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How do growth factors in skin care work? Dermatologists fill us in

Here's what you need to know about this groundbreaking skin care ingredient.
Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm / Getty Images

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A bouncy and glowy complexion is the result of using the right combination of ingredients and products, but also keeping a consistent beauty regimen. If you've been religiously using retinoids, moisturizers, sunscreen and eye creams, you might want to also optimize your skin care routine with growth factors for the ultimate glow.

While growth factors don't receive as much buzz as other trendy active ingredients, there has been a lot of discussion around them in the science community over the years. Growth factors were first discovered during the 1950s by two scientists, which ultimately earned them a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986. Since then, epidermal growth factors (EGF) have become a matter of interest in many clinical studies to regenerate or grow new cells.

Shop TODAY talked to two dermatologists on the natural substance, along with their recommendations on how to implement this ingredient into your beauty regimen.

What are growth factors?

Growth factors are proteins that are naturally produced by skin cells and responsible for maintaining homeostasis, which helps you keep your skin alive and healthy.

"When it comes to growth factors in cosmeceuticals, the idea behind that is that you take these growth factors that are naturally produced by the body and [promote] wound regeneration, growth of collagen, growth of blood vessels [and] wound healing; that if you can apply those to your skin, you can trick your skin into thinking [it's] young and healthy and [give it] time to regenerate," said New Orleans-based dermatologist Dr. Deirdre Hooper.

In simpler terms, the purpose of growth factors is to act as a healing agent. The substance can help to "boost collagen synthesis, prompt cells to produce components that improve skin firmness and elasticity, strengthen the skin barrier and repair and rejuvenate skin," added board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah.

How are growth factors sourced?

While growth factors' main role is to repair tissues, sourcing these molecules for skin care products is quite different. Most growth factors are genetically engineered in a laboratory or obtained from human stem cells such as bone marrow stem cells, skin cells and fat stem cells. Growth factors can also be extracted from platelet-rich plasma, along with other natural sources such as snails and some plants. These molecules have been proven to promote collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) production to reconstruct and reinforce skin’s extracellular matrix.

Growth factors are also referred as cytokines, which are cells secreted by the immune system that act and communicate between other cells.

Are growth factors in skin care safe?

Growth factors in skin care has been a subject of some debate among some dermatologists. "We don't have robust or long-term studies to say what happens if you keep applying something that causes you to grow, because it can cause a growth that you [may not want]. For example, you can grow [additional] blood vessels, which [can] result in more redness," mentioned Hooper.

However, research revolving around short-term usage of growth factors have shown promising results. According to a 2020 study in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, subjects saw improvements in areas like skin hydration, firmness and elasticity over a 12-week span of time.

Since growth factors occur naturally in your body, those with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema are also free to use them. That said, "the vehicle in which the growth factor is delivered, whether it is through a serum, cream or lotion might contain fragrances and preservatives that are irritative to your skin," added Hooper. Before committing to a purchase, she recommends testing out the product beforehand and confirming that it doesn't contain added fragrances or preservatives that can produce an allergic reaction upon application.

As a general rule, always consult your dermatologist if you have a skin condition that requires extra guidance.

How to use growth factors in your skin care routine

Most formulas with growth factors are gentle to the skin and most women with mature skin tolerate it, though Hooper has some reservations on basing your whole skin care routine around them. "The caveat here is the data behind efficacy or actual effectiveness of growth factors is far less than the data behind the effectiveness of sunscreen, retinoid and other cosmeceuticals," she said. "It's not my first choice of an anti-aging regimen, rather is an add-on for...someone already using sunscreen and retinoid."

If you do want to add some products to your regimen, growth factors have better results when used at night since "that is when your skin is in repair and regenerate mode," according to Shah. The best way to apply a product with growth factors, she said, is to lather it over damp skin right after cleansing. Shah also recommended allowing 5 to 10 minutes before layering with a retinoid or moisturizer if you are using one.

Skin care products that utilize growth factors

Factorfive Soothing Facial Mask

If you're hesitant to try this ingredient for the first time, try this soothing mask that contains ethically sourced stem cell factors and other nourishing natural elements like aloe, hemp seed oil and green tree extract.

Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+ Fragile Skin Therapy

With a blend of micro-hyaluronic acid, growth factors and retinol, this treatment will improve the appearance of your skin while smoothing your face. The product offers a great texture that leaves your skin feeling soft. Also, according to a clinical study conducted by the brand, 93 percent of users showed improvement on skin density and skin barrier function. "This moisturizer is a game-changer as it absorbs fast, no irritation, soothes redness and helps," added one buyer.

Jan Marini Transformation Face Cream

Moisturize and protect your skin simultaneously with this face cream that contains antioxidants, aloe vera, beta glucan and natural extracts. It also has hyaluronic acid and growth factors to calm the skin after a post-procedure.

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

For younger-looking skin, use this cream formulated with peptides, growth factors, supportive amino acids and pygmy waterlily. This formula is designed to improve your skin's texture, firmness and wrinkles, especially if your skin is dehydrated from sun exposure. "Its thick consistency soaks in immediately and leaves zero residues," added one verified customer.

Biopelle Tensage Soothing Cream Moisturizer

For those with increased sensitivity, choose a calming moisturizer like Biopelle's. The formula consists of SCA Biorepair growth factor, Boswellia serrata extract to calm the skin and hyaluronic acid for added hydration. Aside from feeling a soothing sensation on irritated skin, the brand also states it'll help increase skin illumination and even your skin tone when used daily.

Keracell Rejuvenating Rich Moisture Cream

If you have dry and mature skin, this cream is for you. The luxurious moisturizer from Keracell is formulated with innovative ingredients like Revinage, a plant-based alternative for retinol for improved cell turnover. Aside from smelling heavenly, one customer said "it's super rich but not greasy, and it leaves skin so soft and smooth afterward."

Perricone MD High Potency Growth Factor Firming & Lifting Serum

One of the main ingredients of this Perricone MD serum is polyamine growth factor, an endogenous molecule that helps skin look radiant, improves elasticity and supports healthy-looking skin, according to the brand. Its formula also features a stabilized form of retinol and eggshell membrane, two ingredients that are supposed to support your skin's natural moisture barrier.

Osmosis Beauty StemFactor Growth Factor Serum

If you have mature and sensitive skin, this preventive formula from Osmosis Beauty will help you to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand. One verified Dermstore reviewer also praised its benefits, saying, "I was recommended this by my esthetician and was skeptical at first, but with time I'm slowly seeing a change in my hyperpigmentation and acne. I just finished my first bottle and will continue to use this."

StriVectin SD Advanced + Intensive Moisturizing Concentrate

This bestselling moisturizer from StriVectin SD will deliver moisture and reduce fine lines in about four weeks, according to the brand. Formulated with ingredients like copper tripeptide that targets collagen development in 10 areas, many customers — particularly those with mature skin or dark stretch marks — have found that their skin has looked firmer and smoother after using the formula for a short period of time.

Neocutis Bio Cream Overnight Smoothing Cream

Neocutis' Bio Cream is formulated with essential rejuvenating nutrients that's said to boost your skin's firmness and brightness when used on a regular basis. With over 100 five-star ratings on Dermstore, many shoppers also see it as a great product to slow down the loss of elasticity. "It has a lightweight texture, a little goes a long way and skin is treated during sleep which effectively yields great results," said one reviewer about their newfound skin complexion.

BioEffect EGF Serum

Whether you're wearing it on its own or incorporating it into your evening beauty routine, this Icelandic anti-aging serum was designed with your skin's radiance in mind. This plant-sourced epidermal growth factor utilizes only seven ingredients, including an epidermal growth factor that's supposed to increase elastin and collagen production.

Alastin Skincare Restorative Skin Complex

Afraid of collagen loss? This anti-aging product from Alastin Skincare will support the production of new elastin and collagen for a youthful appearance, according to the brand. Potent antioxidants like niacinamide and phytoene also aid in protecting the skin from further damage while targeting uneven skin tones.

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