Skin Care Ingredient Focus: Growth Factors

Written by Jennifer Gordon, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on July 6, 2022 No Comments

growth factors woman

Growth factors are a new trend in skin care and are found in masks, moisturizers and serums. They claim to help skin cells regenerate for smoother, brighter skin. But do they really work? Should you believe the hype?

Learn everything you need to know about epidermal growth factors (EFGs) in skin care.

What Are Growth Factors?

Growth factors are naturally found throughout the body. These communicating proteins send messages between cells, signaling for healing and growth when needed.

Thanks to growth factors, we’re able to heal wounds and repair damaged blood vessels by triggering the production of new cells. A variety of growth factors are released by the immune system as needed for cell repair, replication, regeneration and rejuvenation.

In skin care products, growth factors communicate to the skin that rejuvenation or repair is needed, spurring the production of collagen and other proteins that keep skin smooth, firm, and bright.

Where Do Growth Factors in Skin Care Products Come From?

Growth factors in skincare products were originally derived from human stem cells. A stem cell can be found in bone marrow, platelet-rich plasma or fat cells. They are then replicated in a lab and growth factors can be identified. Experts believe these human-derived cells may be the best source of growth factors for skin care. Stem cells are unspecialized cells which have the unique ability to morph into any type of cell they need to, depending on where they are placed in the body. There has been new technology in the space and many important growth factors can be synthesized in the lab now that they have been identified. These micro-peptides act and signal cells similarly to human-derived growth factors.

Growth factors may also be extracted or engineered from animal or plant-based sources. Some brands source their growth factors from snails, for example. Vegan brands use barley seed DNA to manufacture epidermal growth factor that closely mimics that of humans.

How Do Growth Factors Benefit the Skin?

Epidermal growth factor naturally occurs in the body, helping us heal wounds or repair damage as needed. But as we grow older, we begin to produce less of these growth factors, resulting in less new cell growth and thinner, less elastic skin.

By replacing this natural loss of EGF with topicals, we can ‘trick’ the skin into thinking it’s young again. This begins cell-division and cues the production of collagen and elastin we experienced in our youth.

When applied regularly for at least 8 weeks, skin cell turnover and repair returns, resulting in skin that’s smoother, firmer, and more evenly toned. Growth factors thus play a role in reducing wrinkles, fine lines and discoloration.

Who Can Benefit from Using Growth Factors?

Researchers are still unsure exactly how growth factors work but there is evidence to prove their effectiveness. When applied to the skin consistently, EFGs seem to increase communication between cells, leading to increased skin cell turnover.

Anyone who is experiencing the signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkling, damaged or dull skin, can benefit from using growth factors.

What Types of Products Contain Growth Factors?

Growth factors are large molecules and as such, they don’t penetrate the skin. They are, however, excellent communicators and seem to trigger new skin cell production when applied topically. They are most commonly found in the following products:

  • Face masks
  • Overnight creams
  • Eye creams
  • Moisturizers
  • Serums

Growth factors in skin care products may be labeled as cytokines, hepatocytes, keratinocytes, interleukins or fibroblasts.

How Should I Add Growth Factors to My Skin Care Routine?

Skin repair naturally occurs overnight while we’re sleeping. When used at night, growth factors help enhance this process.

Growth factors work best when applied to clean, damp skin. If using a cream, moisturizer or serum, allow it to dry completely, waiting at least 5 minutes before applying additional products.

Acidic environments deactivate growth factors, so it’s best not to use them alongside vitamin C, hydroxy acids or strong retinoids. In fact, some dermatologists recommend growth factor as an alternative to retinol, especially for those with sensitive skin.

Are There Side Effects to Growth Factors? 

Growth factors are currently not FDA approved and there are no long-term studies which absolve them of risk. However, there has been no reported anecdotal evidence to indicate they are dangerous.

Growth factors trigger cell growth, which theoretically means even cancer cells could multiply in their presence. This leaves some people understandably worried about their risk. While there is no evidence indicating that growth factors cause skin lesions to grow, those with a past history of skin cancer may want to steer clear until more research is completed. The lack of FDA involvement also makes it difficult to know exactly what you are getting in a bottle. So ask your dermatologist about brands that have good research to back up their claims.

Are Growth Factors Recommended for All Skin Types?

Growth factors occur naturally in the body, which makes them appropriate for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin.

That said, the method of delivery may include fragrances or non-active ingredients which can cause a reaction in some people.

As with all new skincare products, it’s best to introduce growth factors slowly, or to spot test in case you experience a reaction.

Jennifer Gordon, MD

Dr. Gordon is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology and is a member of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS), the American Academy of Dermatology, the Dermatology Foundation, the Texas Medical Association and the Travis County Medical Society. Currently, Dr. Gordon oversees our South Austin location.

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