In March 2019, BFT introduced our readership to a remarkable class of intercellular signaling messengers called exosomes. These are extraordinarily small “packets” of potent bio-signaling molecules secreted by all types of cells which migrate near and far within body fluids to dramatically influence the behavior of target cells. Exosomes are miniscule double-layered lipid “envelopes” containing cytokines, chemokines, DNA, RNA, micro-RNA (miRNA), and other proteins which is collectively described as their “cargo”.
The contents of exosomes are determined by the genetic machinery of the cells from which they originate. Stem cells are the most prolific producers of exosomes and most of stem cells’ effect and influence upon physiologic processes and cellular behavior is the direct result of the exosomes they produce. Indeed, recent research, including studies addressing ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) caused by COVID-19, are using mesenchymal stem cell-derived exosomes (administered intravenously) in lieu of actual stem cells. Results of these studies and others reveal exosome potency and efficacy rivaling that of stem cells without the potential downsides of stem cells including attack and destruction by the recipient immunologic system, or possible tumorigenesis. Such efficacy bolsters the premise that stem cells perform their functions, not by differentiation into specific types of cells, but rather through the secretion of bio-signals that modulate inflammation and “instruct” other types of cells to perform particular functions.
MARKETERS NEVER FAIL TO TAKE NOTICE
Just as the term “stem cell” was long ago purloined and misused by many marketers in the cosmetic and esthetic fields, we are now seeing more and more examples of misuse of the term “exosome.” So, our word to the wise: grab your wallets tightly and know what you are buying before you fork over your hard-earned money on products that allege that they contain exosomes. Some may, and more will eventually come to market that actually do contain exosomes, but most products currently touting exosomes contain none. Or, at a minimum, none that are intact. We explain below.
Several of BFT’s earlier posts directly addressed the misuse of terminology to confuse consumers. It has been a massive pet peeve of DrJohn and DrGeorge from the day BFT was launched. When it comes to misinforming consumers, who through no fault of their own lack the scientific background to know fact from fiction, there are no white lies. If the effort is to sell product by telling a marketing “story” that is not scientifically accurate, to your hosts such white lies are black as night.
CONDITIONED MEDIA CONTAINS EXOSOMES BUT NOT AFTER PRODUCT FORMULATION
Over the past several years, BFT pages have discussed a variety of products that contain conditioned media, including brands developed and produced by your hosts. Conditioned media is the nutrient broth in which cells are cultured in the laboratory, after all cells and cell debris have been removed by ultrafiltration. Contained in conditioned media are all the biosignals secreted by the cultured cells including the exosomes produced. So, theoretically, products that have conditioned media as one of their ingredients do contain exosomes, or more correctly what used to be exosomes prior to mixing, emulsification and blending of other ingredients. As pointed out here and elsewhere on BFT, exosome cannot remain intact under such conditions. Is the cargo of the exosomes within the final product? Sure, but assuredly not in the concentrated form it is within exosomes. That cargo is dispersed and uniformly mixed with other ingredients. To claim these products contain exosomes is verbal sleight of hand and a disservice to the consumer. The reason is simple.
Exosome products, if they actually do contain intact exosomes, cannot be found within this type of product. Exosomes are technically challenging to concentrate, separate, and preserve in a form suitable for therapeutic use. Such concentrated forms of exosome products are possible and available but currently very limited in number and very expensive. Progress is underway to develop scale up of such processes but for now, the time and equipment required dictates that final product prices be prohibitive to all but the affluent. Any $40 jar of moisturizer, claiming to contain “more than a million and a half exosomes”, as one brand does, is a ruse. Save your money; don’t buy it. True exosome products, with intact exosomes, will not come in a jar of moisturizer, and they will contain billions of exosomes in a very small volume. These products also will not be intended for home use by topically slathering them on the skin. Expect them to be used in conjunction with microneedling or mesotherapy (multiple closely placed injections of small amounts into the dermis.) Exosomes may be preserved and marketed in either frozen or lyophilized forms. Freezing must be at very cold temperatures, much lower than home freezers can provide. Lyophilizing is the scientific term for freeze-drying.
(FYI: Your BFT hosts are currently in the process of developing true exosome products that will be affordable.)
“TRUST BUT VERIFY”
BFT was interested in what is available in the marketplace that purports to contain exosomes. An internet search for “exosomes in skincare” was instructive and produced results that once again confirm our opinion that many marketers aren’t interested in educating the public, they just want their money. How’s this for solid-science messaging?
“Bio-digital” products contain exosomes that “sync” cells to lock in hydration and radiance.
Internet searches also indicate that prestigious clinics in America are offering “Exosome Facial Rejuvenation” procedures, typically in conjunction with microneedling. One describes it as a “high-tech beauty treatment to resurface and fractionate the skin’s texture.” Not sure how the verb “fractionate” should be defined in this context, but it does sound like high science, right?
As part of our work in exosome research, we have access to equipment capable of characterizing and determining the size of particles in solution. We did that with two products currently available on the market, one from South Korea and another produced in the United States. The South Korean product is lyophilized, the American product frozen. The results are interesting.
Exosomes are 30-150 nm (nanometer) in size, or about 1/1000 the size of a typical cell. As the graph above demonstrates, the Korean “exosome cocktail” contains particles that are mostly 200 nm in size or larger. Based on size criteria, this relatively inexpensive product appears to not contain exosomes at all. This product arrived at room temperature in powder form.
The American product appears to contain relatively high concentration of exosomes, with most measured particles falling within the definition size of 30 to 150 nm. We tested the smallest volume product available which has a price tag of more than $600. The price of other products from this company is even higher.
EXOSOME PRODUCTS ARE COMING
Research in the exosome field is expanding rapidly with the majority of it focused on applications within the medical field including diagnosis, prognosis, and treatments of a myriad of diseases and conditions. Exosome breakthroughs will also inevitably find application in medical esthetics, particularly as adjuvants useful in skin and hair follicle procedures. It is anticipated their impact and benefit will rival and potentially surpass that of stem cells.
Click here to read BFT’s first exosome post: EXOSOMES – very small, very mighty, very important