Placenta Skincare: Is It What We *Think* It Is?
I admit that, like most skincare-obsessed people, there aren’t a lot of weird ingredients out there I haven’t tried at least once. Snail mucin? Sure! Donkey milk? Why not? But even this K-beauty and J-beauty junkie was a little taken aback when I first discovered quite possibly the strangest beauty ingredient yet: placenta.
During my first trip to Japan, I noticed placenta skin care products (from lotions to supplements to capsules) all over drugstores and department stores. The initial gross-out factor was pretty high for me. But then, I remembered the same initial reaction to snail mucin skincare a few years back when my friend brought me some snail products from Seoul. My hesitation quickly turned into curiosity.
What exactly IS the placenta?
The placenta is an organ that grows in the uterus during pregnancy which stores and transports nutrients and oxygen for the baby.
How did this “trend” start?
Although placenta in topical beauty products is fairly new, consuming it is anything but. In fact, most mammals in the animal kingdom eat their placenta after giving birth. You may have even heard of Hollywood celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen “eating” their placenta after giving birth. Well, it’s not quite as National Geographic as it sounds. They actually encapsulate the placenta through a dehydration process where it’s turned into a powder and added into capsules the mother can take postpartum—like supplements.
Placentophagy (fancy word for ingesting placenta) is also an ancient practice in traditional Chinese medicine (1) to help prevent miscarriages, sexual dysfunction, and ailments like anemia, pain relief, wound healing, and more.
Although this practice is still a bit controversial in Western cultures, it’s been gaining traction in the States. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some of the potential benefits of placentophagy include: increased production of oxytocin (the “love hormone” that encourages bonding with the infant), decreased post-partum depression levels, increase in the stress-reducing hormone CRH, and increase in milk production. (2)
Ok, but how is placenta in skincare any good for my skin?
Because the placenta is so rich in nutrients, hormones, growth factors, proteins, amino acids, and enzymes, it’s only natural that biotech companies would harness it for its potential beauty-enhancing benefits.
So what do the placenta skin care benefits include? Well, there have been a few insightful studies published (using animal models) around the benefits of placenta for skin. (Note: at this time we haven't found any viable studies done around human placenta skin care).
A 2015 study published in the Korean Journal for Food Science and Animal Resources found that, when taken orally, porcine placenta extract reduced trans-epidermal water loss, UV wrinkle formation, and significantly prevented collagen loss (3). A Japanese study published in the Gynecology & Obstetrics Journal also showed porcine placenta stimulates collagen production in human fibroblast cells (4). And in February 2019, placental extracts were shown to decrease melanin synthesis, which means that placenta for skin whitening is another potential benefit (6).
The placenta’s healing powers—from repairing skin damage to promoting wound healing to preventing loss of elasticity—have been well known in the medical community for some time now. Renowned dermatologists and plastic surgeons have been using placenta for skin rejuvenation and placenta-infused treatments on their celebrity clients for years, so it’s no wonder skincare enthusiasts have quickly gotten over the initial shock factor.
Is placenta skincare humane?
Just like any consumer product that involves animals, there are bound to be ethical questions raised. The harvesting and sterilization process for animal placenta is currently not regulated by the FDA, making it tough to know just how humane their practices are.
If you’re concerned about using animal byproducts (we totally get it!), it may not be time to count out placenta skincare just yet. Emerging clinical studies show that plant placenta may contain similar skin-regenerating properties as animal placenta, plus it's vegan and inherently cruelty free.
Plant placenta is found under the pistil (the female reproductive part) of the plant. Much like its non-vegetarian counterpart, it has a high concentration of proteins, amino acids, and peptides that boosts skin’s natural collagen production and cellular metabolism (6).
Whether you decide to dip your toe in the placenta skincare pool or not, it’s important to keep in mind that when incorporating any new skincare product into your daily ritual, it’s best to do so one at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm your skin with a ton of new products at once. Introducing one product at a time also gives you a chance to really assess what’s working and what isn’t.
If you haven’t yet, are you interested in giving placenta-infused skincare a spot on your skincare shelf this year? Comment below!