“Let’s say it were ethical, which it isn’t, you can’t put stem cells in a cream and rub them on the skin,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a Boston-based dermatologist and cofounder of Atolla (now part of Function of Beauty). A stem cell is too large to penetrate the top layer of human skin, so a moisturizer chock-full of them would probably be as regenerative as a fistful of drugstore body lotion.
Experts I speak with are not aware of any breakthroughs in topically applied regenerative formulas. “There have been so many supposed ‘stem cell creams’ over the years,” one professor of stem cell biology at an American university says. (He is aware of Augustinus Bader The Cream, but had not previously been familiar with Augustinus Bader the scientist.) “As a stem cell biologist, it’s hard for me to imagine that a cream can stimulate stem cells in a positive way.” A reconstructive surgeon who has published research on stem cells and bone healing is also skeptical of a product’s ability to induce cellular regeneration. “It’s possible,” they say. “Is it probable? Probably not.”
The brand says the thread that binds Bader’s products to his clinical achievements is TFC-8, or a patented Trigger Factor Complex that “supports the skin’s innate potential for renewal.” What does that renewal look like? Skin that is “fresh, supple, plump, and smooth.” The brand does not disclose the exact composition of TFC 8, but a patent filed by Bader in 2017 for skin-care ingredients culled from the regenerative hormone erythropoietin appears to enumerate the “trigger factor complex” in greater detail: amino acids, a few hydrating lipids, some emollients for good skin feel. The ingredient list on the box of The Cream includes aloe, shea butter, glycerin, ceramides, squalane, and vitamins A, C, and E. The three cosmetic chemists and two dermatologists I ask to review the possible formula from Bader’s patent react on a scale between nonplussed and vaguely approving. (In an effort to get the most unbiased feedback possible, Allure did not share the brand name with them.) At the molecular level, it is chemically elegant, but may lack novelty. “It is somewhat unique to have all of these amino acids in a skin-care product, but amino acids have been well-described as important in anti-aging,” says dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, director of the skin of color division at the University of Miami department of dermatology. “All of the other ingredients look pretty standard.”
An independently conducted, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on Augustinus Bader The Cream could help allay skepticism, but such clinical rigor is almost never applied to over-the-counter skin-care formulas. Augustinus Bader did, however, have The Cream evaluated by an independent lab, using 90 participants in a four-week (single-blind, not placebo-controlled) clinical trial. Subjects were tested using a corneometer (to measure hydration), a profilometer (to catalog wrinkle depth), and an undisclosed person’s human eye (to behold their visible beauty). The results: 32.74 percent of fine lines and wrinkles abated and skin looked 52.94 percent younger. The amino acids, lipids, and emollients in that “trigger factor complex” do indeed smooth and brighten the skin’s surface and the experts we ask to review the available clinical information are almost unanimously impressed by the results. Dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, highlights the wrinkle claim as a particular grail: “Reduction in wrinkles is difficult and impressive.” Chemist Kelly Dobos approves of the results, but also notes that she’s seen a basic placebo moisturizer give a 20 percent reduction in wrinkles in four weeks. Based on the limited information provided, though, experts are unable to identify the engine behind these results. The brand declines to provide details of the full clinical trial or a glimpse within The Cream’s proprietary complex. It is only possible to confirm that The Cream is a good product, shrouded in brain-melting, dazzling marketing. “Augustinus Bader skin care is certainly genius,” says another dermatologist with expertise in wound healing. “But it’s a case study for Harvard Business School, not Harvard Medical School.”