What are growth factors? Let us explain. (Photo: Trunk Archive/Laurent Darmon)
When it comes to expensive skin care, it’s hard to gauge when an investment is worth the price. Should we sink on a $500 a skin cream because J. Lo reportedly uses it? (Her skin does look freakishly good.) Is the latest $1,500-per-session laser really going to take five years off our face? Settling the score can feel like a crapshoot mixed with a tinge of hope-in-a-jar syndrome.
Thankfully, when it comes to skin care made with pricey growth factors, science is here to take the guesswork out of ubiquitous “is it worth it” question. These high-priced ingredients tout benefits on par with those garnered from in-office treatments, making it something we’re about to see a lot more of in skin care. What are growth factors? Let us explain.
We’re all born with growth factors in our skin. But as we age, those growth factors deplete, according to Dr. Ronald Moy a facial plastic surgeon, dermatologist and former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. Growth factors can also be made from stem cells. When human growth factors are included in serums, lotions and other topical skin care products, they can trigger our skin’s natural healing response. When delivered to an area of the nerves, skin, tissue or cartilage, they read the signals of neighboring cells, then morph into whatever healthy cell types that surround that area, therefore repairing nerve, skin, tissue and cartilage damage. And in the beauty space, that means a new way to regenerate all kinds of skin deterioration — including aging, sun damage and more. “By replacing growth factors in our dermis and epidermis, we lessen the symptoms of aging, like thinning skin or sagging under the eye,” says Moy.
“If cells are rejuvenated in the dermis, then the growth factors can help make new collagen fibers or help damaged or photo-aged collagen fibers to be made more useful,” says Dr. Dendy Engleman, a New York-based dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at New York Medical College. “If we apply skin care with growth factors to damaged skin — whether it’s from a burn, photodamage or aging, then it can help revitalize the tissue in the damaged skin. The end result is younger-looking skin.”
The other thing to know about growth factors is that they are spawned from human stem cells. And though it’s tempting to think that plant-based stem cells may provide similar benefits without the yuck factor — human derived growth factors can be harvested from fat, umbilical cords, or foreskin — not all stem cells or growth factors are created equally. Our bodies best accept those that are human derived or are scientifically rigged to contain human-derived sequences. (Dr. Moy’s own skincare line contains barley, which has been bioengineered with the same sequence as Epidermal Growth Factors.) “The reality is, plant based stem cells can never be bioactive in humans,” says Englman. “You may see some transformation in the skin, but something that reaches the skin cell can only help in the organism from which it was derived.”
Also of note: some have questioned whether growth factors can propel cancers. After all, if they can spawn growth of healthy skin cells, might they be able to spawn growth of unhealthy or cancerous cells too? Engelman, who has completed her fellowship in skin cancer surgery and conducts her own skin research says, “incidents of higher risk of skin cancer has not been shown in the literature We’ve done studies in my research department and haven’t seen this risk in our studies either.”
For early adopters of newer technology, the promises of collagen-rich and smoother, evenly toned skin via growth factor-stocked topicals hold a strong lure. “It used to be that we’d put collagen in everything and it would just sit on top of the skin,” Engleman says. “Now, we can get incredible result with topicals that you couldn’t get before because we have such advanced active ingredients and the technology to drive these ingredients into the skin where cellular improvements can be made. We also used to go for aggressive treatments, like laser resurfacing. But now, you can make significant improvements in skin quality without procedures.”
While growth factor-spiked skin care is often more affordable than in-office treatments that boost collagen, the cost of more reputable formulations tend to hover in the triple digits, so it’s best to look for formulations made with quality ingredients. Many contain different kinds of growth factors, including Epidermal Growth Factor (EFG), Firbroblast Growth Factor (FGF), Transforming Growth Factor-Beta (TGF-B), Platelet-Deried Growth Factor (PDGF), which are often cocktailed with other skin superfoods like hyaluronic acid, peptides, and antioxidants. Below are a few products that boast these skin-mending ingredients.
This serum from Dr. Moy’s skin care line, contains growth factors that are bioengineered from the seeds of a barley plant. His research has shown that the growth factors within can help reduce undereye bags.
Skin care line Benev features a whole range of growth factor products for the face—all engineered and made in the USA. But this lash serum—which can be used on brows as well — helps the Latisse phobic and overpluckers jump start hair growth, thanks to growth factors inside.
Niaminicide and peptides are found in plenty of eye creams and serums. This one ups the ante by including multiple growth factors. After applying a scant two drops to each eye nightly for a month, our dark undereye bags have started to fade.
This Korean import makes use of fancy features–like mineral water sourced from the mountains of Northern Italy. But we’re more excited by the growth Epidermal Growth Factors within—and the gadget-equipped delivery system: Four needless syringes deliver shots of peptide.