—there are easy, more affordable skincare products, in-office treatments that, in practice, have been shown to speed up post-procedure healing time, and injections that the majority of U.S. doctors will not endorse at this time. To get a deeper understanding of the increasingly popular buzzword, keep reading. Top doctors are breaking down the nuances of exosomes, ahead.
It all starts with a stem cell, a.k.a. a human cell that can develop into a bunch of different types of cells that serve different purposes. In that stem cell is a little vesicle called an exosome.
Exosome research is, in its infancy, but the widely held belief at this point in time is that exosomes are comparable to “the body’s own information superhighway.” Exosomes carry “a very compelling payload of molecules like proteins, lipids, and mRNA,” which make them ideal information carriers that help cells communicate. They have the power to send a strong signal from one cell to another, telling receptors to produce more collagen, increase elastin, grow hair, heal faster, quicker—the list goes on.
The concept is very similar to that of PRP, or platelet rich plasma—which harnesses naturally occurring growth factors. PRP is where we take the patient’s own blood, we isolate platelets within them, and get all the signaling molecules from inside our own platelets.
The caveat to it is you’ll only have good regeneration if you’re healthy, young, and have strong regenerative signals. Exosomes, which result from a complex manufacturing process that leverages donor tissue like the placenta, bone marrow, or umbilical cord, remove the variability. The exosomes are exactly what we were trying to get in the past from our own platelets. They have a strong signal and give us much better results, which is why it’s replacing PRP in our practices.
Do Exosomes Have Proven Aesthetic Benefits?
The exosome space is exciting and the science is encouraging, but to be completely honest, we really don’t know” what the proven benefits of exosomes are at this point in time.
For the Skin THE SKIN
Because exosomes are thought to have regenerative properties, it’s thought that they can help spur the growth of new collagen and elastin in aging cells that are slowing down. Collagen and elastin are two proteins that are essential for maintaining the skin’s structure and elasticity. As we age, our bodies produce less of these proteins, leading to the formation of wrinkles and sagging skin. Exosomes can potentially be quite useful because of their ability to promote angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation which helps to feed nutrients to your cells), increase collagen production, and improve tissue regenerative capacity.
In practice, doctors have also seen exosome therapy to be promising for patients with rosacea, eczema, or a compromised skin barrier. “We’ve seen exosomes actually make the skin barrier healthier and stronger, which can improve rosacea,” says Dr. Russak.
For The Hair HAIR
When dealing with hair loss, patients have historically had few options: Supplements, PRP injections, prescription drugs, and Rogaine. But now, exosomes might be another, more sought-after, treatment option. “It is thought that exosomes may take resting hair follicles and convert them to growth phase, thereby increasing the number of visible hairs and their diameter,” says Dr. Batra.
While clinical trials and regulation would be needed before a safe rollout is seen in the US, Dr. Russak does feel like exosomes could tremendously improve hair regeneration. “This exists in other markets already. Having a safe and regulated form will augment our process.”
Am I a Candidate?
Because exosomes rejuvenate the skin, anyone seeking healthy, plump, and radiant looking skin is a good candidate, It’s a great therapy for someone looking to improve uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles. It can be used in both males and females and be preventative or therapeutic in nature. For anyone with skin issues or experiencing hair loss, exosome therapy may be an excellent option.
What Does Exosome Therapy Entail?
The way in which you get your exosome booster is varied. Intravenous exosome injections do exist; however, the practice is not legal in the US, can be dangerous, and may not provide any real results. That said, topical application in a doctor’s office and over-the-counter skincare products that feature exosomes as a star ingredient are gaining popularity stateside.
The most widespread use of exosomes at this point in time is a topical cosmetic applied to the skin. Exosomes come in a vial and are in a liquid form. They are applied topically to the skin post laser, microneedling, chemical peel, or scalp treatments of microneedling or PRP. Plastic surgeons are also using them after completing a face lift. The point? Fast recovery and better results.
An intense treatment isn’t necessary however—doctors and medispas are also incorporating exosomes into regular facials.
More recently, skincare brands have started to get in on the exosome action. The concentration is going to be lower than an in-office treatment, however the results show promise. Exosomes in skincare are nano-sized vesicles that are secreted by many cells in the body and can carry information from one cell to another. They can include peptides, amino acids, lipids, growth factors, and target healing and repair. We’re still in the early stages, but they could enhance wound healing, fight pigmentation, and increase the protection against free radicals.
Like most good things, however, results take time. You may start to see the exosome’s effects take hold in a few weeks, but full benefits can take up to six months, according to Dr. Batra.
It’s Controversial, But Why?
The biggest issue with exosomes is that the practice is unregulated. The FDA ruled that exosomes qualify as a drug in 2019, and since then, not one exosome treatment has been FDA-approved. Until we actually get good FDA regulation on the quality of exosome that’s required to be in a product, there’s going to be a lot of products that are not up to par. Until we get good quality control, it’s really up to providers to do their due diligence and figure out what they’re offering to their patients.
Lack of regulation in mind, the risks are greater—especially since exosomes can be derived from human tissues. Exosomes are generally derived from human cells and tissues, and there is the risk of infection which potentially could be bacterial, viral, or fungal.
To sum it all up: There’s a lot of promise in the exosome landscape, but more research and studies are needed before the practice is widely embraced.
How Much Does It Cost?
Exosome-packed skincare is going to be the easiest point of entry, but the products are still going to be in the hundreds. As for in-office treatments? It’s going to vary based on location, but you’re probably looking at anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars—all out of pocket. Please remember that virtually all of the treatments being discussed are cash-pay for the patient and they are likely to be fairly expensive. There is no doubt that many health care providers earn a steady stream of their revenue by way of cash and credit card swipes without necessarily promising anything.