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Photography Donna Trope

I tried the stem cell facial made from harvested human placenta

“Some people say it smells like the ocean,” said Dr. Pidich

In a quietly discrete building on 5th Avenue in New York City, one of the most innovative wellness treatments takes place on a regular basis.

Vampire facials were huge in 2018, but the new stem cell facial might just be the next big thing. The Ash Center, known as a medical, wellness and anti-ageing destination that uses alternative and revolutionary approaches, is home to this treatment, which, because of the technology behind it, verges on wellness as opposed to a light facial. And while you’ve likely seen or heard of stem cells in beauty via certain products, plants or treatments that involve one’s own adult stem cells, The Ash’s Center’s stem cell facial is quite new compared to what else is out there. This isn’t a facial that uses beauty products with stem cells or injectable stem cells from one’s own body. Instead, Dr. Alyson Pidich, Medical Director of the Ash Center, uses harvested stem cells from human placenta to give skin a more youthful appearance.

Inspired by the research surrounding stem cells and wound care, Dr. Pidich, who had previously been doing vampire (or PRP) facials recently decided to add the treatment to the Ash Center’s Menu. “The vampire facials include PRP (plasma rich platelets from your own blood), which have varying results, some positive and some no improvement,” she explains. “I found that many of my patients, even the very healthy ones, have multiple nutrient deficiencies and as we age, so does our blood. There are less growth factors, amino acids, the stuff we need for the procedure. Getting cells safely from discarded fetal tissue is a great way to introduce the youngest cells and their nutrient matrix into adult skin.”

Walking into the procedure, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had so many questions. How many stem cells would be used on my face? How would they be applied? And more importantly, where do the placentas that the cells are harvested come from?

"Animals and some women have been eating their own placentas after childbirth for years for the potential benefits it could offer"

The first step of the treatment was to apply a numbing cream all over my face to prepare for the mircroneedling. Once fully numbed, Dr. Pidich began did a microneedling session in which my skin was punctured with tiny, sterile needles to open up channels to allow new cells to form collagen-producing cells. I could definitely still feel pain in some areas despite being numbed. In full transparency, this treatment leans towards anti-ageing and I, in my early twenties, fortunately, don’t have many lines. But little lines I was worried about, Dr. Pidich made sure to go over more intensely with the microneedling tool. Once that was over, it was time to introduce the stem cells into my face full of holes.

Three types of stem cells exist, according to the University of Nebraska Medical Center: adult stem cells which are found in tissue and can be used to renew themselves, embryonic stem cells which have the potential to become any cells and are harvested from the inner cell mass of an embryo that has been fertilized in vitro (often the most controversial of the three) and induced pluripotent stem cells which are created in a laboratory.

Placenta stem cells, which are harvested post-natal from a healthy newborn baby placenta, are considered relatively new technology for the healthcare industry, but especially for the beauty industry. Just last year, the U.S. based company Cellularity was all over mainstream news with the announcement that it had raised $250 million for their placenta stem cell health company that is geared towards curing everything from cancer to Crohn's Disease. The New York Times also reported that scientists had increasingly published numerous articles on the placenta and its healthcare benefits in 2018. That’s aside from the fact that animals and some women have been eating their own placentas after childbirth for years for the potential benefits it could offer.

Since the process of placenta stem cell harvesting that Cellularity and The Ash Center’s facial uses doesn’t destroy en embryo, it’s not controversial. However, according to Dr. Pidich, “The placentas are from a company called Mimdex. I don’t like to use the company’s name in advertising because I’m using them off-label for beauty. They are FDA approved for wound care and re-growing joint tissue, but not for beauty.”

"The burning sensation was intense, and for my particular forehead line, Dr. Pidich injected stem cells three times"

As it turns out, this treatment uses 100 millimetres of stem cells, which is the equivalent to millions of cells. Through the clear vial, I could see that the stem cells had a slightly pink hue. There was an undeniably musty smell as soon as the liquid was massaged into my skin, (“Some people say it smells like the ocean,” said Dr. Pidich) and the feeling was similar to using a slightly acidic toner or serum on irritated skin.

I had one fine line I was concerned about on my forehead, so Dr. Pidich suggested she inject some of the stem cells into the area. She compares it to a safer, more natural botox without the loss of movement. “I will inject the cells to concentrate them into problem areas, like nasolabial folds or forehead wrinkles,” she says. “There’s significant improvement in the depth of wrinkles. You will not lose movement in those areas however when you move, the wrinkles won’t stick. The skin is more akin to when you were younger.”

The injection was the thing I was most worried about, given I’ve never had a cosmetic injection of any kind. The burning sensation was intense, and for my particular forehead line, Dr. Pidich injected stem cells three times. It’s been just a couple of days since the procedure, but I can honestly say that the line has disappeared. The Ash Center recommends getting the treatment three times, spaced once a month, to get the full results. As for the aftercare, I was sent home with $300 (£230) worth of skin supplements and powders. Not including the aftercare, the treatment costs $2,000 (£1,558). Obviously, with the price point, it’s not the most accessible treatment out there. But that’s also because the technology being used is very new. As for now, the main customers are the elite Upper East Siders and a slew of celebrities Dr. Pidich unfortunately can’t share the names of.

“I think stem cells are the new frontier in medicine we’ve been working towards over the past century,” adds Dr. Pidich. “The most important thing is safety of harvesting the stem for you and safety from where the cells are coming from.”