When I did a quick Google search on anti-ageing products and services in Kenya, about 148 million results came up.
In seconds, I had options to either buy face oils or pay for injections that promise to slow down or reverse wrinkles and dull skin, signs of ageing.
In a growing influence of celebrity-obsessed culture and disposable income, more Kenyans have been lining up in beauty clinics to do anti-ageing procedures such as Botox, eyelid injections, fillers, blood facials where platelet-rich plasma is injected in the face and laser hair removal.
Now there is a new procedure in the anti-ageing market; placenta stem cell injections that promise to give a more youthful look.
Would you pay Sh1.73 million for this anti-ageing treatment regime that involves injecting your body with stem cells from the placenta?
“Stem cells have been used in the treatment of skin, heart, liver, spine, and bone diseases as well as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease,” says Pravan Pancholi, a cosmetic dermatologist who runs an anti-ageing clinic in Nairobi, that recently introduced stem cell injections.
And Dr Pancholi is not preaching water and drinking wine either.
“When I was in Los Angeles, US, I tried the stem cells on myself. And I had an incredible experience. I felt like I was 20 years old and it lasted for around four months and then slowly my cells went into the normal state,” he offers as proof of concept.
Dr Pancholi has collaborated with Dr Joy Kong, also from the US, who will be using stem cells from umbilical cord blood and placenta.
“The fees would align with Dr Kong's charges in the US, starting from $12,000 (Sh1.73 million). Although insurance companies do not currently cover stem cell therapy, patients who choose this alternative approach have faith in its potential to provide a fundamental shift in their well-being and quality of life,” says Dr Pancholi.
So what do the placenta stem cell injections entail?
Dr Kong says the clinic uses ethically-obtained stem cells from umbilical cord blood and placenta, which would otherwise be discarded.
“A baby is born on the first day, the umbilical cord is cut, and the cord in the placenta can be collected and sent out to a lab. And that can be used to extract these new cells,” she says.
She adds that cosmetic therapy does not use stem cells from an embryo but from the umbilical cord. These stem cells, she says, possess remarkable regenerative capabilities, essential growth factors, and anti-inflammatory properties, which help the body heal naturally and give it a youthful boost.
“Stem cells possess the potential to reverse ageing and aid in tissue regeneration,” she tells the BDLife.
The injections, however, do not offer a permanent youthful look so they need to be repeated. Chronic conditions may require multiple sessions, she says, spaced one to two months apart.
“If we're talking about fixing acute injuries, it could be very fast. But if it took you 10 years to get sick, it may take you a lot longer to repair rather than if you just give yourself a cut,” she says.
What are the risks?
Dr Kong says the therapy has low risks but someone can get reactions such as rashes. She started doing stem cell injections herself when she was 45 years old. She has just turned 52.
“I’ve been doing it for seven years. And I can show you my photo when I was 43. Although we don’t have enough human studies at this point, I've gone back in age. Not many people have been doing what I've been doing- doing IV stem cells on myself every three months,” she says.
Another clinic in Nairobi doing placenta stem cell injections is Thrive Aesthetics.
Faustine Omuya, an aesthetician at the beauty clinic says most of their customers seek this therapy to combat facial aging.
“Placenta stem cell therapy is done at least once a month for most people to slow down the ageing process,” he says.
The frequency of treatments differs, which he says starts from Sh15,000 per cycle, is dependant on age. For women and men in their mid-40s and above, treatments are spaced out to once every three months.
He says most of the nutrients used in the therapy, are naturally present in the body's cells, hence the risks are low.
“When administered in the right doses, there should be minimal risk,” he says, adding that immediate side effects include nausea or drowsiness.
But the placenta injections may not stop ageing forever. Wrinkles are known to create folds or depressions which doctors can only correct with facial fillers to smooth the skin.
Mr Omuya says combining anti-ageing treatments sometimes helps.
“Combining placenta stem cell therapy with nutrients like hyaluronic acid and peptides, for instance, found in face oils can yield better results," he says.
There is also the option of microneedling.
“This is where the skin is pricked with tiny needles to rejuvenate, tighten it, and improve its elasticity,” Dr Suhail Muravvej who runs Allure Laser Skin and Aesthetic Medicine Clinic told the BDLife in a past interview.
Another revolution that has gained popularity among Kenyans seeking to look younger is ‘blood facials’.
This injection, which costs Sh60,000 to Sh80,000 per session, uses someone’s blood.
“Your own blood is injected into the face. This helps the skin resume its shape,” Dr Suhail said.
After a doctor has drawn blood, he spins it in a machine, the plasma is then separated and injected into the face.
“The treatment relies on regenerative and healing properties of platelets. The blood can release small molecules that act as messengers to initiate the skin regeneration process. It improves the elasticity, tones and thickens the skin,” he said.